Garvan Gardens' $5.7M deficit erased

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas botanical garden has erased a $5.7 million deficit built up over several years.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville received Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs as a gift in 1993 after Verna Cook Garvan's death. It eliminated the shortfall through an accounting entry, absorbing the hit by reducing the school's available reserve funds, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported ( ).

The financial move took place in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30th, but the garden's executive director, Bob Bledsoe, said he learned of it earlier this month. He said hearing the news was like "Christmas morning" for him.

The botanical garden is part of university's Fay Jones School of Architecture, with students and faculty using it as a "living laboratory," according to the architecture school's website.

The garden's budget for the current fiscal year is $2.7 million, and the university has pledged to provide $300,000 to it during this fiscal year. Tim O'Donnell, the school's interim vice chancellor for finance and administration, said it's likely the college will give similar amounts in future fiscal years.

Bledsoe said he'll also continue to seek regular state funding for the 210-acre site. It avoided running at a deficit in fiscal 2014 after receiving about $500,000 from the legislature's General Improvement Fund. That fund's amounts vary from year to year depending on revenue taken in and many projects compete for those dollars.

Bledsoe said he wants more consistent funding for the gardens, noting it's been included in funding requests from the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The board will recommend to state lawmakers that the garden receive about $500,000 in general revenue over a two-year period beginning in July 2015.

The garden opened in 2002 and ran a deficit every year until the most recent fiscal year, according to university documents and Bledsoe.

O'Donnell said the move to eliminate the mounting yearly deficits came about with a realization that "it doesn't look like we'll be able to ultimately get those repaid back from normal operations."

The garden's admission tickets are $10 for adults. Yearly visitors exceed 130,000 on average for the past five years, but that number is heavily dependent on the weather, Bledsoe said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

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