In 2011, the garden and Cowles Conservatory combined to bring in $33,000 in revenue generated primarily through event fees. But the Park Board and the Walker Art Museum spent $246,000 to operate the garden and conservatory, losing about $211,000, even though 325,000 people visit each year.
One of the biggest expenses, according to Park Board Assistant Superintendent of Planning Services Bruce Chamberlain, is the big, glass conservatory, where an outdated heating system has to pump in hot air in order to keep plants alive in the winter. Over the past two years combined, Cowles utility bills have cost nearly $100,000.
The Park Board has requested $8.5 million in state bonding for a larger renovation plan for the Sculpture Garden, and part of that money would go to a new heating and air conditioning system at Cowles.
That might not be the only change at Cowles. As part of the Park Board’s overall plan to renovate the Sculpture Garden, the Park Board is looking at new uses for the structure and Chamberlain said that will likely mean the end of its use as an arboretum.
“It’s going to be different than it is today,” Chamberlain said. “The building itself probably won’t change. But the way it’s used is probably going to change.”
Chamberlain said the Park Board and the Walker are working closely on a new plan for the building. Details aren’t worked out yet, but Chamberlain said the space would be reconfigured to be better used for events and programs.
If lawmakers approve of the bonding request, the Park Board says the project would begin in August and take about 13 months.