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Bill Freehling is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Bill Freehling.
Botanical garden proposed in Fredericksburg
Longtime Fredericksburg Treasurer Jim Haney is spearheading an effort to bring a botanical garden to Fredericksburg.
Haney, who is not seeking re-election this year, has been working on the idea for months. It was originally proposed as part of an effort to help land the Hagerstown Suns and Diamond Nation but now is mostly separate from that project.
The current idea calls for the botanical garden to be developed in stages on city-owned land along the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg’s Celebrate Virginia South development. Haney and other project advocates are hoping that the 1,800-space parking lot that the city is building for the Suns and Diamond Nation could also be used for visitor parking for the gardens.
Haney is patterning the project after the popular Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in the Richmond area and the Norfolk Botanical Garden. He has met with well-known horticulturist, author and lecturer Andre Viette about the idea.
Haney thinks the local botanical garden could be a major draw for Celebrate Virginia and the city. Lewis Ginter, for example, receives more than 300,000 visitors annually and is well-known for its children’s garden, Christmas lights show and more. Lewis Ginter has thousands of members and hundreds of volunteers who help keep the place in immaculate condition.
Though the local project wouldn’t be on as grand a scale at first, Haney thinks it could evolve into that over decades.
Haney has gotten some powerful local people and companies on his side. That list includes the Silver Cos., which has pledged $15,000 toward a feasibility study expected to cost $30,000, and Rappahannock Goodwill Industries.
RGI President and CEO Woody Van Valkenburgh said his organization, which is one of the region’s larger employers, is interested in managing the garden complex, which would probably be owned by a separate nonprofit. He said it could be a good way to provide jobs and training opportunities to people with barriers to employment.
“I am intrigued by the idea,” said Van Valkenburgh, who has known Haney for more than 30 years.
Haney was one of the finalists in this week’s Made in FredVA business plan competition. He “pitched” the botanical garden idea to a panel of local judges Wednesday night at the University of Mary Washington. He didn’t win that contest, but said the amount of interest he has received in the project has been “amazing.”
Haney originally developed the idea as a way to convince former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder to sell to the baseball investors the 38 acres in Celebrate Virginia South where the long-stalled U.S. National Slavery Museum was once proposed. Haney believed that Wilder’s organization could use the roughly 16 undevelopable acres of the site for a garden that helped tell the history of slavery.
That effort gained little traction despite meetings between Haney and Wilder, but the garden idea endured. The Suns and Diamond Nation later worked out a deal separately with Wilder to acquire the 38 acres, and the duo is now working on plans for a minor league baseball stadium and amateur baseball and softball complex there.
The botanical garden idea remains in its conceptual stages, and future meetings to discuss the project are in the works. Haney hopes that the city will allow the garden to be developed on its land, which is under conservation easement along the Rappahannock.
Haney said the garden organization could lease the land for a nominal amount, and the city could benefit from the tax revenue that the visitors bring in. Haney doesn’t think it would cost the city anything.
“The city has everything to gain and nothing to lose,” Haney said.