Arboretum and Botanical Gardens’ improvements set to bloom

Special to The Star

With the help of private donations and sales tax funding a new courthouse, Overland Park launched plans for a major building project at its Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

The Arts and Recreation Foundation of Overland Park kicked off a $12.4 million fundraising campaign Thursday to raise money for a new pond-side visitor center of about 22,000 square feet. Improvements also include an 800-seat amphitheater; expanded parking event spaces; and improvements on 38 acres of gardens, pathways, water features and a three-quarter-mile sculpture trail on the Kemper Farm property adjacent to the arboretum.

The majority of the cost will be borne by private donations, but the city has included about $2.4 million in its five-year capital improvement budget for the project. Of that, $375,000 would come from a special parks and recreation fund and $2 million from revenues of the city’s share of the county-wide courthouse sales tax.

Voters approved the quarter-cent 10-year tax to raise money to build a new courthouse in Olathe. But Kansas law requires that a portion of those proceeds be allotted to cities.

The arboretum plan is the first major project since the Train Garden was installed in 2012 and will be the first update to the visitor’s center since it opened in 2000. If fundraising is successful, groundbreaking could be in 2020.

“This campaign is the largest project ever undertaken by the Arts and Recreation Foundation,” said Vicki Lilly, executive director of the foundation. “But like all its past projects, its purpose is to enhance the cultural destinations in Overland Park and provide outstanding experiences for residents and visitors to Overland Park.”

The new visitor center will have classroom space and a gift shop. The building currently being used as a visitor center is about 4,500 square feet and was originally intended as educational space. Once the new center is built, that building will return to use for classes and field trips.

The foundation already has raised more than half of its goal. Including the city’s commitment, the foundation has more than $8 million so far for the project, Lilly said.

Upcoming events that will support the fundraising include Moon Shine on the Farm in August, the Mayor’s Golf Tournament, Botanical Brewfest and Night of the Living Farm at Deanna Rose Farmstead in October, the Nutcracker Tea Party and Holiday Luminary Walk in December.

People who want to donate can also buy bricks or pavers to remember loved ones at the Arboretum and Deanna Rose, or join any of the “Friends of” groups supporting the Arboretum, Farmstead or Overland Park Arts.

A butterfly finds a colorful resting spot at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Garden. File photo ALLISON LONG Kansas City Star
A “Radiant Perfume” rose blooms in the Monet Garden. File photo Tammy Ljungblad Kansas City Star