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Selby Gardens Opens the Doors to a Transformed Downtown Sarasota Campus

Tuesday’s winter storm held off long enough for the planned ribbon cutting/unveiling of the transformed Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ downtown campus—and in fact, one speaker at the ceremony made note of the “winds of change” sweeping through the 50-year-old gardens on the blustery morning.

The event Tuesday welcomed supporters, media, and local dignitaries including Sarasota city commissioners to the heart of the re-imagined campus, where the Master Plan’s Phase One has been completed, adding 188,030 square feet of new facilities and amenities. Attendees heard “America the Beautiful” sung by Choral Artists of Sarasota before remarks by leaders including chair of the board of trustees Joel Morganroth, president and CEO Jennifer O. Rominiecki, Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert, capital campaign chairs Jean Weidner Goldstein, Cornelia Matson and Pauline L. Wamsler, Olin Studio landscape architect representative Richard Roark, Overland Partners rep Robert Shemwell and Willis Smith Construction’s John LaCivita.

The Phase One project has added to the campus the cutting-edge Morganroth Family Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF), housing parking, a garden-to-plate restaurant, a new gift shop, vertical gardens and, within a matter of weeks, a nearly 50,000-square-foot solar array that will make Selby Gardens the first net-positive energy botanical garden complex, not just in the country, but in the world.

Also part of the more than $50-million Phase One (with more than 98 percent of the funding derived from private donations): the state-of-the-art Steinwachs Family Plant Research Center, securing scientific resources in a hurricane-resilient structure and containing the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Herbarium and Laboratory, which houses preserved collections of more than 125,000 specimens, a research library, spirit laboratory, offices and a rooftop garden and solar array; and the open-air Jean Goldstein Welcome Center, with a striking design consisting of a ticketing pavilion, welcome gallery and welcome theater. (There’s even a brief film intro to the gardens narrated by musician-writer Patti Smith, who has made several appearances at Selby.)

Some of the changes are clearly visible to visitors; what may be less obvious is a major stormwater management system that will divert and clean millions of gallons of water each year before it’s returned to Sarasota Bay. There’s also a multi-use recreational trail, off-site roadway improvements, and new garden and water features including a Lily Pond Garden, a Glades Garden, and the restoration of historic Palm Avenue as a pedestrian-only promenade.

And there’s a new dining opportunity courtesy of restaurant The Green Orchid, which will be the world’s first net-positive energy restaurant entirely utilizing solar power. Operated by Michael’s On East, The Green Orchid will feature a rooftop edible garden.

President and CEO Rominiecki, who arrived at Selby in 2015, called the Selby improvements “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” during the ceremony, and architecture-design firm Overland Partners’ Shemwell told the crowd that “Sarasota is a global leader” when it comes to its net-positive, solar array and overall sustainable programs.

Visitors touring the new buildings on the campus following the ribbon-cutting were among the very first to see the completed improvements of Phase One. A members’ preview takes place today, Wednesday, Jan. 10, and a public opening will welcome visitors Thursday, Jan. 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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