Denver Botanic Gardens raises ticket prices for the first time in over 10 years

The bid to raise fees morphed into a debate over parking and climate change.

A microscene of the Denver Botanic Garden, as seen from Jaymie Toma's balcony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A microscene of the Denver Botanic Garden, as seen from Jaymie Toma's balcony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

Denver Botanic Gardens will hike its admissions prices by 20 percent, with the maximum daily fee rising to $15, later this year.

The Denver City Council voted 10 to 1 to allow the increase Monday. City Councilman Chris Hinds, whose district includes the Gardens, voted against the new fees. Council members Jamie Torres and Candi CdeBaca were absent.

The standard rate is currently $12.50. Higher fees will help the horticultural center offer competitive employee wages and benefits, pay for construction of the new Freyer-Newman Center, and keep up with inflation, Botanic Gardens CEO Brian Vogt said Monday.

“We’ve raised our opening wage to a level that exceeds the ($15/hour) Denver goalpost that you’ve just recently set,” Vogt told council members. “So we’ve had a lot of cost pressures.”

Denver Botanic Gardens will still cost less than other educational centers like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Zoo. But the hike will make the gardens $2 more expensive than a visit to the Denver Art Museum, for instance.

Pricier tickets will also help the Gardens pay down debt on its parking garage — and that upset some locals who said people who don’t drive are subsidizing motorists who park for free.

“I just want to point out, this is an excellent example — a concrete example with actual numbers — of the high cost of free parking,” said John Riecke, who spoke at a public hearing Monday. “That $10 million that was spent on this parking garage, it could’ve gone to any of their other programs.”

Denverite reported in December that debt for the parking structure sparked the fee hike. But on Monday, Vogt rejected that characterization, claiming he was misrepresented (no one from the Gardens contacted Denverite to discuss the issue). Paying off the garage “is a burden, but it’s a burden we’re more than halfway through right now,” Vogt said, adding, “It’s definitely part of the mix.”

Hinds said he voted against the contract not as a statement against the Gardens, but to lend his support to the city’s stated goals of reducing driving and increasing other travel modes.

“I believe we need to move beyond single-occupant vehicles,” he said. “I think it’s good for the planet. It’s good for health … and it’s good for the community and I don’t like that we are continuing to make it easy to drive by having parking be free.”

It wasn’t a hill the rest of the council wanted to die on.

“I believe that the impact here of increasing the cost of parking before we have done what we need to do, which is double down — triple down — building bike infrastructure and pedestrian infrastructure and safe crossings to get to these places, we’ll leave a bigger burden and more barriers for people,” Council President Jolon Clark said.

Seniors, active military personnel, veterans, children, students, caretakers and lower income residents will still receive discounts and, in some cases, free admission. Free days will continue at the Gardens as well.

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