Marie Selby Botanical Gardens


The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is located at 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota.

By Lynn Bates

Guest Writer

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Board of Trustees recently approved the final payment on the organization’s long-term debt.

The payoff of that long-term debt and a $2 million-plus line of credit brings the gardens’ financial picture to zero balances both in long-term debt and its line of credit.

“It was a team effort across the organization to make this possible,” said Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens. “This monumental moment is due to the tireless efforts of the Board of Trustees, staff, hundreds of volunteers, and our many supporters.”

Rominiecki attributes the financial turnaround to two primary operational changes, the implementation of The Living Museum operational model and the creation of revenue-sharing partnerships for ancillary services, such as rentals, catering, and retail. Over the past four years, these changes have resulted in a 70% increase in earned revenues.

Implementing The Living Museum model in 2015 has resulted in a 55% increase in admissions, and membership has increased by 67% to nearly 14,000 member households. Revenue-sharing partnerships with an exclusive food service provider and retail partners has contributed to a 172% increase from rental and catering commissions and a 57% increase in retail for the organization.

The Living Museum operational model, the terminology for which is under review for a trademark, features a changing schedule of rotating exhibitions showcasing horticultural and garden displays (“Living Art”). The goal of the model is to create reasons for first-time and repeat visits from tourists and residents. The operating model includes the creation of related events, cultural offerings, and educational programs to embrace key themes through every aspect of what becomes a multi-sensory, interdisciplinary experience. In turn, events, programs, merchandise, food, marketing, and other elements are tied to the special exhibit on view.

One key element of the model is the Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series featuring master artists in the never-before seen context of their relationship to nature at a botanical garden. Salvador Dali: Gardens of the Mind, the next exhibition in the series, is set to open Feb. 9.

As a result of revenue generated by the model, Selby Gardens has hired two additional botanists and expanded educational programming. New outreach programs for underserved youth are in the works.

“In order to put Selby Gardens on a path towards long-term financial sustainability, we had to diversify our revenue streams and pay off our debt,” said Rominiecki. “Now, we are able to focus on the future where we can expand our mission-driven programs, research, outreach, and embark on our proposed master plan.”

As Selby Gardens prepares for phase one of the proposed master plan, the leadership will continue to ensure that all diversified revenue streams will benefit the Gardens.

“For nonprofits to be sustainable in the long-term, it is important for them to operate as businesses whereby they diversify their revenue streams and ensure they are prepared for the future,” said Rominiecki. “That is what Selby Gardens is doing and it has proven to be a successful model, allowing for the organization to advance its mission well into the future.”

Selby Gardens continues to elevate The Living Museum model through creative and immersive exhibitions throughout the Gardens, and it continues to connect individuals to nature through research, education, and outreach programs. Selby Gardens expects to begin traveling exhibitions nationally in 2021.


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