Delaware Botanic Gardens to take root by 2017

Cape Gazette | April 30, 2015

By Maddy Lauria   maddy@capegazette.com

With a fantastic location locked in, a rock star advisory council on board and more than $100,000 in the bank, Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens Inc. is on track to open in 2017.

Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek will bring southern Delaware's unique coastal flora and fauna to the forefront when it opens to the public, perhaps in June 2017. The gardens will be located on 37 acres along Piney Neck Road near Dagsboro, with more than 1,000 feet of tidal waterfront on Pepper Creek, mature woodlands, wetlands and flat lands.

The group solidified its plans to develop the Sussex County garden with a 99-year lease for $1 per year through the Sussex property lease is valued at more than $1 million, according to DBG's annual report. Treasurer Ray Sander boasted the gardens' financial health during an annual board meeting April 11, citing a $100,000- plus bank balance – compared to the previous year's $32,000 – as a good sign that the project is on track and garnering increasing support from the community.

“It's been a good year,” he said, adding that a significant source of income came from a farm-to-table fundraising dinner hosted by Good Earth Markets owner Sue Ryan with the help of SoDel Concepts chefs.

Ryan said last year's dinner generated about $40,000 – a goal that she hopes to surpass with this year's [Thursday, September 3] event.

“I've seen citizens coming together and recognizing a need,” Sander said. “It's really a garden for the people.”

Outlook on regional impacts

A recently completed economic impact study shows the garden will benefit the local economy, Sander said. The study, conducted by Rockport Analytics $36 million impact on the local economy within its first five years of operations, from the money spent on local contractors during construction to generating hundreds of new jobs.

“It will have immediate impact as soon as we start building,” said founder Michael Zajic. He added that it would take most start-up gardens 10 years to accomplish what the DBG board has in just 2.5 years. “We've made astonishing progress,” he said.

The study found that DBG will support nearly 200 jobs within its first five years, each with an average salary of $39,000, and 75 of which will be full-time DBG employees.

With operating expenses expected to reach more than $6 million annually by 2021, DBG expects to attract more than half a million nonlocal visitors, who are expected to bring an addition $19 million in new spending to Sussex County hotels, restaurants, retail shops and other businesses, the study states.

A new look

A redesigned site plan for DBG also was unveiled April 11. Sander said the original site plan was altered to preserve the wooded areas on the site and make the gardens more user-friendly.... "This is going to be a garden for Delmarva, emphasizing Delmarva's plants. It's going to be beautiful.”

Delaware Botanic Gardens is looking for new members to pledge support and volunteers to help prepare the site, recruit new members and lend a hand with clerical or administrative duties.

For more information, go to www.delawaregardens.org.