Selby Gardens is debt-free for the first time since opening its doors to the public in 1975

July 24, 2019

SARASOTA, FL – July 24, 2019:  Last week, the Board of Trustees at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Selby Gardens) approved the final payment on the organization’s long-term debt. In 2008, Selby Gardens carried long-term debt and a line of credit totaling more than $2 million.  Today, Selby Gardens has zero long-term debt and a zero balance on 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 MuseumSM 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 percent increase in earned revenues such as admissions, membership, rentals, and retail.

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

The Living MuseumSM  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 operating model is to create reasons for first-time and repeat visits from tourists, local residents, and part-time residents.  In addition to exhibitions, 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 of the key elements 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. Selby Gardens recently announced Salvador Dali: Gardens of the Mind as the next exhibition in the series. It is set to open on February 9, 2020.

As a result of revenue generated by The Living MuseumSM model, Selby Gardens has been able to hire two additional botanists and expand educational programming. Further, new outreach programs for underserved youth in the Sarasota community 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 organization’s leadership will continue to ensure that all diversified revenue streams remain beneficial to the Gardens.

“For non-profits 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,” says 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 MuseumSM  model through creative and immersive exhibitions throughout the Gardens, and most importantly, continues to connect individuals to nature through research, education, and outreach programs. Selby Gardens expects to begin traveling exhibitions nationally in 2021.