Today’s news:

Queens Botanical Garden unveils $3.9M fence, gate

The Queens Botanical Garden officially cut the ribbon of its new, ornamental steel picket fence Thursday, completing the first segment of its master renovation plan.

The steel fence runs 6,600 feet around the perimeter of the 39-acre garden at 43-50 Main St., replacing a chain-link fence.

“The fence is not a barrier,” said Frank Mirovsky, chair of the garden’s board of trustees. “It’s an invitation to come inside.”

The fence is marked with 113 bronze medallions, showing five different types of plants native to Queens. The structure also includes concrete piers, each with a granite plaque inscribed with the garden’s name.

At the main entrance of the garden is a steel sculpture of an American Hornbeam tree. Over 20 feet tall and 11,000 pounds, the sculpture bears a dedication to the victims and heroes of Sept. 11 and “to the power of hope, healing and community.”

The fence, which cost $3,954,000, is part of the organization’s plan to completely revamp the garden. Garden officials said they hoped to start from the outside and move inward, making the garden more appealing to passersby.

More than $12 million of the $50 million plan has already been funded with public money.

In addition to the fence, the $12 million will be spent to move several administration buildings to a different location within the garden. The buildings will have a popular German architectural feature known as green roofs, areas of grass designed to reduce runoff.

This first phase is expected to be completed in the fall of 2004.

Over the next 15 to 20 years, garden officials hope to change nearly every aspect of the garden. The plan highlights the use of water for the garden, a wet site, and also looks to foster cultural connections between the site and the community by planting species indigenous to the homelands of many Queens immigrants.

Of the more than 300,000 people who visit the garden annually, many are immigrants. Of the visitors, 34 percent are of Chinese descent, making them the largest group of visitors by ethnicity that comes to the garden.

“We really are the place where cultures come to meet,” said Susan Lacerte, executive director of the garden, at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), said he had come to the garden ever since he emigrated to the United States from Taiwan at the age of 5.

Liu described the garden as “really a place of healing in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when you saw attendance skyrocket.”

The large project comes in the middle of strained fiscal times for the garden.

At the end of 2001, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani cut 15 percent from many cultural institutions, including the garden. Several garden staffers were laid off, and everyone’s work week was cut from five days to four.

Although the 15 percent was reinstated four weeks later and the garden returned to a five-day week, the garden is expected a cut about 13.5 percent for the next fiscal year, said Jennifer Ward, director of planning for the organization.

With a tight city and state budget, the garden does not expect to raise as much public money as it had in the past.

“The whole funding climate is of course difficult now,” said Ward.

Instead, the garden is turning its attention to private donors, looking to start a fund-raising campaign in the fall.

Nevertheless, for now garden officials were happy with the beginning of the project.

“Prior to this, [people] saw a run-down chain-link fence,” said Lacerte. “A lot of people said ‘I didn’t know there was a botanical garden in Queens.’ There’s not a doubt anymore.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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