Fund aims to keep flowers flourishing

Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Tourists go wild for them. The mayor calls them a treasure. Now downtown businesses, the municipality and gardening enthusiasts are teaming up to keep the city's flower beds and hanging baskets from being whacked by budget cuts.

The Anchorage Assembly last year voted to shrink the city's 2010 horticulture budget by $159,000, to about $2 million, said Cheryl Frasca, director of the city Office of Management and Budget. The cut was proposed by the Sullivan administration, she said.

About $50,000 in savings was expected through lower utility bills, she said. One seasonal gardener job was cut entirely. And the city shifted eight seasonal jobs from horticulture to park maintenance, where the workers will be responsible for mowing.

Gardeners and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, which advocates for downtown businesses and property owners, worked with city staffers to find ways to keep the flowers.

The result: creation of a City of Flowers Endowment Fund, an idea credited largely to Cathy Janigo, community development director for city Parks and Recreation.

The effort is being kicked off June 5 with a Festival of Flowers in Town Square Park downtown. Backers are hoping to raise $20,000 this year and have an ambitious goal for an eventual $1 million endowment, Janigo said. That would generate earnings of $50,000 a year for flowers, she said.

"We know that every year if there's budget concerns, people say, 'Well, what about those flowers.' And they really are quite an asset," Mayor Dan Sullivan told news reporters Wednesday at his weekly briefing. His backdrop was spectacular, a municipal greenhouse packed with the city's signature blue and gold hanging baskets.

The festival should become an annual event, Sullivan said. This year's fest, planned for noon to 6 p.m. on June 5, will feature live music, gardening seminars, marigold planting for the kids and tours of the Town Square beds led by horticulturalists.

"It's just comforting to see that we all love our flowers and we want to remain the City of Flowers. So we've all got to step up to the plate," said Nickel LaFleur, a certified arborist and member of the Anchorage Garden Club, who took a break from building a garden trellis at her home to talk about the need to support the flower project.

At the festival, organizers will raise money for the endowment by auctioning art and flowers, including some of those lobelia and marigold baskets, which mimic the colors of the state flag. There also will be a raffle of a one-of-a-kind potting shed painted by local artist Romney Dodd.

Sullivan said he wanted to see a creative approach involving private business to maintain what he called a vital program. He didn't want to eliminate the flowers, his spokeswoman said later.

Cheri Spink, events and development director for the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, said she was in a meeting last year in which city parks staff members let word out about the horticulture budget cut.

"We were concerned they wouldn't purchase all they needed for this summer," Spink said. "We said we would step up." The flowers mean a lot to downtown businesses, she said, and the festival and endowment should help keep them going.

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