Shutdown of Bloedel Conservatory, Stanley Park petting zoo divides park board

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      Vancouver Trolley Company owner Jim Storey called it “a sad day for the city”.

      Storey was referring to the 4-3 vote by the Vancouver park board on November 25 to close down the Bloedel Floral Conservatory and the Stanley Park petting zoo to help deal with a $2.8-million anticipated budget shortfall.

      “We don’t have enough attractions in the city now and to lose a few is very sad,” Storey said by phone. “I wish there could have been alternatives found.”

      Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Aaron Jasper, a former long-time Gray Line tour bus driver and guide, said the closures were unavoidable in light of Vision’s decision not to bring in more than a two-percent tax increase in the next city budget.

      Jasper, along with fellow Vision commissioners Constance Barnes, Sarah Blyth, and board chair Raj Hundal, voted in favour of the shutdowns.

      COPE commissioner Loretta Woodcock, NPA commissioner Ian Robertson, and Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon were opposed.

      “COPE’s position, obviously, is that we should increase the taxes, right?” Jasper fired back to the Straight regarding the cuts. “Fine, I respect that she [Woodcock] has taken that position, that is different to Vision Vancouver’s. Stuart just thinks we should just say no, and doesn’t propose any solutions.”

      Jasper claimed that, when comparing park board cuts to those facing other city departments, the park board has “the lowest percentages”.

      “The kind of choices that we were facing: close down a community centre or close down the Bloedel Conservatory,” Jasper said. “Well, the choice is pretty clear.”

      Mackinnon told the Straight he has “already written to city council to ask them to reconsider their [planned] two-percent tax increase”.

      “The city has what they consider a global inflationary increase of four percent,” Mackinnon said by phone. “That includes regular inflation and increased costs and everything, plus wages. Two percent is what they are proposing as a tax hike, even though there’s a four-percent inflationary rise. So there is a two-percent gap there.”

      Mackinnon said a four-percent tax hike would still result in a shortfall, but he said he has calculated that it would be half what it is under Vision’s scenario.

      “Aaron and I had some sharp words last night, and I don’t suppose I am his best friend at the moment,” Mackinnon added.

      According to Mackinnon, the park board is also the cart being placed before city council’s horse, in that council has based estimated cuts on a two-percent increase, but does not know what the final numbers will be.

      For that reason, Mackinnon has not given up hope on the conservatory and the petting zoo yet.

      “I’m advising everyone who calls me and e-mails me to get on to mayor and council and phone,” he said. “Do whatever you can to let council know—especially if you’re willing to pay a higher tax bill. If you’re not willing to pay a higher tax bill, then you have to live with these cuts. But if you’re willing to pay a little bit more in order to have libraries, parks, and community centres, then get on to city council and let them know.”

      Tourism Vancouver spokesperson Walt Judas told the Straight his group is understanding “when tough budget decisions are made”.

      “But obviously when it affects an attraction like the conservatory or the petting zoo, that’s unfortunate, because it impacts both residents and visitors alike.”

      The park-board budget will go to city council for approval December 3.

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      Todd Wong

      Nov 26, 2009 at 8:38pm

      Art and Culture were the 2nd pillar upon which VANOC pitched the Olympics for a world class city.

      We need to invest in our public sector. Attractions in our city and community services like community centres and libraries all serve our citizens even more so during tough economic times. And guess what? They have spin offs!
      Arts groups are citing that for every $1 the government puts into Arts, they get $1.36 back.

      Our public sector needs its own economic stimulus package. This will ripple throughout the city and benefit lots of levels.

      We have the "Own the Podium" program for our Olympic medal aspiring athletes. But for our artists participating in our Cultural Olympiad - we cut their grants. It's like knee-capping athletes to undermine their chances of winning - but I thought only American figure skaters did that to each other. Why are our munincipal and provincial governments making cuts to our cultural institutions?

      5 8Rating: -3


      Nov 27, 2009 at 8:00am

      We're told that the City faces a budget shortfall and so the axe must fall on two long-standing Vancouver attractions. But is there any evidence that the cost of these services has suddenly ballooned? I haven`t seen any. But then again we now must shoulder the heavy financial burden of the Olympics.

      Having made the decision to host this expensive Five-Ring Circus, we should be prepared to pay for it through higher taxes--not by cannabalizing public services.

      PS: What's going to happen to the animals in the petting zoo and the parrots of the Bloedel Conservatory? Too bad they can't vote!

      7 2Rating: +5

      Evil Eye

      Nov 27, 2009 at 10:02am

      Vancouver continues to be a grade "B" movie, not worth seeing or visiting. A world class city, Vancouver is not! A world class laughing stock, it is!

      5 7Rating: -2


      Nov 27, 2009 at 10:52am

      I would like to comment on the issue of the closure of the Bloedel Conservatory. This is a difficult time and Vision Commissioners have been forced to make some difficult choices. Unfortunately, due to years of neglect by previous boards, the Bloedel conservatory is in such disrepair it cannot continue to operate. The custom plexi glass panels that make up the roof of the Bloedel Conservatory are energy inefficient providing no insulation. Many are also broken and were never replaced. As the roof leaks, hot air rises right out of the conservatory, which is both inefficient and costly. The conservatory is not a GREEN building, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Unfortunately, the Bloedel Conservatory cannot sustain itself and require a massive $2 million for upgrades immediately, just to keep it going as it is. Due to the current budget crunch, all levels of government are facing such an upgrade is not feasible. Vision Commissioners respect the class A Heritage status and we are currently looking for a more sustainable use for the building.

      7 2Rating: +5


      Nov 27, 2009 at 12:21pm

      I think this is the wrong approach to solve a problem, the Bodel conservatory is a highlight attraction for Queens park and may have not been advertised sufficiently to draw a crowd to make its financial aspect up to par and guess who has that responsibility to make sure that is done correctly .....Parks Board Management

      5 7Rating: -2


      Nov 27, 2009 at 3:14pm

      I'll really miss the Bloedel Conservatory. I love that place. Thank you Georgia Straight for publishing the names of the Parks Board reps, Jasper, Barnes, Blyth, and Hundal, who voted to shut it down. I voted for some of them in the last election, but never again. Aaron, Constance, Sarah, and Raj, I hope the voters give you the permanent boot. You don't represent me or my interests.

      7 4Rating: +3

      m hajibeigy

      Nov 27, 2009 at 9:57pm

      Dear S. Blythe,
      I respect your decision to shut down the conservatory and know that it was your last option. i just have a question. Do you think its possible to open a new conservatory for birds? smaller, GREENER, to replace the birds home? the shelters and greyhaven are already over-populated with birds, so they need good homes. if not, may i respectfully ask where you plan on sending the birds?
      thank you for your time,

      PS : can you please send me a response to
      thank you.

      3 1Rating: +2

      Robert Carter

      Nov 28, 2009 at 6:35am

      The Conservatory is a jewel. It's particularly galling when I see the parks board waste money all summer long...cutting grass that doesn't exist. Planting millions of impatiens and then ripping them out a few weeks later. There's waste almost everywhere you look. And it's hard to believe that having a bunch of barnyard animals for children to pet can cost that much. The Parks Board should be fired and save big bucks. We're the only city in North America with a separate parks board. They duplicate many services that could be done by the city for less. Please don't close the conservatory. Short-sighted thinking to save a few bucks is the wrong way to go. The Canada Line construction has made it next to impossible to visit this jewel fro the past couple of years. Let's rally to save it.

      5 8Rating: -3


      Nov 28, 2009 at 10:45am

      I wonder about Parks Commissioner Sarah Blyth's contention that the Bloedel Conversatory must be shut down because, in her opinion, it is not a "green" building. If this pretext is used for future budget cuts, think of all the wonderful places in the Vancouver area that could be closed. This would include pretty much anything designed by our beloved Arthur Erikson including the sublime but leaky, concrete Simon Fraser University and the amazing UBC Anthropology Museum with its big energy inefficient windows. If the "not green" pretext is used, most of the city buildings would have to be torn down as well. Energy conservation is important, but the infamous four Parks Board Commisioners Bythe, Barnes, Hundal, and Jasper seemed to use it prematurely to gas the Bloedel Conservatory. I won't vote for these folks again, and I hope no one else does either.

      5 3Rating: +2


      Nov 28, 2009 at 1:09pm

      Vision commissioners were 'forced' to vote for the budget? By whom? Is this coercion? Nobody made you vote this way. You chose to.

      6 7Rating: -1