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

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.

Comments (22) Add New Comment
Todd Wong
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?
www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com
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Stephen
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!
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Evil Eye
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!
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S.Blyth
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.
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Coolsmith
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
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Pat
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.
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m hajibeigy
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 majid25jet@hotmail.com
thank you.
majid.
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Robert Carter
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.
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Pat
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.
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James
Vision commissioners were 'forced' to vote for the budget? By whom? Is this coercion? Nobody made you vote this way. You chose to.
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observe
Ms. Blyth, what solution did you try to find in the week between the announcement of the staff recommendation and the park board vote? Did you make any calls to benefactors who might help? Or builders or architects who could brainstorm solutions? The four commisioners who voted this way seem so resigned, so inert, so unwilling to work for a solution, it almost makes you think they wanted it to happen. These institutions are part of Vancouver's heart. They'll be remembered by residents and visitors lucky enough to see them until the end of their lives. But I hope any prospective philanthropists can forget your actions. I keep thinking of the bench I saw when I was at the conservatory last week, donated in memory of someone who loved it and died in 1996. Will that generous gift be thrown on the scrap heap, too?
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steveleenow
"Unfortunately, the Bloedel Conservatory cannot sustain itself and require a massive $2 million for upgrades immediately, just to keep it going as it is."

Sounds like a good stimulus project that the BC Liberals or the Conservatives could chomp onto... I see ribbon cuttings and press releases and jobs in the trades sector, which would love to help repair the building to its former splendor... if BC Place can get a new roof, why can't the Conservatory?
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Vicki
The Bloedel Conservatory is a unique oasis of exotic plants and birds. Bloedel and the Petting Zoo are the last two remaining family attractions in Vancouver that are very affordable and accessible!

My question? Why do taxpayers have to unknowingly shoulder the cost for Commissioner Constance Barnes alcohol rehab on Bowen Island (http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/Columnists/RebelwithaClause/2009/08/26/1062512...) and not be given a chance to support the Vancouver treasures we truly care about? Why are philanthropists and the public not allowed adequate time to raise the funds needed for upgrades and the budget shortfall? Bloedel is just now enjoying increased traffic after the Canada Line construction and recent parking lot upgrades that made visiting difficult for many. We give Commissioner Barnes a second chance ... why does she feel it necessary to axe the remaining treasures of Vancouver?

Animals and birds become easily stressed when forced to travel. When the Crystal Garden was forced to close in Victoria a high percentage of the animals died during relocation (including an endangered Lion Tamarind). The beautiful tall trees there where chopped up and discarded. Can we stand by and let similar fates fall on the residents of Bloedel and the Zoo?

Please let your voices be heard at the City Hall Public Meeting Dec. 3, 2009 at 7:30. Let the Commissioners know they are making a grave and irreversible mistake! Write letters, make phone calls, tell your friends to do the same!
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Suzy
The Conservatory is geodesic dome and as such is a green building. This type of building is strong and energy efficient. The conservatory could be considered Vancouver's first green building. Geodesic domes were made popular by Buckminster Fuller. Buckminster Fuller laid the foundation for the green building revolution in North America and is referred to as the "father of environmental design".

In the state that it is in right now, the Conservatory is not green. Repair it and it will be green again.

"The Vision Commissioners respect the class A Heritage status and we are currently looking for a more sustainable use for the building". The Conservatory was built and designed to be a green house. What more sustainable use would you be looking for?

From the City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program: The Bloedel Conservatory is significant for its historical, symbolic, cultural, technological and social values, particularly for its use of new technologies and building methods to create both a futuristic design and an exotic ecological environment .... The Conservatory, housing tropical plants and birds, is a cultural extension of the early horticultural tradition in the city. Full text at http://www.historicplaces.ca/visit-visite/com-ful_e.aspx?id=8776

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pitor
The Vancouver Park Board have overstepped their mandate in my opinion.

The Conservatory and Children's Farmyard are invaluable assets to this city and need to be preserved.

I'm outraged that four Vision commissioners, each with less than one year's experience in elected office or policy making have decided to do away with two long standing Vancouver institutions, with virtually no public consultation or debate. The fact that Sara Blythe's above post included a thinly veiled partisan attack seems an indication of her real priorities. I'm even more outraged that I voted for these four in the first place.. Fool me once won't get fooled again

The Park Board mission is to "Provide, Preserve and Advocate" - not to destroy.
This is a decision best decided by the people of Vancouver, not agenda-bound political neophytes.
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Pax North
This move seems to be a bit dizzy and irresponsible. The Bloedel Conservatory has been a Vancouver institution for 40 years, and has inspired untold wonder and awe in legions of our children.

I'm afraid the parks board has made rather a poor show with this decision, which I'm sorry to say shows a considerable lack of effort, imagination, and long term thinking. We're all human, I suppose, but I deeply hope more considered and enlightened views on the matter prevail at the upcoming city Council meeting.

The matter of the alleged urgency of the pending costs for roof replacement is certainly a serious one, but this is the first time most Vancouverites have heard it given mention, and I have no doubt they will do the right thing in that regard, so long as they are given sufficient time.

The argument that previous Park Board councils have neglected the Conservatory seems a bit odd...The solution to neglect of the Conservatory is to scrap it ?

I do sympathize with members of the Parks Board Council, they were handed, it seems, an odious and unenviable mandate in terms of their budget cuts, but this is not the way to fulfill it, especially given their larger mandate within the context of Vancouver's past, present, and future.


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GG
Sarah Blyth...by triggering a response that says this is everyone else's fault, you deliver no solutions. That is what effective politicians do. That is what is expected from our elected officials. Vision has misread and dropped the ball on this issue and blames staff and previous boards. Me thinks they are in so far over their heads. Panic governing.
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Jonathan Slamko
There is an online petition to save the conservatory here
http://www.petitiononline.com/4bloedel/petition.html
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CT
The part that kills me is the recent decision to spend tens of thousands of dollars putting giant televisions in all the community centers to make "neighborhood living rooms" for Olympic watching. Because, of course, most people have trouble locating a television set and friends to watch it with. But I'm sure they have an ample supply of friendly livestock and tropical plants and birds. Is there any public place left where you can take your children where a television isn't blaring? There are at least two that I can think of ...
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Really?
I’m really surprised at the outcry to this pragmatic decision. I’ve lived in this city for almost half a century and visited the conservatory maybe twice, and have always considered it to a bit of an anomaly that doesn’t represent Vancouver well at all. The petting zoo seems like the last desperate gasp of the old zoo with its sad bears and monkeys. Let’s focus on some priorities for what’s important in this city — like our beaches, parks and community centres instead of some run-down tourist attractions.
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