The only NPA member of the Vancouver park board says he's going to do what he can to try to save the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Ian Robertson said that attendance at the facility more than tripled in December 2009 compared to the same month a year ago.
Robertson said an "extremely reliable source" told him that 8,213 people visited the Conservatory last month. There were 2,571 visitors in December 2008.
"There has been a significant increase in requests for private bookings as well," Robertson said. "It has not been given a chance."
The Vision Vancouver-controlled park board voted 4-3 in November to shut down the Conservatory, which is home to tropical plants and more than 100 species of birds.
The board later voted to issue a request-for-proposals to invite a private operator to take over the facility.
Robertson said he thinks the Conservatory should continue to be managed as a public facility along the lines of the VanDusen Garden. It is owned by the park board and a not-for-profit group, the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association, recruits volunteers and raises funds for capital projects.
"To be honest, the [park] board is very inexperienced and it did not dig deep enough to find solutions," Robertson said.
He noted that a Vision Vancouver park commissioner would have to introduce a motion to rescind the earlier decision to close the Conservatory if a private operator isn't found.
Robertson added that a community group, Friends of the Bloedel, has come forward with some good ideas to maintain the Conservatory in public hands.
"They're not what I call extremists," Robertson said, noting that one of the directors, John Coupar, has a great deal of business expertise, and that it has the support of well-known Vancouverites, such as florist Thomas Hobbs.
Robertson pointed out that development of the Canada Line and construction work on the nearby Little Mountain reservoir over the past six years have had an impact on the number of people visiting Queen Elizabeth Park.
Now that this work has been completed, he thinks that the Conservatory will attract enough visitors to sustain itself.
"I've had more e-mails and calls on this--easily--than I received during the Stanley Park windstorm," Robertson said. "People have called from all parts of the city. This has really touched a nerve."
Robertson rejected any suggestion that it would be necessary to close another civic facility to keep the Conservatory open. "Queen Elizabeth Park is a more inviting place to go [to visit]," he said.
There have been media reports that it will cost $2 million to fix the roof of the Conservatory, but Robertson called this a "red herring".
He said that the $2-million figure would be the cost of repairing the entire roof, whereas there may only be a need to replace just a few panels. He added that there has never been an engineer's report assessing the need for any repairs.
The Conservatory opened in 1969 as a result of a gift to the city from Prentice Bloedel. "This decision [to close the Conservatory] does not sent a strong message to anybody who wants to bequeath anything to the city"," Robertson said.
Related article: Friends rally against Bloedel Conservatory closure