ANNAPOLIS – Officials from Ladew Topiary Gardens are seeking a $500,000 grant from the state for upgrades.
Ladew Gardens officials met with the Harford delegation on Friday morning in hopes the legislators will introduce a county bill to secure funds for the educational botany facility.
Donald Heacock, trustee at Ladew Gardens, said the funding will be used to increase the visitor experience at the garden.
The trustees plan to expand visitor parking, reorienting it in a more welcoming design for guests. The maintenance facility will also be expanded and moved further back on the property, so it is not in the traffic path of visitors.
Heacock said the upgrades will cost a total of $3.5 million and the gardens have already raised $2.2 million in donations.
Ladew Topiary Gardens is a 200-acre farm in Monkton, which was gifted to the foundation in 1971, said Emily Emerick, executive director of Ladew Gardens. She said the gardens serves as a horticulture educational institution, which brings more than 37,000 visitors per year, including school groups from Harford County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
"I think Ladew Gardens is one of Harford County's jewels," Emerick said.
Emerick told the delegates that the gardens has been a very self-sustaining facility, securing money through private funding. She said the last time they asked for state funds was a $450,000 grant in 1996.
Del. Patrick McDonough, who represents western Harford, mentioned that the rain tax may cancel out the monthly bond rate Ladew Gardens is requesting.
Based on the rain tax, property owners are taxed based on the area of impervious surfaces such as parking lots, which create runoff from rain that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay.
"What you pay next year will be significant from what you pay this year," McDonough said. "I don't know what good it would be to get the bond and pay interest and then have to pay the tax increase."
The gardens wants the delegation to introduce a bond bill for a grant, which would not be repaid by Ladew Gardens, Emerick clarified Monday afternoon.
Ladew Gardens is working with a landscape architect, who understands storm water management, Emerick said. She said the gardens is looking to find an environmental friendly storm management system, which differs from traditional commercial facilities, and that can be used as a model for homes.
According to Emerick, the rain tax will be taken into consideration and the new parking lot will be built from a pervious, rather than an impervious surface.
Western Harford Del. Kathy Szelgia asked if the gardens had the cash to match the bond.
Emerick said Ladew already has the cash to match, if they given the grant.
Sarah Schweizer, president of Ladew's Board of Trustees, said Ladew plans to begin construction in the summer.
Harford tourism celebrated
The Harford delegation also heard from several organizations in the county's tourism industry, in celebration of Maryland Tourism Day, which was Friday.
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Wini Roche, tourism and marketing manager for the Harford County government, said 135,000 Marylanders are employed by tourism. She said investing in the tourism industry is "a good return on the investment."
Harford County has raised $10 million in tourism related taxes, Roche said.
Roche said the tourism department is promoting Harford's attractions such as Ladew Gardens, fun activities such as the Ultimate Chocoholic Tour and sports travel, which raises a lot of revenue .
"We want to roll out a food and wine initiative in the spring to advertise our wineries," Roche said. "We're looking forward to forming a visitors bureau and a public-private partnership with the chamber of commerce."
Martha Valentine, coordinator of the Harford County Cultural Arts Board, said she considers the arts an integral part of tourism.
Valentine said her department has worked to create art-based partnerships with the tourism community. In mid-December 2013, she said Harford students held an art exhibit at Spring Hill Suites to continue the partnership between the arts and schools.
Representatives from the Bel Air Economic Development Department and Maryland wine industry also made presentations to the delegation.