Because it has been operating at a deficit for five years, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens laid off seven employees in five different departments — a 14% reduction in full-time staff.
But during a June 30 meeting that Selby Gardens CEO Tom Buchter held with volunteers to discuss the layoffs, most of the concern was centered on the Gardens’ research department.
Two world-renowned orchid researchers, Stig Dahlstrom and Wesley Higgins, were among those laid off, and volunteers were worried that the Gardens would lose its reputation as a world-class research facility.
Buchter said although some research projects will be put on hold, research of other plant species, such as bromeliads, would continue.
“I’m still committed to research, but it has to be funded,” he said. “These were very painful decisions, but because of the budget direction, we had to make this move.”
The budget deficit in 2004 was $165,304. In 2008 it grew to $474,634 — a 187.13% increase.
Buchter said to head off further deficits and increase revenue the Gardens will become more focused on fundraising and will hire a director of development.
The layoffs will save about $200,000 per year, and Buchter said he was looking to spend $50,000 to $70,000 on the new development director position.
“We’d like to restore the positions when the revenue picks back up,” Buchter said.
Tom Luzier, chairman of the board of directors, said the visitor experience will be unchanged, which he thinks is the most important consideration, because that is the largest source of revenue for the Gardens.
But volunteers remained skeptical.
“So many of us are here because of the orchids,” said one unidentified volunteer. “The orchids are the root of this garden. The orchids give this garden the image it has.”
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