Domed Bloedel not necessarily doomed – Metro US

Domed Bloedel not necessarily doomed

The fate of Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory is about to get a little clearer.

Whether the domed attraction is ultimately doomed or not, however, will likely be made in the fall, when the full park board resumes sitting in mid-September.

At their July 20 budget committee meeting – the final meeting prior to their summer break – Vancouver’s parks board will receive staff’s recommendations based on four “expression of interest” proposals.

“Staff feel that at least one of the proposals is definitely worth exploring,” said Parks chair Aaron Jasper, who wouldn’t say what the four proposals were, nor who proposed them.

He said he expects the staff report would contain details like business and marketing plan for the conservatory.

“I want to be in that committee and know, based on the information presented, that this is a good proposal for the long-term viability of Bloedel.”

Proponents of one plan – the only one made public so far – have met twice with parks board staff to “flesh out” the expression of interest they made at the end of April.

“I’m feeling certainly a lot more optimistic than when we started,” said John Coupar, president of Friends of the Bloedel. “The potential of that facility is tremendous and it was just a little bit forgotten by the population.”

The conservatory, home to tropical birds, fish and about 500 plants, was the city’s biggest attraction when it opened in 1969 and that year welcomed 500,000 people.

That number declined to about 250,000 in the 80s and last year dropped to a mere 70,000 visitors.

The drop was partly due to construction of the Canada Line and the reservoir at the top of Little Mountain, Coupar said.

In November, facing a $2.8-million budget shortfall, the board decided to axe the 40-year-old attraction, along with the children’s farmyard in Stanley Park.

At the time, commissioners pegged it as an unpleasant choice between running the two attractions and closing community centres. They later requested expressions of interest from the public for ways to keep the attractions open.

The Friends of the Bloedel have proposed the conservatory become an amenity of the nearby Van Dusen Botanical Gardens.

Under the plan, the parks board would run the conservatory, but an army of volunteers would educate the public, fundraise and build the collection.

“It’s a win-win for the parks board,” said Coupar, whose father Charles was the original director at the conservatory.

“They get the proven success of Van Dusen … and the energy of our group that has been well demonstrated over the last nine months.”

If their proposal is accepted, Friends of the Bloedel would be given three seats on the Van Dusen board of directors.

Coupar said the break-even point for the attraction is about 140,000 visitors a year and he’s confident it is achievable.

Bus tours alone (lost because of the construction) used to pump 70,000 people through the dome annually, albeit at a reduced rate.

“It’s not revolutionary. It’s just taking a look at something that needs a little more TLC, a little support, a little community involvement.

“Reconnecting with the community, I think it’ll be there for a long, long time – as long as they come to the right decision.”

Among the concerns expressed in November, was that the 40-year-old triodetic dome, a gift from the Bloedel lumber family, needs a new $2 million roof.

Coupar says there is a difference between replacing a few shingles and an entire roof.

The roof panels, he said, are already double their expected 20-to-25-year lifespan.

Some are cracked and would need to be replaced, but the roof’s aluminum frame is fine. Its builder toured it recently and told Coupar that it still looks brand new.

“It’s doable. It’s not $2 million. It’s probably a couple hundred thousand. If we can spend $25 million on bike lanes, we can fix the roof.”