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Gardens economic impact expected to grow
Group expects 32,000 visitors at Smithgall sites 1st year
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For The Times The Smithgall Woodland Garden, with its visitor center depicted above, may boost the local economy by $1 million to $1.5 million in its first year.

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Diana Davis outlines the potential impact of Smithgall Woodland Garden on Hall County.

An official of the Atlanta Botanical Garden is projecting the planned Smithgall Woodland Garden could have an impact of $1.5 million in the local economy during its first year of operation in 2010.

Diana Davis, chief financial officer for the Atlanta organization developing the 185-acre site, said the garden will be on a pay-as-you-go basis once it opens to the public.

"The garden is a very fiscally conservative organization and we’re very conscious of not building before we earn and not spending beyond our means," Davis said.

"Once we open to the public, we are estimating the garden will be fully supported by the operations here, by the folks that are coming and visiting the garden and participating in our programs."

The garden, which is being built on the homestead of the late Charles Smithgall and his wife, Lessie, is expected to be a self-sustaining operation. Those who become members will belong to both the Atlanta and Gainesville gardens. Davis outlined the business plan this week to a group of government leaders and the media.

"We are a very risk-averse, debt-averse organization. That’s really a key to much of our success throughout our history," she said.

She said that an extensive market study conducted for the Smithgall Woodland Garden shows the garden has the potential to draw visitors from a 30-mile radius.

"This is such an exciting market," she said, adding that Hall County, with a current population estimated at 173,000, will grow 62 percent by 2015. Another plus for the garden is the likelihood that 1 in 11 people in Georgia will live in neighboring Gwinnett County by 2015.

"You’re really on the edge of an economic boom in this area and to be a player in that is so incredibly interesting for us," Davis said.

Marketing will be directed to a number of constituencies, including families.

"Families with children are a big part of what we do," she said. "We’ll have drop-in classes, story time and puppet shows."

As the Smithgall garden continues to develop, the attraction will be much broader.

"In later years, we will reach out to more tourists," Davis said.

In addition, the garden will be available for corporate meetings and special events such as weddings and reunions.

The first phase will offer visitors a glimpse at just three to four acres of the 185-acre site. She said marketing would be tempered as not to overstate expectations.

"In 2010, we’re expecting 32,000 visitors. That will include people coming in new, as well as the 16,000 members of the Atlanta Botanical Garden," she said.

In the first year, officials predict 6,000 visitors will come from within 20 miles.

"The 20-to-40-mile radius is where we’re going to pull people out of Gwinnett County and northern DeKalb to support it," Davis said.

The number of visitors grows significantly after five years, according to the plan.

"By 2015, we’re looking at 52,000 visitors in a year," she said.

She estimates the first year’s revenue at $500,000, but the tourism impact for Hall County swells to a projected $1 million to $1.5 million. By 2015, revenue grows to $1 million for the garden alone.

Charles Smithgall, former publisher of The Times, passed away in 2002. He and his wife, who continues to live on the property, decided to donate it to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. They also donated $3 million for the initial planning and development. That amount grew by $2 million with a donation from the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

A capital campaign is currently under way to raise an additional $5 million by 2009. Davis said a second campaign for the next phase of the garden would begin in 2012.

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