Visitors to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens this weekend will find a warm and bright spring greeting in the new Welcome Center, which is the first phase of a $36.6 million expansion project.
“It’s the first building in a major expansion of the conservatory that’s going to make Phipps the finest conservatory in the entire country,” says Richard V. Piacentini, executive director of the Oakland attraction. “We think it is the most attractive entrance to a botanical garden in the entire country.”
Officials will discuss details of the new Welcome Center at a news conference scheduled for Thursday, which marks the official public opening. A grand-opening celebration for the public is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
The 10,885-square-foot Welcome Center — portions of which have been opened for about a month — includes updated visitor amenities, the 2,000-square-foot Shop at Phipps and the 78-seat Cafe Phipps. The center, topped by a 46-foot glass dome, sits mostly underground, with a small lobby on the ground level that leads to the Palm Court and the rest of the conservatory. The dome allows plenty of natural light to spill in, making it seem to visitors that they are not underground, Piacentini says.
“One of the biggest problems we had in the design process was figuring out how to put the building in front of the conservatory without blocking it,” he says. “This is an absolutely brilliant solution.”
The next phase of the project — a state-of-the-art greenhouse production facility designed to grow plants for exhibition — is scheduled to open this fall, followed by the 12,000-square-foot Tropical Forest Exhibit in the fall of 2006. The final two phases are adding facilities for special events and education administration. Timelines for these two projects depend on funding received, Piacentini says.
IKM Inc., a Downtown architectural firm, designed the Welcome Center, which replaces a pavilion that was built in the 1960s and complements the design of the 112-year-old conservatory, Phipps officials say.
“The Phipps Welcome Center is a beautiful and contemporary addition to a grand historical landmark,” said Jim Stalder, chairman of the Phipps Board of Trustees, in a written statement. “However, behind the beauty is an environmentally conscious structure that strives to lessen the impact on its surroundings while maintaining historical significance.”
Landscaping surrounding the Welcome Center is a work in progress, but Piacentini says the grounds can be tended and more flowers planted when the rain subsides.
Meanwhile, Phipps officials today will install more than 100,000 brightly colored, tulip-sized flags on the sloping front lawn to give a colorful spring flower appearance, he says.
The Welcome Center includes an upgraded ticketing and admission system, a visitor locker area, new restroom facilities and a grand stairway to the Palm Court, which leads to other conservatory exhibits. The Shop at Phipps — which is about four times the size of the old gift shop — will carry botanically themed merchandise such as cards, toys, beauty products, home items, gardening books and cookbooks, and actual house plants.
Cafe Phipps — operated by Big Burrito Group, which owns area restaurants including Mad Mex, Soba and Casbah — offers self-service meals and snacks featuring locally grown produce.
About the Welcome Center
About the Tropical Forest Exhibit
Source: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
What: Grand opening of Welcome Center
When: Saturday and Sunday. Family and educational activities — including a springtime puppet show written for the occasion, and daffodil discovery tables — are planned from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The conservatory is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. through April 10, with its ‘Spring Flower Show: Colorful New Beginnings.’ As of April 11, Phipps will revert to its usual hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays.
Admission: $7.50; $6.50 for age 62 and older; $5.50 for students; $4.50 for age 2 to 12; free for those younger than 2
Where: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 1 Schenley Park, Oakland
Details: (412) 622-6914, or www.phipps.conservatory.org