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Posted on Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

U-M says switch to metered parking at Matthaei Botanical Gardens won't deter visitors

By Kellie Woodhouse


Washtenaw Community College students Jessica Protetch, left, and Tera Westergard get into their car to leave the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Thursday.

Jeff Sainlar I

Come January, the 100,000-plus people who visit the University of Michigan's 80-acre Matthaei Botanical Gardens each year are in for a surprise: parking meters.

While parking at the rural property is abundant, Matthaei Associate Director Karen Sikkenga says the switch to meters is part of an effort to adapt to standard U-M practices.

Currently, entry to the gardens is free, but entry to the indoor conservatory at the gardens is $5 per adult and $2 per child.

That makes Matthaei the only U-M museum to charge for admittance, and the only one not to charge for parking.

"We have at times had some questions raised about whether it’s appropriate for us to be charging an admission fee," Sikkenga said. "It's hard for us to get rid of the admissions fee because we depend on that revenue. So this is a way for us to not charge admission to the observatory and not lose too much revenue."

The money garnered from the meters will go directly to the botanical gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Additionally, members won't have to pay for parking. Individual membership is $45 a year.

According to university figures, the botanical gardens get more than 100,000 visitors each year. About a quarter of those visitors —or 2,200 a month— pay to visit the conservatory.

For those who wish to visit the conservatory, the pay-for-parking system actually makes their visit less expensive. For example, where a family of four would pay $14 to visit the museum now, come January they'll pay $2.40 if they stay for two hours.

However, of those individuals who visit the gardens, the majority —around 75 percent— don't go into the museum.

"Less people will come if they have to pay," predicted Washtenaw Community College student Tera Westergard.

Westergard visited Matthaei with fellow WCC student Jessica Protetch on Thursday afternoon.

"We had no idea coming in if we had to pay or not, and we were like 'If we have to pay then we’re turning around,' " Protetch said.


The University of Michigan will soon charge $1.20 an hour to park at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Jeff Sainlar |

The duo went to Matthaei to take photos for a photography class they're taking at WCC. Westergard and Protech predict that many photographers will pick other nature sites to photograph once the meters are installed.

However Travis Smith, a professional photographer who frequently uses the gardens as a backdrop for portraits, says the meters won't dissuade him from visiting.

“I always hate paying but at the same time they have to support themselves,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t think it’s a big deal to pay for parking… I think it’s awesome to have a free place like this to come.”

Sikkenga said that she doesn't "think attendance is going to be impacted" by the meters.

"Always when pay parking is first introduced at any site, people are distressed about it," she said. "But once people realize the fee is so reasonable and standard, then they get used to it."

Matthaei volunteer Debbie Hoffman, who gives tours of the conservatory, said she disagrees with the switch to meters.

"It might cut people’s visit short if they feel like they have to feed the meter," she said.

Protetch agreed.

"It’s understandable to have to pay to get into the museum, but to have to pay for parking… just seems weird," she said.

Kelly Winters, who also visited the gardens Thursday afternoon, said that meters don't make sense given the gardens' rural location.

"There’s so many places you have to pay to park in this area, but I don’t know about right here,” the Berkley resident said. “I understand in downtown…but I don’t think it’s as necessary here.”

Sikkenga noted that visiting Matthaei is less expensive than visiting most other "destination" places.

"We’re a destination so if you go to the Detroit Zoo or if you go to any public place like we are, you typically pay something," she said. "Virtually at all botanical gardens you either pay a parking fee —and it's not just $1.20, it's much more than that— or you pay an admission fee."

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

What many are overlooking is that the change is (1) charging for parking and (2) making admission to the conservatory FREE! This puts things in line with all of the rest of the free UM museums. This winter on a cold gray day, pay for parking and visit the conservatory for free. It may be the best deal you can find.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 11:45 p.m.

I'm not a fan of this, but it won't stop me from going to Matthaei about once a month. The grounds are beautiful; it's my favorite picnic spot in the summer and sitting inside the conservatory is the best cure for cold winter days. I'm usually too frugal to pay for the conservatory as often as I'd like, but now I can get in for about buck. I see a line out the door of coffee shops where people are paying a lot more than if they went to this garden and paid $1.20 to park. Really folks. It's about a dollar. Get over it.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 2:48 a.m.

I'm now an advocate for cutting funds to U of M any chance we get. Parking fees are "regressive" and makeit harder for folks struggling to enjoy what their tax dollars pay for. The University is biting the hand that feeds it. Ouch!

Robert Stone

Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 1:53 a.m.

What's it going to take before UM finally has its state university status revoked? Seriously, the state has budget issues and doesn't need to be throwing money away on de facto private universities that are more interested in educating people from out of state than in-state residents.

Andy S.

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 8:33 p.m.

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ralph mcgraw

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

Haha! The University is like a big pig in a wallow. They have a $15 billion endowment and want even more money. They've eroded the city's tax base by buying up as much real estate as possible because they pay no taxes . .. . sticking it to the residents once again. Parking meters? Please! What, do they have specialized committees that just sit around thinking of new ways to extort even more money from city residents and visitors? Watch out, folks, or next they'll be setting up meters to charge you for breathing the air on campus!


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 6:06 p.m.

Someone's living in a dream world if they think charging for parking here will not decrease attendance. I don't go to the Nichols Arboretum nearly as much because of the paid parking (and lack of it too) and I'm not alone. The trails at Matthaei are really nice and the lack of parking fees encourage people to use them. And unlike Nichol's, most people have to drive to get to Matthaei. You just get sick of having to pay for parking everywhere you go in Ann Arbor. Matthaei was one of the last refuges to go with free parking. Not any more I guess.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

It seems those who are against the parking fee want something for nothing. I think it is a more than fair exchange. Only time will tell if the University derives more or less revenue from this change. At least the revenue is going to Matthaei.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 5:36 p.m.

I agree with Carolyn...a low vehicle entrance fee just sounds a lot friendlier than charging for parking, even if it works out to the same amount. I am curious as to how this will be enforced, and how frequently, especially on weekends. And does this mean that event attendees (weddings, memorial services, etc..) will now have to pay to park?


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:36 p.m.

not only a bad idea, but a TERRIBLE and stupid idea.

Audion Man

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Just be honest, fer cryin' out loud. Just do what every other organization, business and government agency is doing and say, we need more money and we are doing this because *we can*. Covering it up with the &quot;...effort to adapt to standard U-M practices&quot; b.s. is just that... b.s.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

Seriously???? A time LIMIT on a visit to an outside experience? My take on this is that there was not enough revenue generated by the fees that are paid to visit the small inside garden so there was a decision to &quot;catch&quot; the missed opportunity of those that come to visit the outdoor gardens for free. I always felt that $5 was excessive for the inside visit and the free entry to the rest of the garden was a great gift to the community. Why not just be honest, charge a vehicle entrance fee and be done.

Marilyn Wilkie

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

That's what MSU does at their beautiful Hidden Lake Gardens on M50. Wonderful Conservatory there too.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

The article doesn't say explicitly whether or not they are dropping the admission fee, but one of the paragraphs hints at it. If they do drop the admission fee, then the charge for parking is no big deal. All visitors will pay a little something, and it will encourage people to visit the conservatory. If they're going to charge for parking and for admission, then they should expect a drop in attendance.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Will they be 2-hour limit meters (and discourage leisurely strolls etc) ? Income from fines may exceed meter revenue. To bad there isn't an adjacent neighborhood for the visitors to overrun when avoiding parking fees.

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

The University pays no taxes. Yet they take, take, take from the residents of Ann Arbor. This is one thing they did give us. Now they're taking it back to make a buck. It's a good thing their endowment is at a record high number of Billions. Just imagine if they were short a few bucks. Thanks Mary Sue Coleman! You're a class act.

Marilyn Wilkie

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Oh, but this is a different BUCKET!!!


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

I do not pay for parking in the country. This is ridiculous. I will never go there again. Part of the enjoyment of a museum like this is you can go in, pay your fee and wonder around until you feel like leaving. Very relaxing. Now you have to watch the clock and worry about your parking meter expiring. Where is Lucas Jackson when you need him. UofM, I can guarantee you will deter visitors as I will not be visiting again.

Marilyn Wilkie

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

&quot;Part of the enjoyment of a museum like this is you can go in, pay your fee and wonder around until you feel like leaving. &quot; Actually, a friend and I went to Ann Arbor to visit the Kelsey Museum and The Art Museum the other day. Went to the parking lot on Thompson St. across from the Union. We went to the pay machine, punched in our no. and paid $5.00. Went to the Kelsey then the Art Museum. Art Mueum was closed due to previous power failure. We were told to come back in 1/2 hour. Had lunch and came back and they still wouldn't let us in. Power was back on the first time we were there. Went back to our car (1/2 hr. early) and we had a ticket on the windshield. We looked at the parking receipt and it said space 3 instead of 13. The 1 did not work on the machine. Realized there is no space 3 - it is a zip car spot. Went in to the UM parking office and they said send it in to the Ann Arbor Parking Appeals. Ticket was for $10.00/$6 if you paid within so many hours at City Hall. I went to City Hall and they said send it in...but eventually agreed to cop my receipt and ticket and had me fill out a form with the whole story and THEY would forward it over to the Appeals people. By the way, when we left the U of M Parking Office they had almost entirely disassembled that parking machine that had taken our money. So, I will avoid Ann Arbor and the Campus as much as possible now. U of M tickets are a big hassle.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 11:57 a.m.

What's the cost to install, maintain, and police meters, and how many years until they break even? Are they coin meters or the numbered spaces and central pay station? If the latter, can you add money via the web? We've never been in the paid section due to the cost, but I agree that this will cut attendance. I'd love to know how they average 274 people a day... And how they measure that...


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 9:02 a.m.

Well 2011....the year of my LAST donation to the Botanical Gardens.

Kai Petainen

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:56 a.m.

Question: to enforce such a policy, one will need to hire someone to make the drive there and ticket the cars. will the $$ that they get from the meters be enough to pay for that? or... do they plan on people going over the limit to pay for it? or is someone already on staff who can do the ticketing?


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:27 a.m.

It would be one thing if UM's gardens were on par with MSU's. MSU's gardens are immaculate. If all of the meter revenue goes directly to the gardens for plant and hardscape material then do it!


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 11:38 p.m.

Really? Do you go to Matthaei? It's well maintained by a core of people that are always very nice and helpful when I go there. I'm there about once a month and have never had an issue.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

Agreed. I can't believe how much the UM Botanical Gardens have gone downhill this past year. The outdoor spaces are looking run down and untended. Very sad, considering how wonderful they've been in the past. The parking meter issue doesn't really bother me - I'm not all that excited to go back.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 1:08 a.m.

Ann Arbor fact: parking on U of M property is expensive: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And even with an annual $650 Blue lot parking permit, you're not guaranteed a place to park. It's more like a hunting license, really. I've never had the time to check out the Botanical Gardens, so I was surprised to learn that a fee system for parking wasn't already in place.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:54 a.m.

I don't like this idea at all. I frequently take my children there to spend time in the outdoor gardens or we go on Wednesdays when admission to the conservatory is free. It was one of my totally free destinations where I could bring the children and not have to worry about paying money for anything. My husband is a U employee and already pays hundreds of dollars a year for a parking pass, I wish we could get free parking at the Botanical Gardens out of that.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 11:37 p.m.

It's $1.20. You seriously can't give that up? Those greenhouses don't heat themselves, you know.

Left is Right

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

I don't go there that often--and I have a membership. Faced with additional chances for parking tickets, I don't think I'll be renewing that membership. UM standard practices? As someone whose dealt with the UM for 40 years, their practices can best be summarized by the acronym SNAFU.

Left is Right

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:59 a.m.

Ok, so members don't have to pay for parking. Still a bad idea to put meters there: brands UM as greedy.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 11:36 p.m.

i don't frequent the Botanical gardens, haven't been there in years. But I do have other nature areas I like to hike. Somehow the thought of keeping track of time so my parking meter doesn't expire seems contrary to my vision of the outdoor experience.

Stephen Landes

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

Parking meters are intended to control the amount of time people spend parked in a space -- encourages turn over; prevents people from dominating a highly desirable parking space. They are not, in my opinion, an appropriate source of operating revenue for an organization (business, government unit, etc). If the Botanical Gardens believe they need to generate revenue then charge a fee for entry or use of the facility.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:05 a.m.

Interesting. There is this whole industry in most cities, They are called parking garages. People pay to park on somebody elses property. Kind of like homeowners on Pauline in Ann Arbor CHARGE people to park on their lawn during football games. Pioneer High School does as well. Oh wait, Ann Arbor Golf and Outing, (a private club) does too. So I guess these are not &quot;appropriate sources of operating revenue&quot;. Oh, and why not go to Pine Knob (DTE) or a Lions game and tell me how not paying for parking will work for ya.

Henry Martin Lederman

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 10:04 p.m.

What's next? Free parking at the Arboretum?

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 9:07 p.m.

Where else outside of downtown are there parking meters?

Marilyn Wilkie

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

Just UofM lots.


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

It should be a flat fee. How annoying and disruptive it would be to have to run back out to the meters. Put in $3 via card or coin and enjoy your day without having to worry about the meter running out. Or, have a machine that spits out a receipt to put in your car window.


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 7:25 p.m.

I enjoy visiting the conservatory. Went recently with my daughter and grandson. Entry for the three of us was $12.00. Now it will be free. I won't mind paying $2.40 for parking. There are probably many that visit the botanical gardens, but don't go into the conservatory because of the cost. $2.40 for 2 hours of parking is cheap.

Susan Montgomery

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

I'm happy to pay but I'd rather pay a single total fee than pay a meter. You never know when an intended short walk on the yellow trail will turn into a longer walk down the blue trail or you decide to take time at the labyrinth... I'd hate to be doing that and then feel rushed to head back to the car... Not sure how that would be implemented though, but it'd be nice... Guess it's time to get a membership....

David Cotton

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

An automated gate that accepted cash or credit. And sign an agreement with a maintenance company that they pay expected admission fees during times when the gate is forced to an open state due to malfunction during regular open hours.


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

Greed begets greed. They don't need the money, they are building &amp; renovating every building possible, paying their top leaders loads of money, and in the meantime increasing tuition. Their reasoning is just a cover-up for being greedy. Why should anyone be surprised by this? UM: 1. is buying large amounts of property at enormous prices in Ann Arbor which has deprived the city of income and is not giving the city any money for their multiple uses of those services. 2. didn't want to pay the city initially for police support during home football games; 3. utilizes police &amp; firefighters often for other sporting &amp; non-sport events w/o paying for them; 4. have multiple parking lots &amp; buildings in neighborhoods thus inhibiting growth; 5. made the city pay them a huge amount of money for the stadium bridge project; 6. have multiple stadiums near neighborhoods w/o any limits on noise levels (includes fireworks/high intensity lights)... We live in a city with 2 police forces....The city of Ann Arbor police force which is losing people because of loss of tax income because of UM and the UM Public Safety force which is increasing. Instead of nicked &amp; diming everyone they should try to be partners in paying for their fair share. They also need to preserve the integrity of the city. If in doubt...just take a look at that behemoth of a building that used to be the first high school of Ann Arbor. That ugly structure says a lot about what they think of city history


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 12:04 a.m.

Why not FOIA how much the City of Ann Arbor paid to UM for that bridge project....after all it was public funds. I think most people would be surprised not only at the amount but that the city even had to pay UM at all. This would be a great journalistic job for Ann people...if there are any real journalists left in this city.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

I'd also point out that UofM has a fire station on their property (on Beal near McIntyre/Plymouth) which certainly costs UofM money to maintain. One can argue whether or not this makes up for the cost of services provided to UofM but it isn't fair to say UofM isn't paying anything towards fire services. Not to mention the intracacies of call volume/types generated by UofM-affiliates which is used to justify wage scales and staffing levels. I think those decrying the &quot;cost&quot; UofM imposes on AAFD, AAPD, Ann Arbor itself, etc. is would be even less happy with the alternative; an Ann Arbor sans UofM.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

Hold on, there are several fallacies in the above post: 1. UofM does indeed own a lot of property in the city, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors/staff/students/etc. every year. The money the city gains from those people spending money in the city (and all those bars/restaurants/stores/etc. are indeed taxed!) is far in excess of what they'd get from property taxes on the land UofM owns if it were owned by less-attractive entities. 2. The U does pay for the police presence at the games, what it didn't want to pay for were inflated costs for city employees/equipment nowhere near the Stadium during game days. 3. All police officers staffing events are paid for by the Athletic Department, whether UofM or AAPD. 4. What's inhibiting growth is a city council that fights any growth tooth-and-nail, just look at the wringer they put Zingerman's through when they wanted to expand! 5. The city isn't paying UofM a dime for the stadium bridge project. They are paying for the repairs but the bridge is not on campus, it's in Ann Arbor's jurisdiction and of course they should be paying for the repair of said bridge! Are you going to pay to repair your neighbor's roof if it develops holes?!? 6. Yes, that is a valid point about the stadium noise levels, but then again it's a college town with college sports that brings in a bunch of money for everyone... so it goes with the territory. As for the high school... that building was a pit. Parts of it were condemned, the parts that weren't condemned were woefully outdated and in major need of retrofitting (HVAC and electrical systems were totally inadequate) and UofM did manage to preserve the Carnegie Library facade. I had been in pretty much every part of that building... it simply had to go.

average joe

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

Johnny- @ #3- Are you saying that the fire department is a 'free' service provided by, &amp; doesn't cost anything to, the city? Gee, I wonder why all the hooppla over fire dept salaries. If the U/M expects any services from the city fire dept, then they should kick in some $$.


Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 12:01 a.m.

1. So what. I guess there were TONS of private investors looking to take over the Pfizer property? I guess it could have remained vacant for years and become like Georgetown mall? Or the Broadway area? 2.You are wrong on facts, they have always paid, the AMOUNT was in question 3. Just not true. Any police used for events are paid by the U. Any fire within the city is the responsibility of the city anyway. 4. Give us one that has inhibited growth? Because you think it does not make it so 5. Yes, they were paid to use their property, the same way the city makes the U pay for use of their property. 6. Huh? Where are these fireworks you believe are happening? We live in a city that has a campus in it. Without that campus Ann Arbor would be NOTHING. The U accounts for the most employment and the ability for most businesses in this town to even have a chance. If you want to close down the U and change STATE law about the taxes, start the ballot initiative. Otherwise you are just a whiner. You immediately give yourself away with your last comment. The useless first high school should have been torn down, but the U gave in to the people who think that a useless, not efficient , expensive to maintain building has value. I wonder if I walk by your house and don't like how you designed it, if I can say you don't respect me as a neighbor. If you hate the U so much, leave Ann Arbor. It was here before you were, and will be here long after you go away.

Marilyn Wilkie

Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 10:18 p.m.

I totally agree.


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

Whats next. Pay toilets at the stadium?


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 6:49 p.m.

&quot;Virtually at all botanical gardens you either pay a parking fee —and it's not just $1.20, it's much more than that— or you pay an admission fee.&quot; Madison, Wi has two botanical gardens, and neither charge for parking or entrance - there is a $1 dollar charge for the conservatory, though. One is 16 acres and the other over 1200 acres, open all year for various activities. It seems when education is paramount, people to tend to offer more than finance-firsters. Even UW's Washburn Observatory has been open to the public on Wednesdays for over 130 years, per the donor's mandate to its being built. At one time it was the largest refractor telescope in the nation - 1/2 inch bigger than Harvard's, by design.


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 6:15 p.m.

For those of us who are members ( and now get in for free) this sounds like a bad idea. Am i missing some proviso for members??


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

to german...thanks. i missed that


Sun, Nov 6, 2011 : 6:28 p.m.

&quot;The money garnered from the meters will go directly to the botanical gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Additionally, members won't have to pay for parking. Individual membership is $45 a year.&quot; Directly from the article.