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Posted on Sat, May 12, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Newly installed parking meters lead to membership surge at U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens

By Kellie Woodhouse


Deborah Stocks pays for parking for the first time at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor on Friday.

Kellie Woodhouse |

The introduction of metered parking at Matthaei Botanical Gardens has led to a surge in membership, University of Michigan officials say.

To generate revenue and harmonize with existing U-M practices, the gardens switched to a parking fee system in January and eliminated the $5-per-adult and $2-per-child indoor conservatory fee. Previously, the conservatory was the only U-M museum to charge entry fees and the gardens was the only U-M Ann Arbor attraction to offer free daytime visitor parking.

Parking at the gardens is now $1.20 per hour or $5 for daily unlimited parking. Members, who pay a $40 yearly fee, park for free.

Normal membership levels range from 1,700 to 1,800 in the winter. But this winter levels were above 2,000.

"That's a big change for us. It was a big jump," said Andy Sell, a Matthaei development generalist. "There were a lot of people inquiring about joining the botanical gardens so they could park for free."

Ypsilanti resident Carolyn Howard is one of the thousands of Matthaei visitors that became members once the meters were installed.

"They started charging for parking so instead of the bother of paying $1.20 (an hour) every time we want to come to the gardens we got a membership card," Howard said during a Friday morning run through the gardens. "The meters encourage people to get a membership and we do need money for the gardens."


Matthaei Botanical Gardens has introduced a metered parking system.

Kellie Woodhouse |

Current membership levels are pushing 2,200 and Sell expects "further growth" far outpacing normal membership levels in the coming spring and summer months. Matthaei Associate Director Karen Sikkenga said the conservatory also is seeing more traffic than usual.

She said gardens staff are pleased by visitor response to the meters.

"I was ready to hear people say: 'I am upset because I used to come here and didn't use to have to pay,' " Sikkenga said. "We haven't heard that so much. ... There have been occasional complaints from people that have been frequent users and now have to pay, but it was not as bad as we feared."

Scott and Karen Worthy encountered a parking enforcer before their morning walk through the gardens on Friday. The couple doesn't have a membership but doesn't mind paying for parking, they said.

Karen Worthy plans to bring a group of three out-of-town friends to the conservatory next week and she says the new system will actually save the group money.

"It ends up being a better deal, especially if you come with friends," she said. "You're talking maybe four of us at $5 apiece would have been $20 and now it's $2.40 for two hours."

Matthaei member Dick Rosenfeld equated paying for parking at the gardens to paying for parking when visiting downtown Ann Arbor.

"It isn’t going to keep away people that love the place, I am sure of that," he said.

Added Deborah Stocks, first-time Matthaei visitor: "It was unexpected but I don't mind paying. ... That's a way to get funds for the garden and it's not very expensive so it doesn't matter to me."

Before the switch to meters, the 80-acre gardens averaged more than 100,000 visitors a year, according to traffic study commissioned by the university. The newly installed meters will help U-M more accurately track the number of garden visitors. While membership has increased, Sikkenga said it isn't yet clear whether the meters have affected total visiting levels at the gardens.

"I am really looking forward to just knowing how many people are here," she sad. "That’s something we just haven’t been able to count before."

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



Fri, Aug 24, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

In this May discussion which I just happened to access, there is only one comment about the need for bus service to the Matthei Gardens. Currently the AATA #3 bus is the closest public transport to the Gardens, but then there is a long walk with no sidewalk. At an area fair recently a person staffing the AATA table said that bus service to Matthei was a frequent request from the public. At the very least there should be a sidewalk from the #3 transit point to the gardens. As it is, if you are blind or minimally sighted, a senior giving up driving, are otherwise unlicensed or a non-biker, you are just out of luck.


Mon, Jul 2, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

what will be the UM protocol when there is a wedding at the Gardens ? surely, UM doesnt think having 75 - 100 wedding guests/party all lined up at the parking meter at the same time trying to each get a ticket will be very user friendly ? plus the fact it will take way too long. hoping UM will allow the wedding party to pre-purchase in advance enough parking passes to handle the situation. otherwise the stress and time required to "feed the meter" will be unbearable !

Thom Phillips

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 2:38 a.m.

We used to have playgroup at the Matthaei Garden every week. It's lovely place but with new parking meters not any more. Thanks to UofM


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

omg; the meters look to be the same as the infernal ones used by Annarbor. Why do i always have to say pay-to-park twice?

Left is Right

Sun, May 13, 2012 : 4:36 a.m.

Well, I've had a membership for years because (1) the money helps keep the lights on and (2) on each excursion, I don't have to think about my "return on investment". If I just want stay for 15 minutes--no guilt. But the parking meter thing? Really not a marketing power-play. In fact, it kind of reinforces how many of us see the UM now: They take as much as they can get...and then take a little more. Maybe I'll rethink that membership.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 2:19 a.m.

The Botanical Gardens are crying out for regular bus service. AATA or U-M bus, I don't care what it is. It's ridiculous that a U-M facility is not served by a bus route. If they want real consistency of access, they need to address that problem, too.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 1:42 a.m.

The last time I went to Matthai (last spring) the outdoor displays were pathetic, empty flower beds all over the place and this was June. The whole area around the conservatory was junky, weedy and tired looking, little was planted, and it was hardly worth the $5 admission fee. Inside, the displays were tired and not well kept up. At least now, if you are disappointed with your visit, you are only out $1.20.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 8:44 a.m.

Last summer was pretty darn hot...not good for plants, etc.

Jay Thomas

Sat, May 12, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

Free was great, but I understand. I usually don't go inside...


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

The last time I went there this winter, I encountered an elderly couple struggling with the digital parking meter. They told me to go ahead before them because they couldn't figure it out, I offered to help them and they were happy because they were going to leave. I found out they were celebrating their 50th anniversary and wanted to walk through the gardens. So, I think the gardens may be losing patrons as well. I was disappointed because I like to bring my two little ones to the children's garden in the summer and never know exactly how long we'll be staying. There are few places left to take kids that are free. I would rather pay a flat fee each time than feed a meter when I'm not sure how long I'm staying.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 4:38 a.m.

I dislike parking meters for the reason you mention. One doesn't always know how long they'll be, and worrying about paying a meter is a pain. I also understand your feelings about your children. Taking young children to the Botanical Garden's children's garden is a different experience than going to the Arboretum, and the distances to be walked are more suitable to young children. What may seem like a deal for some is still costly for others. Digital meters are difficult to figure out and I sympathize with the older people who may struggle to use them.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

Going to the children's garden and paying a couple bucks is a deal. I had lunch there Friday, strolled all the indoor and outdoor gardens with a toddler, and it cost me under $3. That's a bargain in my book.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

Admittance to the Nichols Arboretum, as well as the numerous city parks, is free. Not an identical experience but similar. And the parking is free, though not always readily available or close at hand.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

Classic. Someone went to marketing class after If the people that bought memberships took the math class, they would realize they are paying more money than they were before to see the gardens. Tell them they are getting something free and do a reach around at the same time. Gamesmanship 101 right here folks. :)


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

Just reminds me of the old ad..."Cigars 25 cents 3 for a dollar"


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Maybe, but not necessarily. With a membership, free parking and free admittance to the indoor conservatory, those who purchased a membership might now attend more often with more people (children, other family, friends), so they would have more frequent use and enjoyment with less cost. And there might be some who would not necessarily attend more often, but who would still save money, e.g., those who would have 9 adult "attendances" per year, either individually, or a total as two or more people. It seems to be a shift in the cost. Some likely will end up paying more, some less. I don't think you are giving enough credit to those who purchased new memberships. I will assume they did the math and figured it was a better deal for them, rather assume they are mindless victims of gamesmanship.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

"Newly installed parking meters lead to membership surge at U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens" What?? By whose measure? Where is the cause and effect on this one? 1 + 1 = 5


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

Read the article. It's fairly straightforward.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

Ity always amazes me how we continue to put a positive spin on government helping themselves to the money in our pockets.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

Helping themselves? Do you have an inalienable right to a public botanical garden? This stuff costs money.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

I hope there is bicycle parking. I will ride my bike if I want to go there.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Under the previous regime, indoor users and members were basically subsidizing outdoor users. Now everyone shares the cost. No problem.

Left is Right

Sun, May 13, 2012 : 4:48 a.m.

As a member, I was fine subsidizing outdoor users. Should I now expect the price of my membership to drop to reflect that "shared" cost?


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 4:39 a.m.

I thought the maintenance of the indoor gardens was more costly than the outdoors. So in my opinion, not a subsidy.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

What a BLEEPING ripoff.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

Ripoff or bargain? To underscore how dumb I think voter initiatives are, maybe we should try to collect signatures to put on the ballot: All Parking Must be Free. Penalties for over the posted time limit will not exceed $5. That will rattle some cages.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

What about the visitors who only visited the gardens? This is just "greed" by UM and made to look pretty. Those meters won't help determine how many people visited. The fact that the public have rolled over & just accepted yet another fee is disturbing.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

maybe the athletic dept...

Craig Lounsbury

Sat, May 12, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

The newly installed meters will help U-M more accurately track the number of garden visitors. While membership has increased, Sikkenga said it isn't yet clear whether the meters have affected total visiting levels at the gardens. "I am really looking forward to just knowing how many people are here," she said. "That's something we just haven't been able to count before." What am I missing? how does feeding a meter tell you how many people are in a car? Your going to come up with some sort of "average" some how. But that is what the previous system was with respect to attendance was it not? Take an educated guess how many folks paid a fee to go indoors versus those who just stayed outdoors. Please don't think this is an anti parking meter rant. I just don't see the "logic" with respect to counting bodies.

Dog Guy

Sat, May 12, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

You can lead a horticulture but not for free.


Sun, May 13, 2012 : 7:29 a.m.

You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her drink...


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

Good one, @Dog Guy. Based on the (as of now) 2 negative votes, an alternative for those might be "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make 'em think."

Jimmie wright

Sat, May 12, 2012 : 11:23 a.m.

It used to be free to roam the gardens and fields of the "Botan"- the fee was for inside admittance . Steve- parking was always free with your membership so I wouldn't be thanking the university for nothing.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 10:58 a.m.

We had become members a couple of years ago---mainly to enjoy the tropical comfort of the greenhouse. We enjoy reading books and wandering around looking at trees and flowers on winter days. It was nice to discover that our parking was "free" with our membership.