Marie Selby Botanical Gardens executes $31-million bond sale for master plan

First phase of construction expected to be completed in August 2023 at a cost of $51.6 million, CEO says

This is a rendering of the Selby Gardens campus in Sarasota after the Master Plan construction has been completed. Image courtesy Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

On Jan. 24, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens announced what it called “the successful execution of a $31,165,000 bond sale to help finance the Master Plan for its Downtown Sarasota campus.”

A news release explains, “High demand from bond investors reflected the institution’s strong finances, while the bond issue achieved the rare ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) rating, demonstrating the Master Plan’s innovative sustainability and social-impact aspects.”

The proceeds from the bond sale will enable Selby Gardens “to maintain an aggressive construction schedule,” the release adds.

Executed in December 2021, the bond sale “provides Selby Gardens with the working capital needed for construction while philanthropic pledges from its successful capital campaign continue to flow in, Jennifer Rominiecki, president & CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, pointed out in the release. Fundraising to-date for Phase One of the Master Plan has surpassed $45 million, which is about 90% of the $51.6-million total cost for Phase One construction, the release says.

“We are thrilled with the successful bond sale and with continued growth in fundraising for our Master Plan,” Rominiecki added in the release.

This is a rendering of the new Welcome Center, which is part of the master plan. Image courtesy Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Construction has begun on the first phase of the Master Plan, the release notes. It is expected to be complete in August 2023, the release says. When that work is finished, Selby Gardens’ 15-acre downtown Sarasota campus “will house its world-renowned plant research collections and library in new hurricane-rated facilities, welcome guests with an expanded and inviting entrance area, and offer more parking to accommodate ever-growing visitor numbers — all powered by a new stormwater-purification and solar-energy plant,” which will make the campus the first-ever, net-positive energy botanical garden complex in the world, the release points out.

R.W. Baird, which has multiple Florida locations — including one in Sarasota — served as the underwriter for the Selby Gardens bond sale, the release continues. Capital Trust Agency issued the tax-exempt bonds, and Kestrel Verifiers gave the bonds the ESG rating, the release says.

Kestrel’s website notes that it is the only approved verifier “with deep environmental and sustainability consulting experience in US public finance.”

“The bonds for Selby Gardens achieved the ESG Sustainability Bond rating because of the Master Plan’s high level of green innovation and the ongoing work the nonprofit does,” the release explains. “To qualify for the designation, the project met extensive standards for green building, conservation, preservation, and educational access. Kestrel Verifiers’ opinion report cited the regenerative green building technologies being used in the project, the expanded access to science it will provide for underrepresented audiences, and Selby Gardens’ advancement of biodiversity conservation goals through education and research, among other qualifications,” the release notes.

“There was heavy investor interest in the bond sale, a function of Selby Gardens’ strong financial health,” the release continues. “Going into its master planning process, Selby Gardens had zero long-term debt and a zero balance on its line of credit,” the release points out. “The institution’s financial turnaround, tied to Selby Gardens’ popular operating model as The Living Museum®” and its success in diversifying and increasing revenue, have helped it post a 75% jump in membership and 74% hike in overall earned revenue since 2015, the release notes.

The bond issue was announced at Selby Gardens’ annual Chairman’s Circle Dinner, which included an update on the first phase of the Master Plan, the release says. During that event Rominiecki also talked about the expansion of Selby Gardens’ campaign Capping Challenge, to encourage the remaining philanthropic responses needed for Phase One, the release points out.

“A group of loyal champions initially stepped forward last year” to provide $2.5 million to match new donations from the public, the release says. “With recent gifts, the Capping Challenge has grown to more than $5 million, which will match every gift dollar-for-dollar until the final goal is reached.”