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VOL. 10 | NO. 26 | Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hardin Hall Renovations Underway As Rental Space Competition Increases


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After 20 years of serving as a premier event venue, Memphis Botanic Garden’s Hardin Hall is getting a facelift.

Hardin Hall is the Botanic Garden's largest rental venue and the most important revenue-generating asset at the property. (Submitted)

In 1996, Helen and Jabie Hardin gave a gift which provided the seed money, and together with other donors, MBG built the visitors center and Hardin Hall, a venue designed to give greater exposure to Memphis Botanic Garden. The venue can accommodate from 350 to 650 guests and has hosted countless weddings and big events through the years taking advantage of the surrounding garden setting.

According to a fundraising letter for the renovation of Hardin Hall, longtime patrons of the space had called attention to the need for renovations, and it became a priority when Michael Allen came on board as executive director. Memphis Botanic Garden is owned by the city of Memphis and operated by a private foundation, so it depends on donations and earned income to continue to operate and provide programs for the community.

“The garden relies on earned income as a critical part of our revenues,” Allen said. “The two biggest contributors to our earned income are rental venues and our Live at the Garden series. Hardin Hall, as our largest rental venue, is by definition our most critical asset in that regard.”

Jenny Savage, director of rental sales for MBG agreed, saying, “Revenue is so important to the garden and it’s important to keep it up to help provide for programs.”

Rental revenue accounts for about 40 percent of MBG’s revenue, and approximately 55 percent of all rental revenue comes from Hardin Hall. The hall hosted 121 events in 2016, down 26 percent from a high of 164 events in 2011, which Savage says is partially because the space is dated and partially because of an increase in competition venues in the city.

“Competition is stiff,” said Savage. “We just need to maintain and stay in the game. We’re centrally located in the heart of East Memphis, we have convenient, free, on-site parking and a beautiful setting.”

As the first of a three-phase project with Fleming Architects at the helm, the 5,500-square-foot Hardin Hall is being updated with new carpet; wall and ceiling coverings; new technology capabilities; and a completely new versatile LED lighting system that can transform the hall from a corporate meeting space to an evening wedding venue and anything in between. The iconic cloud ceiling painted by local artist Dawn Hamm will be preserved in the renovation. Additionally, the bride’s room will undergo improvements, including new wall and window coverings, new carpet and vanity tops.

“The design is timeless, clean and simple and will bring in some of the garden elements,” said Miranda Tansey, principal and director of interior design at Fleming Architects, who also handled the renovation of MBG’s Goldsmith Room several years ago. “We want the space to stand alone when not in use, but also be a really neutral backdrop for events.”

Because it is donor-funded, MBG is taking the renovations one step at a time.

“Once we get past this first phase, there is a concept … not yet approved or funded … to do an expansion of Hardin Hall that would do an even better job of assimilating the outdoors with the indoors,” Allen said. “It would expand our capacity and create an (almost) new ‘wow’ rental venue in the city.”

Hardin Hall has an adjacent patio, and future design options include a seamless wall of windows that open onto the terrace and a possible expansion of the terrace to better incorporate the wooded gardens beyond. Future phases also would include improvements to the visitors center.

“Our ultimate goal is to tie the interior with the exterior. The exterior is really the treasure of the facility, so the more we can connect the two together, the better the space will be,” said Savage.

The $250,000 phase one of the project is set to be completed in late July.

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