AmeriFlora opened 25 years ago as celebration of America’s quincentennial

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — AmeriFlora ’92 was billed as the centerpiece of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus first setting foot in the New World.

Organizers and city leaders believed the event, the first-ever international flower show in America, would put the city of Columbus on the map.

AmeriFlora opened on April 20, 1992 to much fanfare. The opening ceremony included President George H. W. Bush, comedian Bob Hope and Gov. George Voinovich among others.

But after a 6-month run, attendance totals were only about half of what had been projected and the balance sheet ended in the red.

Horticulturalist Garry Clarke came from England to work at AmeriFlora and then stayed. He fondly remembers the festivities, the entertainment and the daily crowds of people.

“I believe over 2 million people came to a 6-month horticultural festival and as a horticulturalist, I think that’s a phenomenal success,” Clarke said.

AmeriFlora reached out to the homeowners around the park and offered to provide new landscaping to their front yards. Lucetta Stewart points to a Japanese maple in her front yard as an example. But Stewart calls AmeriFlora an “absolute flop” and says her most vivid memory of AmeriFlora is the fencing put up all around the park.

“You had people from different countries walking behind the gate and we’re sitting on our porches with our families and they’re looking like, ‘well why aren’t they allowed in the park?’ it was just craziness.”

Bruce Harkey, president and CEO of Franklin Park Conservatory, believes Ameriflora was a watershed moment for the park. He points to the additions that were built and other improvements that have occurred since.

“Were it not for AmeriFlora, Franklin Park Conservatory as a nonprofit organization wouldn’t exist,” Harkey said. “And we are now viewed as one of the top 15 botanical gardens in the country.”

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