Austin’s flower progam returns for 15th year

Published 1:22 pm Saturday, December 12, 2009

Austin’s flower program will be back in bloom come spring for its 15th year, with support from the city, area donors and downtown businesses.

The $40,000 program has drawn some criticism from people who feel it is unnecessary spending, but Bonnie Rietz, the former mayor and program creator, said the flowers do a lot of good for downtown Austin.

Two hundred and forty hanging pots will go up along Main Street, Fourth Avenue and elsewhere downtown. Steve Davis, the owner of Steve’s Pizza and new member to the flower committee, said the program provides something “refreshing” to look at in the area.

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“A lot of my customers comment on how beautiful the flowers are,” he said.

The city picks up $10,000 of the tab — down from $20,000 following a budget reduction earlier this year — Hormel pays another $10,000, and the rest is covered by donations.

Rietz said one supportive individual has already pledged $5,000. Last year, roughly 150 individuals and businesses chipped in.

“People notice the flowers quite a bit,” current Mayor Tom Stiehm said. “They brighten the town up a bit.”

The city’s parks and recreation department will soon start working with Dolan’s Landscaping to have the flowers purchased and ready to go, director Kim Underwood said. Then, planting usually begins in March. The hanging pots are filled with petunias, but a few other varieties are planted in the ground.

When the flowers are in bloom during the summer, the department has workers water them everyday, Underwood said.

The program started off in 1996 with 165 baskets, but it soon ballooned into a 400-pot venture in 2001. Funding cuts brought that down to 240 last year, which meant the Mill Pond area no longer received flowers.

Stiehm said the same areas will receive flowers in 2010 as 2009.

To donate, the city is asking people to send checks to City Hall, at 500 Fourth Avenue NE, with “Flowers 2010” on the memo line. A single pot costs about $100, but donors can give as much or as little as they choose.

Donations can be sent through mid-January.