We also understand that you have questions about the Phipps Garden Center Renovation; our new Frequently Asked Questions document aims to address your queries thoroughly and with the most up-to-date information. Read on for more details, and stay tuned to this page for more updates as progress continues.


Other Events
Other Parts of the Park
The Building
Taxpayers / Impact on City / Cost


How do we hear about changes or design progress?

Design progress will be updated on our project website (phipps.conservatory.org/gardencenter) as new information becomes available.

When you say you want to do right, right by whom?

Phipps intends to do right for all of our stakeholders. That means taking an expansive approach and adding value for the community as well as our users, staff, donors and the planet. Making sure that we focus on and add value for all five groups is an essential component of our business model.


Additional weddings will add to parking and trash problems in the park.

We hold very few weddings at the Garden Center. We do not do any of the weddings in the Walled Garden or other outdoor areas in the park. The few weddings that we do host — just one in the year 2019, for example — are indoor receptions. We do not see this as a growth area for the Garden Center since Mellon Park already has many weddings on the weekends.

Other Events

Will there be more events? Will the meeting room be available to the public?

Phipps Garden Center is the primary hub for adult education on gardening in our city, our goal is to enhance the uses and activities already happening there, and to do so with respect to our neighbors, existing calendars and the needs of the community. Over the last 70 years the Garden Center has also served as a meeting and event place for garden clubs and other organizations, including nonprofit, business and community groups. Over time the mix of these different uses has changed from year to year. While garden-related education will remain the primary purpose, we expect these other organizations will continue to use the building.

Why are all of Phipps' adult education classes held at the Garden Center? Where were they held when the Garden Center was an independent entity?  Why can't some of them be held in Oakland? 

The Garden Center is probably the longest-running organization in Mellon Park and has offered garden classes and meeting space for the community since 1948. It has an important history in the park. We pledged to maintain those classes and programs when we merged with them in 2001. We run over 400 classes a year at the Garden Center and many community and other groups meet there on a regular basis. There is no room for these types of classes and programs at the Conservatory.

Will the fees change for garden clubs?

No changes in fees are anticipated at this time; however, there may be slight increases in fees over time. We expect to introduce grandfathered options for some existing relationships we have with garden clubs.

Other Parts of the Park

Mellon Park is fragile; I’m afraid we’ll lose something special.

We agree that Mellon Park is a truly special space. Our intention is to honor the unique character of that space while helping it thrive through added innovation in gardening, education and care for the park.

What is the plan for the access road?

The access road is the responsibility of the City, and they will make any decisions related to this road.

What is the plan for parking?

There are no increases or decreases in the number of parking spaces anticipated in this plan. We understand that parking is difficult, and we will use valet services when we anticipate there will not be enough parking for our guests, which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis based upon the community calendar of activities at Mellon Park.

I’m concerned about damage to the Herb Garden — a ‘gem’ since 1977 — in the Terrace Garden as a result of construction.

Phipps’ construction will take place a safe distance from all surrounding landmarks and gardens in the park.

The Terrace Garden and pond should be restored.

The Terrace Garden, Walled Garden and Herb Garden belong to the City and are managed by the City in cooperation with other groups, so they cannot be included in Phipps’ plan. Our lease is only for the Garden Center and garden space immediately around the Garden Center building. We hope the improvements we make at the Garden Center will encourage others to renovate the Terrace Garden. Restoring the pond is part of the Mellon Park master plan, but it is not a part of our plan; we originally explored including this in our plans but public feedback indicated that the location is an important area for soccer practice.

No mention was made of how the Garden Center and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts work together today or could work together more closely in the future.  Would that afford some opportunities to eliminate duplication and share some space?  Has anyone looked into this? 

The Center for the Arts has a very different mission statement and purpose; however, we do cooperate with them when it makes sense as well as with all of the other organizations that conduct activities in the park.

What trenches/piping will be necessary to connect to rainwater management areas? What sizes of pipes and trenches? Concern about it affecting the health of trees.

Any trenches that are needed will be as small as possible, routed along pathways and will be carefully reviewed throughout the development process by City Parks for approval so as to have minimal impact on any trees. We will also consult with arborists and historic landscape architects on the project. More specific details will be made available as the project develops.

The Building

The building is falling down and is inadequate for the garden clubs. The classrooms are important, and renovation is desperately needed.

We agree, and our intention is to enhance the facility’s capacity to cultivate botanical knowledge, inspire creative minds and spread the joy of gardening, in keeping with the historic purpose of the building.

The Garden Center currently is an eyesore. If the use is the same and looks better, great.

As the keepers of a Victorian glasshouse and the celebrated seasonal flower shows held within, aesthetic intent is very important to Phipps, and our goal is to make a building that honors and enhances the original Scaife Garage and Mellon Carriage House architecture while complimenting the aesthetic beauty of the park.

What is the height of the proposed building?

The current Garden Center building is 2.5 stories. Any addition we build will be 2 stories or less.

How long will construction take place? What will be the impact on the park during that time? Will it stay open? What will be the noise impacts?

We do not have a final plan yet, but typical construction projects take 12 – 18 months. The park would remain open during this time. Our contractors understand that minimizing noise and impact on visitors and neighbors are critical requirements for this project.

What is the anticipated timeline for this project?

There are three important parts of this project. First we have to get the design right and finished. We are still in schematic design phase gathering input from the community. Once that phase is finished it will probably take another year to complete the design and then 12 – 18 months for construction. Concurrent with this is fundraising; we will not start construction until we have raised the money. We anticipate that we will be investing between $15 and $20 million into this project.

How does the number and size of existing teaching spaces compare to the proposed classrooms?

Currently we have three classrooms, an events hall and one library. Our plan is to have two classrooms a combination classroom and library and an events hall. The classrooms will be bigger to allow for additional counter space, sinks, storage and will include larger tables for participants in classes such as flower arranging, botanical drawing and bonsai to have more working space. At this stage, the events space is anticipated to be about the same size as the current events space. Our large central classroom is currently combined with circulation compromising the use of all classrooms and causing activity conflicts.

Why increase the footprint of the Garden Center at all, beyond integrating the Scaife Garage into the facility? What is the purpose of these community meetings if you aren't going to listen and act on the community's input?

The intent is to make the classrooms and other rooms more accessible, effective and efficient and to have no net loss of green space. We are listening; the design has evolved after every meeting and we anticipate more changes going forward in order to get a great outcome.

What will the renovation actually look like?

We are still in the schematic design phase and we are reviewing multiple design options so that we can make sure that we can add value to all five of our stakeholder groups: Community, Users, Staff, Donors and Planet. As the design process continues more renderings of the space will emerge and will be shared with the public and reviewed by the City.

Is there currently a Botanic Arts Gallery?

Yes; it is currently the hallways of the Garden Center, and sometimes we use the classrooms to display additional art.

The existing large meeting room is not large enough for garden club meetings or flower shows.

Our intention is to accommodate all the needs of our existing patrons, including garden clubs. This will be taken into consideration as design work continues.

What type of café will it be? How will it affect parking?

We are rethinking the café and are not planning to have a standalone café anymore. We do intend to offer coffee and tea for our guests in the Gift Shop.

The space will need to be inviting. Will there be security enhancements?

Every effort will be made to provide a space that is both inviting and safe. Phipps Garden Center is already protected with on-site security staff during open hours, this will continue with the renovation.

Why do you need a kitchen?

We currently have a kitchen in the Garden Center and it is heavily used for our events and by community groups that meet at the facility.  The renovation will include similar facilities for those who need them, and will not include the full-size restaurant kitchen as originally envisioned.

How high will the glass wall be? I’m concerned about birds flying into it.

Our design will not exceed the height of the existing roof of Mellon Carriage House. We have had good success using bird-safe film at several of Phipps’ Schenley Park buildings. We intend to use it in Mellon Park as well.

What materials will be used on the building?

We don’t know yet, but they will be compatible with existing materials and buildings in Mellon Park. All Phipps constructions adhere to the Living Building Challenge Red List, which explicitly bans commonly-used chemicals that are toxic, pollute the environment and harm construction workers and occupants. The list, which ranges from bisphenols and formaldehydes to VOCs and toxic heavy metals, can be accessed in full on the Living Future website.


What will be the impact on the neighborhood? Will there be an increase in visitors?

We expect that this project will enhance the beauty of the park, encourage other improvements in the park and contribute to an increase in property values. As our Center for Adult Education in gardening we expect that if there is any increased use of the Garden Center it will occur mostly during the day on weekdays, when parking is generally not a problem.

What does the neighborhood get?

The neighborhood will get a state-of-the-art education and event facility in place of an historic but outdated structure built to fulfill the same purpose. With this renovation many who haven’t yet fully explored all this distinctive community has to offer will discover the value of Mellon Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. In similar situations here and in other cities, such improvements have led to added patronage of local businesses and increases in property values. We see it as an investment in a community we have long served but want to do more for.

Taxpayers / Impact on City / Cost

How are the taxpayers affected? The Park was given to the City, but this feels like it is being given to Phipps to create a money-making wedding venue.

Taxpayers will not be affected. After 100 years of city management, in 1993, Phipps Conservatory was transferred to nonprofit management, affording the organization the opportunity to repair and grow with the help of our region’s visionary donors and supporters. In 2001 the Garden Center was merged with Phipps. Prior to that it was run by the non-profit Pittsburgh Civic Garden Center for over 50 years. The primary purpose was and continues to be a venue for educational programs related to gardening and a meeting place for community groups. Seminars, workshops and events such as weddings have always played an important but minor role.

What is the relationship between Phipps and the City? What is the required process?

Phipps Conservatory and Garden Center are owned by the City of Pittsburgh and managed by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Inc., a nonprofit. The City of Pittsburgh leases the Conservatory and Garden Center buildings to Phipps. All changes to the buildings require the approval of the Director of the Department of Public Works. This project is also subject to approval by the City’s Art and Historic Review Commissions.

The City could not manage Phipps, so the independent nonprofit was formed. The vision for the main conservatory has transformed it from disrepair to a “jewel for the city.” Similarly, this is an investment in our future.

Our efforts at Phipps are always intended to honor the history of the historic buildings and properties that we care for while maintaining their relevance and value into the future. The Garden Center renovation is the latest step in that process.

Who will be paying for this? What is the business plan and return on investment?

The Garden Center renovation will be paid for through the donations of people who have a history with the Garden Center and those who care about Mellon Park, as well as the generosity of local foundations and other visionary leaders. 


LEED/Living Building certification is incompatible with an historic park like Mellon Park.

Phipps has established that green buildings can be integrated into historic sites without being incompatible. It is our responsibility to minimize the building’s impact on the environment, and we believe that this can be accomplished in a way that honors history and helps to preserve that history far longer into the future than a conventional renovation. Since 2012, Phipps Conservatory has added three different modern green buildings to its Schenley Park campus, all of which were designed to meet Living Building Challenge. This is the highest standard in the world and it is compatible with the net zero energy standards that the City is now seeking to require for all City properties. Phipps’ facilities integrate into and support their surrounding natural landscapes while architecturally complementing our original 1893 glasshouse and honoring our 126-year history of connecting people to nature. The Garden Center renovation seeks to continue these highest standards that are so urgently needed for our world.

The most biophilic thing is trees and grass.

We agree – the green spaces of Pittsburgh are a prized asset, and that’s why we’re planning refinements that will more fully integrate the Garden Center into its surroundings. Rather than simply occupying the space as the complex does today, we intend for this redesign to foster a deeper connection with its surroundings, both natural and historical.

We Want to Hear from You

Have further questions or comments you'd like to see addressed? Contact us at execdir@phipps.conservatory.org to send your thoughts. Thank you to everyone who has already provided feedback!