The Conservatory of Flowers is among the San Francisco attractions that could soon see prices go up for visitors during busy times. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)

Surge pricing for nonresident admission at tourist attractions clears first hurdle

City argues plan would help fund free admission for low-income residents, control crowds

Surge pricing for admission of non-residents to visit four popular tourist attractions was backed Thursday by a Recreation and Park committee.

As reported by The Examiner on Wednesday, the plan would allow the Recreation and Park Department to raise non-resident admission fees by as much as 50 percent and decrease them by 25 percent for the Japanese Tea Garden, Coit Tower Elevator, San Francisco Botanical Gardens and the Conservatory of Flowers.

The plan would help the department generate revenue and also manage level of attendance.

It would not impact resident admission prices.

The department said they are proposing the new pricing scheme at a time when they are joining The City’s SF For All pass, which will allow 225,000 low-income residents free admission to the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers. Admission for residents into the Botanical Gardens is currently free.

However, it wasn’t made clear how much the department expects to generate from the surge pricing rates and what impact the free access would have.

Non-resident admission charges are currently $9. A 50 percent mark up would bring it to $13.50.

The department provided the San Francisco Examiner with attendance information for both nonresidents and residents.

In the last fiscal year, approximately 174,000 nonresidents visited the Botanical Gardens, 127,000 the Conservatory of Flowers, 143,000 the Coit Tower elevators and 402,000 the Japanese Tea Garden. With adult admission set at $9, that would bring in around $7.6 million.

The number of residents who visited the Botanical Garden was 228,050, the only site where residents outnumbered non-residents and the only site were residential admission is free.

At the Conservatory of Flowers 13,591 residents paid a $6 admission fee.

Over at Coit Tower 143,346 nonresident adults paid for the elevator at $9, while 3,240 residents paid the $6 admission to ride the elevator.

The more than 400,000 non-resident vistors to the Japanese Tea Garden who paid the $9 admission fee generated $3.6 million while adult residents totaled 25,210 and paid $151,260 with the $6 entry fee.

The proposal was backed by such groups as the San Francisco Parks Alliance.

“We would like to ensure that these venues remain world class. And to that point this seems like a common sense solution to funding improvements and renovations that are desperately needed,” said Claude Imbault, associate director of partner experience for the Park Alliance.

John Golinger, of Protect Coit Tower, opposed the admission plan, arguing it “won’t help people visit Coit Tower.”

“What you are proposing is to raise fees at Coit Tower and not help people who are low income visit Coit Tower,” Golinger said. He argued The City should ask for a voluntary donation on top of what people pay to use the Coit Tower elevator now to help pay for low income visitors, if that was the goal of the program.

However Dana Ketcham, Rec and Park’s director of property and permit reservations, said Coit Tower was included for crowd management reasons.

“One of the major reasons we added it was to help the congestion in the tower and to get people to come in the earlier hours where it is really not as utilized,” she said.

The Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee, which includes commissioners Mark Buell, Kat Anderson and Gloria Bonilla, voted 3-0 to recommend the proposal. The full seven-member commission will also need to approve the plan, as will the Board of Supervisors.

The department hopes to implement the new fee scheme beginning Sept. 1.

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