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First look inside new visitor center with panoramic views of Overland Park Arboretum

After more than eight years in the works, a new $22.7 million visitor center will open on Sept. 9, at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. The 21,000 square-foot center, called the LongHouse Visitor Center, will serve as the new entrance to the arboretum.

“We’re so lucky that this has finally come to fruition,” said Drew Ibarra, the manager of the arboretum. “It’s been a lot of work for a lot of people,” he said on Monday during a media tour of the visitor center. “I believe the inception of the thought in getting it going was back in 2015, and now we’re here, we’re in 2023.”

Ibarra said the Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park raised $11 million for the project, while the city funded $12 million. The cost of the visitor center includes the purchase of 20 acres of land, design and construction services, along with equipment to operate the facility.

The name reflects the longhouses used by Native Americans and Scandinavians as community gathering spaces and also pays tribute to Janet Long, a donor to the project.

“One of the major key points is trying to lift our regional arboretum and botanical gardens to be nationally recognized,” said Ibarra.

The new, light-filled visitor center will allow the arboretum to host major events with the large indoor spaces. Weather plays a key in outdoor events and now the arboretum can pivot and move outdoor events inside in case of bad weather. “Kansas weather is all over the place and you never know what you get,” Ibarra said.

The Gathering Place, an event space with a capacity of 194, will be available for rental at the LongHouse Visitor Center at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. The space opens out onto the Waterside Terrace, with space for 50.
The Gathering Place, an event space with a capacity of 194, will be available for rental at the LongHouse Visitor Center at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. The space opens out onto the Waterside Terrace, with space for 50.

“This really allows a complete and different way to experience the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens because we now have this breathtaking, very large 21,000 plus square foot facility to house people,” said Ibarra, who added people can go out and enjoy the gardens and then come back and relax inside.

The modern, state-of-the-art wood and stone building features a dramatic, curved, zinc-colored metal roof, with floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing panoramic views of the ponds, gardens and grounds.

Open views to the features of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botnical Center are made possible by the floor to ceiling windows in the new visitor center.
Open views to the features of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botnical Center are made possible by the floor to ceiling windows in the new visitor center.
The Gathering Place, an event space with a capacity of 194, will be availabe for rental at the LongHouse Visitor Center at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.
The Gathering Place, an event space with a capacity of 194, will be availabe for rental at the LongHouse Visitor Center at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Ibarra said of the facility. “You know, somebody has to manage some of the daily operations and I was like, “Oh, we’re going to invest a lot of Windex,” said Ibarra, in reference to the huge amount of glass and windows in the building. “Even more amazing is when you come inside, all the natural light, everything’s glass,” he said. “It’s really an open house.”

The center will feature dedicated space for a gift shop, a cafe, and educational and meeting spaces. A spacious catering kitchen features metal prep tables, a warming oven and refrigeration.

Several areas inside and outside the visitor center will be available for private rental and for weddings. “We have somebody dedicated to wedding experiences and somebody dedicated to the rest of the rental facilities, both in this building and on grounds,” said Ibarra. “And so we’re ready, ready to go, ready to bring people here.”

The new, $22.7 million, LongHouse Visitor Center at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is set to open Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. During the grand opening, admission for visitors will be free on Sept. 9-10.
The new, $22.7 million, LongHouse Visitor Center at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is set to open Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. During the grand opening, admission for visitors will be free on Sept. 9-10.
With parking for 250 cars, the LongHouse visitor center will serve as the new entrance to the arboretum.
With parking for 250 cars, the LongHouse visitor center will serve as the new entrance to the arboretum.

Ibarra said they already have quite a list for rental bookings. The visitor center includes The Gathering Space, a large event space with a capacity for 194 people, which overlooks the Waterside Terrace, and an outdoor patio with space for 50 people. The Great Lawn outdoors can handle over 500 guests. Other areas, including the Hilltop Terrace, a circular outdoor area featuring a stone-pillared arbor surrounded by the wedding lawn, are also available for private rental. The Sharma Family Fountain, comprised of five rectangular reflecting pools and a circular fountain, stretch across the walkway south of the visitor center.

Food and beverage service will be provided by Jack Stack Barbecue. “They’ll be coming in and providing day-to-day sales operations for our cafe,” said Ibarra. “It’s been a process to get through and to get them both as a food and alcohol service provider,” he said.

Jack Stack will create a menu for Cafe Celeste, the center’s cafe. Specialty coffees, lattes, smoothies and other coffee drinks will also be available in the cafe.

The new visitor center is built to accommodate social and business functions.
The new visitor center is built to accommodate social and business functions.

“We’re looking at smoothies, some salads, some wraps, some flatbread pizzas,” said Ibarra. “So, you know, we’re not Starbucks, so we’re not going to have every variation, but we will have, you know, your lattes, mochas, those sorts of things so somebody can order those.”

The center also plans to offer some educational experiences and hopes to have some exhibits that tour and land at the visitor center.

Admission will be free during the Sept. 9-10 opening weekend.