After years of planning, fundraising and wrangling, leaders at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens on Thursday celebrated the official groundbreaking for the first phase of the nonprofit's overhaul of its downtown Sarasota campus.

Surrounded by elected officials, board members, donors and staff members, Selby president and chief executive officer Jennifer Rominiecki called the event "an exciting moment in Selby Gardens' history" and dubbed the redevelopment of the property a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize the full potential of the gardens."

When completed, the new $92 million campus will include a parking structure topped with solar panels, a welcome center, a restaurant, a research library, a laboratory, a greenhouse complex and more.

The solar panels are expected to generate more electricity than the property will use, making the gardens a "net-positive" facility. The new gardens will also include an improved stormwater system, and new structures will help protect Selby's plant collections from hurricanes and sea level rise. John Byrd, an architect with Overland Partners, said that, when completed, the property will be an example of "truly sustainable design."

Construction on the first phase, which will include the parking structure, plant research center, restaurant and gift shop, as well as improvements to nearby roadways, will begin later this year. The cost of the first phase is estimated at $42.5 million. As of Thursday, the organization had raised $40.1 million toward that goal.

"This is not the end," said Joel Morganroth, a member of the organization's board of trustees and a "visionary donor" toward the project. "It's really the beginning of what's needed."

To mark the occasion, Rominiecki and Selby supporters dug into earth in front of Selby's towering bunya pine tree, the tallest of its kind in Florida. It was a symbolic choice. "The entire project was designed around this tree," said Rominiecki.

She told Selby's staff and supporters, "You pulled it off."

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