BLOOMINGTON — Walking into Miller Park Zoo, visitors’ first view is a bush – lovely, but not one of the more than 400 animals most people come to see. Instead, visitors must wander a bit to find any one of the zoo’s main attractions.
But the creature-free patch of vegetation visitors see would be turned into the home of about 35 flamingos by 2014, if the city adopts and implements a $16.7 million master plan that also calls for underwater viewing exhibits, a concession stand and more.
“You’re going to be deaf or blind or both not to see this flock of flamingos,” said zoo Superintendent Jay Tetzloff. He called the proposed $250,000 flamingo exhibit “low hanging fruit” – a relatively easy project that could serve as a highly visible sign of progress to encourage community support for more improvements. “People need to see we’re moving forward,” he said.
During a city council work session at 5:55 p.m. Monday, City Manager David Hales said he will ask aldermen if they want to adopt the master plan, and consultants Schultz and Williams are expected to speak about financing options, which could include either or both private and public funding. During a 7 p.m. regular session, aldermen, in an unrelated topic, will hear a presentation on the city’s fiscal year 2012 financial condition.
City staff isn’t offering any funding recommendations, but John Kennedy, director of parks, recreation and cultural arts, said the improvements would help decrease the zoo’s subsidy level. “If it stays the same, you’re going to see even increased reliance on the city’s general fund to support the operations of the zoo,” Kennedy said. “If we make these plans, we can attract additional attendees, we can raise our revenues, charge higher rates or offer higher services.”
A proposed implementation schedule, project costs and impact estimates are posted at www.pantagraph.com.
As currently proposed, the improvements would start in 2014 with the addition of flamingos, an exhibit expected to increase admissions by 5 percent, helping to bring down the current level of taxpayer support from 53.3 percent to an estimated 50.4 percent in fiscal year 2015.
Red panda, anteater and eagle exhibits built through 2017 would continue to gradually grow admissions and reduce taxpayer subsidy. A new sea lion exhibit in 2018 would grow admissions by 15 percent and an otter exhibit in 2019 by 12 percent, helping to bring down the city’s subsidy to about 38 percent in fiscal year 2020.
After factoring in increased expenses and revenues, a 38 percent subsidy in fiscal 2020 would come to about $660,000. The current 53.3 percent subsidy is equal to about $617,000. At the same time, admission prices would increase as the value of the exhibits improved.
Part of the master plan proposal includes tweaking the relationship the zoo has with the Miller Park Zoological Society, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support primarily by raising funds through events like Zoo-Do. The society provided most of the funding for the master plan and annually contributes more than $100,000 toward the zoo’s operation costs.
Consultants recommend the society push more for major donations from individual and corporate sponsors rather than event-based support.
The society’s development director Susie Ohley said MPZS is working on a memorandum of understanding with the city to define the relationship but otherwise declined comment on specific recommendations, noting that the city has not yet approved the master plan. “Our role is to support the zoo in whatever way we can,” she said.
What: Bloomington City Council
When: 5:55 p.m. work session, 7 p.m. regular session
Where: City Hall, 109 E. Olive St.