City prepares to advertise for zoo management

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson city officials hope to begin advertising for a new zoo management firm in the coming weeks.

“We are starting the RFP process. I hope we’ll have one drafted by the next (city) council meeting,” said Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine.

The city is seeking a new group to manage the Jackson Zoological Park after the Jackson Zoological Society announced it was considering moving the park to Northeast Jackson.

An RFP is a request for proposals. The city typically issues these requests when seeking firms for management, engineering or consulting services. 

And despite zoo leaders telling the Sun recently there were no zoo management firms in operation in the United States, Blaine said “at least two” groups have already shown interest in managing the park. 

“The one we’re most interested in is here in the U.S., but they work all over the world,” he said.

The announcement comes just weeks after zoo experts told the Sun no management firms exist.

John Seyjagat, executive director of the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), a national zoo accrediting agency, said there are no third-party firms in the United States that specialize in overseeing zoos. Jackson Zoo Executive Director Beth Poff also didn’t know of any firms.

Any group brought on would likely have to build a new zoo from scratch, including bringing in all new animals. 

The city’s agreement with the zoological society dates back to December 31, 1985. It was renewed in 2006 and is up for renewal again this September. 

Under provisions of the agreement, Jackson owned all of the animals at the time, but any new animals brought in would be owned by the society.

Today, Jackson owns only seven of the park’s 380 animals – one alligator, one Aldabra Tortoise, one West African dwarf crocodile, one flamingo, one cockatoo, one spider monkey and one orangutan. The orangutan and tortoise are out on loan, according to Poff. 

Blaine said the firms that have contacted the city “can help build collections,” but didn’t know how long it would take to do so.

“We haven’t made it that far down the road. I don’t have any details like that,” he said. “I know it would be a process, and (answering those questions) would all be part of the negotiations associated with bringing on a new management group.

“We’re amenable to many different situations. We want the best situation for the zoo to remain where it is and for the city of Jackson to have a zoo it can be proud of.”

In March, the zoological society board voted unanimously to begin studying moving the zoo to the golf course at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.

The 13-member board made the decision, citing declining attendance, aging structures and budget cuts.

The decision also came after private consultants determined that the zoo would have to move to survive.

In 2016, the society brought on Schultz and Williams to determine whether donors would support a $15 million capital campaign to fund park improvements.

The year prior, the society had drawn up a zoo master plan, which included some $100 million in park renovations, including adding an indoor rainforest exhibit and a new adventure zone for children.

According to consultants, “100 percent of the people interviewed had concerns about donating to the zoo at its current location.”

The zoo is located at 2018 W. Capitol Street, in West Jackson. The park is surrounded by blight and located in what is one of the most dangerous areas in the capital city.

The next council meeting is slated for 6 p.m. on June 19. The meeting will be held in council chambers at Jackson City Hall.

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