In a press conference today, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Jackson should officially begin a search for a new zoo management firm this week.
He said the city hopes to issue a request for proposals (RFP) this week, after its review is completed by the city legal department.
The city has discussed closing the zoo until a new management firm is brought on. The mayor said his administration had not made a decision at press time.
The news comes days after Executive Director Beth Poff stepped down amid allegations of misspending state bond money.
“We are on a very short timeline in which an RFP will be released. Our expectation is that it will be released this week,” Lumumba said. “We are very excited to have that RFP go out and a number of entities that have expressed interest in the RFP.”
The contract with the society ends on September 30.
The RFP process traditionally takes several months from start to finish. The RFP must be advertised for 30 days. From there, proposals are submitted, opened and evaluated. After that, the top firms are usually called back for a second round of interviews before a final recommendation is taken to the city council for consideration.
Lumumba doubled down on his stance that the zoo should remain in West Jackson.
Earlier this year, the Jackson Zoological Society, the zoo’s current management group, voted to begin studying relocating the park to the golf course at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.
The society made the decision based in part on the result of a previous study that showed donors would not support making improvements at the park in its current location.
The park is located at 2918 W. Capitol St. and is surrounded by dilapidated homes and buildings.
Since 2003, attendance has dropped by more than 80,000 people, leading to a decline in revenues. Poff admitted that she dipped into state bond funds to cover park operations as a result.
The mayor said there are a number of factors that have contributed to the zoo’s decline, including poor marketing, as well as a lack of major animal exhibits patrons want to see.
“To simply say the zoo must leave is a reductive analysis, we know there has been mismanagement of fund … when we know that the animals that are offered in the attraction has dwindled, that also has to be considered,” he said.
He also countered the study’s results, pointing to high attendance at special zoo events, like the annual Zoo Brew and Zoo Blues programs.
Both events draw thousands of people to the century-old park each year.
The park is owned by the city, but is managed by the society under an agreement dating back to the mid 1980’s.
Lumumba said the city would work with the zoological society board in the management team search.
Deputy Director Dave Wetzel is currently serving as interim zoo director.