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Consulting Firm Scheduled to Advise Lake Superior Zoo

Updated: 06/25/2014 7:07 PM
Created: 06/25/2014 6:52 PM WDIO.com
By: Briggs LeSavage
blesavage@wdio.com

A consulting firm is scheduled to arrive in Duluth next week to help create a long-term plan for the Lake Superior Zoo in an effort to become more financially sustainable.

At Monday’s Duluth City Council meeting, the councilors unanimously decided to spend no more than $59,000 to hire ConsultEcon, out of Massachusetts, to support a joint city-zoological society process that will forge a plan for the zoo to reach a financial stability and increased community appeal. The firm specializes in advising zoos, museums and other tourist attractions.

“We are committed to working with them to seek a way to retain a zoo presence that is a more powerful educational tool and a financially stable operation,” public administration director Jim Filby Williams said. Filby Williams said an aging facility and maintenance costs are beyond what the city can financially cover.

“This is a capitol liability in the order of 10’s of millions of dollars,” Filby Williams said. “On an operating basis, the city subsidizes the operation of the zoo with a subsidy of about a half a million dollars a year. Since the flood, even with that subsidy, the zoological society has struggled to make ends meet. So from a capitol perspective, we’re on a unsustainable path, and from an operating perspective we’re on an unsustainable path.”

He said ConsultEcon will help the city and zoological society come up with the most financially sound ways to continue its operation.

The consulting firm is scheduled to arrive in Duluth Monday, Filby Williams said. While here, the consultants will come up with three long-term scenarios for the zoo. Based on those suggestions the city and the zoo will work together to pick the best possible move forward.

“They’ll mine their experience and the experience of the communities and zoos across the country then advise on how we can strengthen that business model through investments in the facility and the park.”

Councilors said the cost to pay the firm is coming from the city’s already existing tourism tax.

Zoo patrons watch the birds in the Griggs Learning Center at the Lake Superior Zoo Wednesday.

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