Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

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Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by trailerkid » Tue Jul 22, 2003 9:36 am

The Star ran an op/ed piece the other day about the our zoo compared to Omaha.

Omaha zoo is a glimpse of what could be in KC
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star

OMAHA, Neb. - On a hot and sticky July afternoon, it takes only a few minutes to see why Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo is superior to the Kansas City Zoo.

The Omaha zoo includes large indoor exhibits, built with generous contributions from private donors. The zoo showcases lots of animals that people can actually see, up close.

Step inside Omaha's air-conditioned Desert Dome, where giggling children are darting around the 55-foot-tall central mountain. They are finding venomous snakes, bobcats, lizards, hummingbirds and other animals.

Nearby, visitors are peering with wonder at sharks swimming above the walkway inside the Walter and Suzanne Scott Kingdoms of the Seas Aquarium. Around the corner, Antarctic penguins are waddling under artificial snow.

Add in other expansive indoor facilities plus outdoor animal exhibits and it's no wonder Omaha's zoo attracted 1.4 million visitors in 2002. Its average attendance since 1995 is 1.25 million.

By contrast, Kansas City Zoo attendance fell to a paltry 425,000 in 2002; the average attendance since 1995 is only 614,000.

The Kansas City Zoo also has been embroiled in problem after problem the last few years. The zoo almost lost its accreditation. Animals died in questionable circumstances. Mark Wourms, the long-time director, resigned under pressure in early 2003.

Kansas Citians deserve a better zoo. They can learn a lot from what Omaha has done to build a world-class facility that has 5,000 animals, or almost six times the number at the Kansas City Zoo.

"It's the model we ought to be shooting for," Bob Lewellen, a Kansas City park board member, says of the Omaha zoo.

Start with its magnificent indoor facilities.

During sweltering Midwestern summers and through bitterly cold winters, Omaha's zoo provides buildings that visitors can use all year-round.

This trend started in earnest in 1987, with the opening of the Wild Kingdom Pavilion. In 1992, officials opened the Lied Jungle, which officials proclaim is the world's largest indoor rain forest. The aquarium was finished in 1995. The Desert Dome opened in 2002. Starting this spring, visitors are flocking to Kingdoms of the Night, a fascinating nocturnal exhibit under the dome.

But the Kansas City Zoo's only relatively new indoor facility is the Deramus Educational Pavilion which -- beyond a large fish tank -- is practically bereft of animals.

Kansas City officials do appear to be moving in the right direction. They have discussed building a major indoor exhibit, with animals found in Asia. However, the zoo has no money to construct the exhibit.

Previously, officials have talked about asking for about $100 million from Kansas City taxpayers for the Asia exhibit.

That figure sounds outlandishly high, especially after reviewing what the Omaha zoo has spent to build itself up through an incredible pipeline of private funding from local residents.

The trend began 40 years ago, when Margaret Hitchcock Doorly gave $750,000 in honor of her late husband, publisher Henry Doorly.

More recently, Mutual of Omaha provided most of the money for the Wild Kingdom Pavilion. The Lied Foundation Trust, started by a former Omaha Buick dealer, gave most of the money for the $15 million jungle exhibit.

The Scotts provided a large contribution for the $16 million aquarium; Walter Scott, a local construction company executive, is now chairman of the zoo's board.

The Lozier Foundation privately financed much of the $7.6 million IMAX Theater. Private contributors also made it possible to open the $31.5 million Desert Dome and Kingdoms of the Night.

In Kansas City, however, the zoo receives a pittance of private giving.

In the early 1990s, Kansas City civic leaders spent years raising private funds to build the Deramus Pavilion -- and officials had to dip into public funds to finish the project.

More recently, it has taken many months to raise only $3 million of a $5 million fund sought by the Friends of the Zoo. The private group took over running the city-owned zoo in January of 2002. (Notably, a private organization has run Omaha's successful zoo for almost 40 years.)

Of course, Kansas Citians have poured private funds into other priorities, such as renovating Union Station, expanding the Nelson-Atkins Art Gallery and saving the Kansas City Royals.

But private donors have long avoided giving much money to the zoo. That stance likely won't change until Friends of the Zoo hires a new director and provides a reliable strategic improvement plan.

Finally, when it comes to animals, the Omaha zoo has more than 5,000 specimens.

And these are animals that people often can observe from just a few feet away, whether it's indoors or at outdoor exhibits such as Primate Valley, Pachyderm Hill, the Owen Sea Lion Pavilion or the Giraffe Complex.

In Kansas City, though, many people say they can see too few animals at the zoo; the total collection numbered 865 at the end of May.

Visitors especially don't like the long hikes it can take to search for animals in the African and Australian exhibits, built under a $50 million expansion plan in the 1990s.

The Kansas City Zoo needs to put a lot more animals closer to the public, especially in indoor buildings that people can use year-round. The zoo also must work on better ways -- potentially including a gondola -- to get visitors more quickly and easily around. Officials also have to whip up enthusiasm from private contributors to back these plans.

All are tough challenges. But Omaha's zoo tackled them and became nationally famous. Why can't Kansas City's?


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, a member of the Editorial Board, call (816) 234-4887 or send e-mail to abouhalkah@kcstar.com.


Here's what they said about the KC Zoo

KC Zoo is poised to make changes
Special to The Star

(At The Star's request, Kansas City Zoo officials this week prepared a summary of their future plans.)

"The Kansas City Zoo, under the full-time leadership of Friends of the Zoo since last year, is poised to take two significant steps forward -- selection of a new director and reinvention of the master plan -- in the zoo's development and evolution," said James Stowers III, board president.

"The future of the zoo is uppermost in the minds of the board of directors," Stowers said. "The staff has worked very hard to make improvements this season, which has enabled the zoo's leadership to focus more intently on the longer term goal -- recapturing the zoo's rightful place as one of Kansas City's most popular and important attractions."

Although the zoo's precise course will be defined after a new director is hired later this year, Stowers describes an exciting journey ahead:

• Expanding the animal collection, including the likely return of tigers and bears.

• Creating year-round zoo attractions via a major expansion into Asia.

• Developing an extensive, hands-on children's zoo experience.

• Inventing new rides for visitors to traverse the 202-acre zoo, including the possibility of a gondola that would sweep visitors from the front gates to the far reaches of Africa and the acclaimed chimpanzee exhibit.

• Restoring the original zoo building, Tropical Asia, into a much-needed indoor exhibition site. This 94-year-old facility has stood empty for several years.

"Kansas City loves its zoo, or at least wants to love it," said Jerilyn Jones, senior director of operations and interim zoo director. "Anecdotal and analytical research has supported this conclusion for many years. The zoo is recognized as an integral part of the metropolitan area."

Stowers added: "We are listening to our visitors, as well as studying current research into the community's perceptions and desires for the zoo. The board is embracing the input -- warts and all. We will use the findings as a `call to arms' in seeking the community's help to make significant improvements before the zoo's centennial celebration in just six years."


As mentioned here before...I'm not sure the comparisons to places like Omaha, Tulsa and Des Moines are really that helpful. I mean let's look at knocking off the San Diego Zoo instead of copying Omaha.

I do see Omaha as a regional competitor for tourists. Because Omaha has a better zoo, a family from Des Moines could choose to visit there instead of KC. I think if KC had a user-friendly mass transit system to link a world-class zoo to places like Westport, River Market, the Plaza, 39th Street, Crown Center, Crossroads, Sports Complex, the Loop, 18th and Vine and all places in between--- we would be the regional tourist spot. I mean let's go after Chicago for visitors and conventions.
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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by KCN » Tue Jul 22, 2003 10:12 am

I don't think in this case we're comparing ourselves just to Omaha, we're comparing our zoo to a world-class zoo that is better. Nothin' wrong w/ that.

It is embarrassing that Omaha's zoo is drawing in close to 3 times the numbers that ours is. KC needs to realize that the areas that its tourists come from (Omaha, Des Moines, Wichita, Springfield) are stepping up to the plate and building their own stuff. Take Worlds of Fun for example. Look around the parking lot and it's half Nebraska plates. But guess who is building new amusement parks. Omaha and Branson. Not to mention Six Flags in STL building 3 rollercoasters in the time it took us to build 1. And what has WOF built in the past 4 years? ZILCH. KC tourist attractions need to start taking it up a notch or our surrounding communities will continue snatching our tourist money. I'm glad the zoo realizes this.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by dangerboy » Tue Jul 22, 2003 10:30 am

Good point KCnorthlander. The smaller surrounding cities are some of the fastest growing in the midwest, and they are now reaching the point that they can support many of the same types of attractions already found in Kansas City. Our venues need to keep pace so they continue to be more enticing than newer options closer to home.

The Zoo is turning into a major disappointment. The voters took a big risk in the 1990s by voting for a tax increase that was supposed to give us a world class zoo. While it did bring major improvements, it fell far short of the "world class" promises.

Add the Zoo to the list of regional attractions that need a regional (bistate) funding source.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by tw » Tue Jul 22, 2003 11:40 am

dangerboy, stl. for comparison purposes draws 3 million (yearly) to their zoo...why? maybe because its "free". they have that zoo/museum tax you know!

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by trailerkid » Tue Jul 22, 2003 12:07 pm

I really am fearful for KC's future as a regional tourist destination. I mean look at where we're going...

plus
1. Speedway development (huge for the metro, will bring really turn into an economic tourist engine)
2. Plaza (always the place to take out-of-towners)
3. River Market (city wants/making market national level, neighborhood drawing development)
4. Westport (neat neighborhood, at a crossroads for where it is going-- entertainment district vs. neat neighborhood)
5. The Nelson (great reputation)
6. Zona Rosa/Boardwalk (finally bring retail clout to the Northland, visitors will have a place to shop up there)
7. Still a big league town (major league sports always add name recognition, if nothing else)

minus
1. Downtown perception/reality ("won't take visitors to the loop")
2. The Zoo (we're getting smoked by Omaha...Omaha people!!)
3. World's of Fun (doesn't keep up with Six Flags parks)
4. Lack of connectivity of attractions (mass transit badly needed if we're a major city)
5. abundance of abandoned large shopping centers (can count 'em using both hands)
6. Bi-state/community divisions (every part of the metro tries to beat up, bash and take business from other parts, everyone lives far away from each other)

I'll just break it down like this...
In Omaha when they build a new arena or exhibit at the zoo people all the way from 168th and Dodge to Council Bluffs see it as "our zoo" or "our arena"
In KC when we build the Speedway or 18th and Vine stuff a person in Olathe says "I went to the museum in KC at 18th and Vine" or a person in Lee's Summit says "I went to the Speedway in KCK" I say the same thing, but we need to realize that all development from Lawrence to KCI to Grain Valley is ours. This is why I think it is so important for some sort of regional board to be established. Give the board control over KCI, the parks, the Zoo, a new mass transit system, arenas, stadiums, convention center and vistor's bureu. Everyone in the greater metro should share the burden of growing and maintaining these facilities.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by dangerboy » Tue Jul 22, 2003 12:57 pm

trailer, I see Downtown as plus. I take visitors Downtown more than to the Plaza - including the City Market, Steamboat Arabia, Union Station, Liberty Memorial, Crown Center, First Fridays in the Crossroads. The only negative I see are the outdated perceptions that linger in some suburbanites and out of towners.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by KCgridlock » Tue Jul 22, 2003 5:08 pm

First thing they could do is keep the zoo open past 5:00 during the summer. As a FOTZ member, that is one of my biggest reasons for not going more often. Unless you plan a day at the zoo, it's hard to go. By the time we think about going, it's near or after lunch and then the zoo closes in a couple or few hours and most the shows are done by 3:00.

The is especially bad in the summer when it's 150 degress at high noon.

As far as the Omha, I have no problem comparing KC to Omaha, Zoos only. Omaha's Zoo rocks and our KC FOTZ membership pays for its self with one trip to the KC zoo and one to Omaha.

There is no other catagory that Omaha can compare to KC though.

We need to get our zoo up to par, most of it is sad and embaryssing for a city of 2 million people.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by QueSi2Opie » Tue Jul 22, 2003 9:42 pm

trailerkid wrote:As mentioned here before...I'm not sure the comparisons to places like Omaha, Tulsa and Des Moines are really that helpful. I mean let's look at knocking off the San Diego Zoo instead of copying Omaha.


As a FOTZ member I'm pretty knowledgable about zoos in this country. I've only visited about 74 of them. 8) The Omaha Zoo has the #1 and #3 animal exhibits in America (Lied Jungle - world's largest indoor rainforest & Desert Dome - world's largest indoor desert). Yes, the San Diego Zoo is ranked first in America while St. Louis Zoo is second, but the Omaha and Wichita zoos rank in the Top 20. Tulsa Zoo offers the best Natural History Museum of any zoo in the nation. Des Moines' Zoo (Blank Park) is a piece of $hit for the most part. People in KC have to drive to the Manhattan (KS) Zoo to see Tigers and the Topeka Zoo to see bears...it's embarrassing.
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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by dangerboy » Tue Jul 22, 2003 10:40 pm

The Des Moines zoo might be crappy, but people there visit and support it. Several of the suburbs contribute part of their hotel/motel taxes to the city of Des Moines to support the zoo, among other attractions. Omaha has few suburbs, and most are the same county, so they don't have problems with regional funding.

Que, I don't hear many of y'all out in Overland Park volunteering to fund our zoo like the people in West Des Moines do for their metro's zoo.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by QueSi2Opie » Wed Jul 23, 2003 4:15 pm

dangerboy wrote:Que, I don't hear many of y'all out in Overland Park volunteering to fund our zoo like the people in West Des Moines do for their metro's zoo.


That's funny, since half of Kansas City's Friends of the Zoo members are from Johnson County. I see no problems with a Bi-State tax to create a better zoo for KCMO. My wife and I already helped fund that new Orangutan Exhibit which opened last November.
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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by dangerboy » Wed Jul 23, 2003 4:27 pm

I don't doubt that individual Johnson Countians support the zoo, my point was that your city/county governments don't provide any formal support. Whereas the Des Moines zoo gets annual contributions from several suburban city governments.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by QueSi2Opie » Wed Jul 23, 2003 9:31 pm

dangerboy wrote:I don't doubt that individual Johnson Countians support the zoo, my point was that your city/county governments don't provide any formal support. Whereas the Des Moines zoo gets annual contributions from several suburban city governments.


What did your city ever do for the zoo? Last I heard, that private group, Friends of the Zoo (you know the one?), had to take over the zoo from the city so they wouldn't lose AZA accreditation. So before you ask about our support, where's yours?
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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by dangerboy » Wed Jul 23, 2003 9:51 pm

QueSi2Opie wrote:What did your city ever do for the zoo? Last I heard, that private group, Friends of the Zoo (you know the one?), had to take over the zoo from the city so they wouldn't lose AZA accreditation. So before you ask about our support, where's yours?


Well, in 1992 we voted for $50 million in new tax money to pay for renovatoins and additions for Africa, Australia, and the Imax. I would argue that $50 million is a strong show of support from the people of KCMO, especially since that means 25% of the metro population payed for something that everyone can use. If the other 75% of the metro area had put in a proportionate amount of money, the expansion would have been $200 million.

I didn't intend to start a city vs. suburb flame, I just wanted to point out that even a crappy zoo like Des Moines gets support from taxpayers in its suburbs.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by KCgridlock » Wed Jul 23, 2003 10:04 pm

Come on Que, one of the biggest reasons the Zoo is failing is due to lack of funding, like the ATA, the sports complex and other regional problems.

KCMO built the zoo and has raised taxes to expand it at least twice. The zoo is still funded through property taxes and sales taxes from KCMO residents and will continue to be subsidized even after FOTZ have taken it over. I voted for the zoo expansion while I had a FOTZ membership, don't even go there.

Can you imagine a 200 million dollar expansion of the zoo? It could be done with a metrowide 1/8 of a cent tax for just a few years.

Nothing gets me worked up more than somebody giving reasons why not to do more regional funding.

Of course I'm sure JoCo would just assume build there own zoo, so they don't have to drive through swope park, a scary place to most JoCo people.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by QueSi2Opie » Wed Jul 23, 2003 10:20 pm

Alright Grid...you wouldn't agree that many of these posts are one cheap shot after another towards JOCO? My remarks were defensive...jus' as yours are...so maybe we can point the finger at metro cities and towns on the Missouri side of stateline as well?

I'm literally sick of hearin' about everything being JOCO's fault! It's total bullshit! Put some of the damn blame on yourselves, the Northland, Lee's Summit, Blue Springs, Platte City, Liberty, etc.

Yes, JOCO is a rich conservative county for the most part...and let's hope the residents of this county make another good decision to help boost the metropolitan area in the next Bi-State.
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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by KCgridlock » Wed Jul 23, 2003 10:27 pm

QueSi2Opie wrote:Alright Grid...you wouldn't agree that many of these posts are one cheap shot after another towards JOCO? My remarks were defensive...jus' as yours are...so maybe we can point the finger at metro cities and towns on the Missouri side of stateline as well?

I'm literally sick of hearin' about everything being JOCO's fault! It's total bullshit! Put some of the damn blame on yourselves, the Northland, Lee's Summit, Blue Springs, Platte City, Liberty, etc.

Yes, JOCO is a rich conservative county for the most part...and let's hope the residents of this county make another good decision to help boost the metropolitan area in the next Bi-State.


I agree, I wish the leaders would step up and give the voters more chances to vote for stuff like this and I think a lot of the state line problems will go away because I think most people on both sides of the state line will vote for quality projects.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by dangerboy » Wed Jul 23, 2003 10:47 pm

Que, I do agree that Joco is an easy target and probably gets more of the blame than it should. However, the Missouri suburbs often DO contribute indirectly when state or Jackson County money is involved (e.g. the Sports Complex). Yes, they can and should contribute more money directly, but it's only the Kansas side that contributes nothing.

By "nothing" I mean no formal funding from state, county, and city government. I don't want to overlook individuals who make donations on their own, join Friends-type organizations, or pay earnings taxes (Union Station of course being the lone exception). Que, my suggestion is to take your frustration and channel to your elected reps, demanding that they step up to the plate and take some reponsibility for the greater metro area. Johnson County is of course a huge, critical part of the metro area, and it has reached a level of maturity where it can and should be doing more for the greater good.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by trailerkid » Thu Sep 25, 2003 10:00 pm

New director appointed
KC zoo hires new director
Omaha zoo official hopes to boost attendance
By MATT CAMPBELL
The Kansas City Star


A man who rose through the ranks at Omaha's well-respected Henry Doorly Zoo will bring his vision to Kansas City as the zoo's new director.
Randy Wisthoff, who began his career picking up zoo trash and for 16 years has been associate zoo director in Omaha, was hired Wednesday by the Kansas City Friends of the Zoo's board of directors.


After a nationwide search, Wisthoff was selected from six candidates to bring a business-like approach and new vitality to a zoo that has seen declining attendance despite massive public investment.


He also brings optimism to help Kansas City achieve what the philanthropic community in Omaha has done for that city's zoo.


"What the Omaha zoo did in a city of that size should be doable in a city like this," Wisthoff said Wednesday. "I firmly believe this city feels ready to take the next step."


Wisthoff begins work Nov. 17.


Wisthoff replaces former Kansas City Zoo Director Mark Wourms, who resigned in April after having been director since 1992. Wisthoff met with the zoo staff after his appointment on Wednesday.


James E. Stowers III, president of the Friends of the Zoo board, said early on he was looking for a new director who could propel the zoo toward a brighter future.


"The most valuable thing Randy brings is an individual who is experienced, over his 26 years, from picking up garbage to watching multimillion-dollar facilities get built," Stowers said. "It's fabulous for us to find someone with his degree of enthusiasm and a desire to move to Kansas City. It just seems like such a natural fit."


A key to boosting attendance, many observers think, is to make the Kansas City Zoo more entertaining for visitors while not discounting its educational value. Ideas for the Kansas City Zoo range from a new Asian exhibit area to rides such as aerial gondolas and carousels.


Zoo officials next month will interview applicants to create a new master plan for the animal park's future. Wisthoff will help guide that process.


Wisthoff was an animal keeper at Omaha in 1977 and 1978 before becoming curator of education. He has been associate zoo director since 1987.


Wisthoff has been involved in the development of what is billed as the world's largest indoor rain forest exhibit and largest desert dome exhibit, a 400-acre drive-through native wildlife park, a 1-million gallon saltwater aquarium and a $14 million gorilla exhibit to open next spring.


"I wanted my own place, a zoo of my own," Wisthoff said, "a zoo I thought had the potential to be much better."


Wisthoff, 54, has a bachelor's degree in secondary science education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He is married and has two cats.


The Henry Doorly Zoo dates to 1894 and in the 1960s began a long series of improvements funded by private donations. It is privately owned.


The Kansas City Zoo began in 1909 and had a $71 million makeover in the 1990s that was fueled by a voter-approved bond issue. It is publicly owned but privately managed.


Kansas City's zoo roughly doubled in size after the bond issue, adding an Australian exhibit and crossing over the Blue River to create a 96-acre African exhibit.


The guiding concept at the time was realism, with animals in naturalistic settings and a minimum of cages. Visitors praised the beauty of the animal park. Attendance initially soared, but has fallen off.


Many visitors complained of long distances to walk and too few animals that were too hard to find or too far away to see clearly.


"I know this zoo has taken its hits," Wisthoff said. "I'm hoping we will be able to get animals closer ... and create more fun things for young people to do."



To reach Matt Campbell, call (816) 234-4905 or send e-mail to mcampbell@kcstar.com.


So the realist approach has failed and now it's time to bring an insider from Omaha to stick the animals in people's faces? It seems like there's a battle between creating an educational experience and creating an entertaining experience. Hopeful the Zoo can find some middle ground...who knows maybe someday KC could have one of the best zoos in the country...i think it's one of the largest.

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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by KCPowercat » Fri Sep 26, 2003 7:52 am

I like the pickup from Omaha...from the paper article, it looks like he will even have a pretty close budget to the Omaha zoo.....so money isn't a problem....just making the right decisions.
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Re: Fixing the KC Zoo (ongoing)

Post by StL_Dan » Fri Sep 26, 2003 8:33 am

I don't know squat about how to run a zoo, nor what it takes, beyond funds, to make a zoo great....but, IMO, the KC Zoo has LOADS of potential.

Wonderful open spaces and great walking paths amidst a feeling of being isolated from the rest of the city that sorrounds is awesome.

Improving some of the non-safari exhibits might be needed, but, all in all, any improvements made would be icing on the cake. It is already a great place to visit.

I can't wait to see what the new director from Omaha implements.
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