March 25, 2014
Duluth, MN — Representatives from the Lake Superior Zoological Society met with Mayor Don Ness and City Administration late last week. At that meeting both parties agreed that the zoo’s current operations situation is not sustainable in the long-term and that immediate changes are needed to ensure a healthy future for the zoo.

John Scott, Lake Superior Zoological Society President believes that substantial and timely funding from the State of Minnesota is crucial for the zoo. “We are seeking state assistance in the form of a flood relief supplemental bill, support of the ½ and ½ tourism tax, and planning dollars in order to get our zoo back on track. We’ve already invested a lot into the zoo and it’s a major asset to our community. We encourage our state and community leaders to recognize the urgency of the situation and help put our zoo on a more sustainable path.”

The zoo was not accredited in 2009 when the City contracted with the Lake Superior Zoological Society (a 501(c)3 non-profit organization) to manage the zoo’s operations. In 2011 the zoo re-gained accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Both revenue and the number of people visiting the zoo increased until June 20, 2012 when a flood ravaged the zoo at the beginning of the peak summer visitor season. While the losses were great, perhaps none had more long-lasting impact than the resulting closure of one of the zoo’s main attraction, Polar Shores. It had been home to a polar bear, harbor seals, river otters, red foxes and others. The exhibit’s replacement cost has been estimated to be $12,000,000.

Since FEMA did not recognize the zoo’s situation as being eligible for federal flood relief, state flood relief funds were not directly appropriated to the Lake Superior Zoo. The City of Duluth did, however, receive a $300,000 allocation to repair a lift station located on the zoo’s grounds and to remove sediment from Kingsbury Creek, which runs through the middle of the zoo. None of the $300,000 allocation was used to repair the zoo’s buildings, grounds, or exhibits, including the Polar Shores exhibit, or restore operations.

Few will dispute that the zoo’s ability to attract visitors and earn revenue has been significantly impacted by the flood. Timely support for the zoo is critically needed in order to offer upgraded amenities, a new premiere animal exhibit and varied programming designed to improve the visitor’s experience and to increase and diversify the zoo’s revenue streams.

Dawn Mackety, Lake Superior Zoo CEO is ready to lead the zoo down a new path. “The zoo is poised for great things. I am confident that, with help, we can put the zoo back on a course of increasing visitors and revenue, while meeting our mission at the same time. It’s an exciting time for the zoo and we are thankful for the support of Mayor Ness, Senator Reinert and Representatives Simonson, Murphy, and Huntley in this process.”

Scott adds, “We support Mayor Ness and his vision for the St. Louis River Corridor and agree that the zoo is an important part of that plan.”

The zoo’s board of directors and leadership hope to repurpose the damaged exhibits and reenergize the zoo. The first is a plan to turn the Polar Shores exhibit (along with the historic elephant house hidden beneath the exterior) into an amphitheater and gathering space. It will create a place for the following:

  •   Interactive educational animal shows
  •   Concerts, theatrical and dance performances
  •   Special events and fundraisers
  •   Gift shop and food service with seating area
  •   Family and public restrooms

The second is Bear Territory, a new premiere exhibit and major component of the zoo’s 20-year master plan. It will offer guests multiple viewing points and close interactions with different species of bears. Through the use of unique visitor paths, Bear Territory will demonstrate how humans can safely exist with wildlife in our complex world. Education nodes, parallel play zones and zookeeper demonstration areas will enhance the guest experiences. Bear Territory’s unique design will allow multiple bear species to be incorporated and accommodated, greatly enhancing the exhibit’s longevity and visitor appeal.

The Amphitheater and Bear Territory projects, estimated to cost around $8,000,000 will provide the zoo with a premiere exhibit once again, and will allow visitors to enjoy outdoor educational programming, recreation, enhanced animal experiences, and more!

The Lake Superior Zoo’s mission is to provide close-up animal experiences which inspire connections to wildlife and action towards conservation in our region and around the world.

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