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Downtown Zoo Project has been Cancelled

Walker Evans Walker Evans Downtown Zoo Project has been CancelledRendering via Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
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The Downtown Columbus Zoo and Aquarium satellite operation has officially been cancelled. The project was announced last August as a part of a redevelopment effort for the 56 acres of open land surrounding COSI, known as the Scioto Peninsula. The Columbus Zoo had a tax levy on the primary ballot in May, which was rejected by Franklin County voters.

“After the election, we talked with many of the folks that voted no, and the main concerns were the increase of taxes, the continual levy, and the Downtown facility,” explained Tom Stalf, President and CEO of the Columbus Zoo. “As we dust ourselves off and look into the future, we want to make it loud and clear that we heard the voters and are recouping.”

The Downtown Zoo development would have cost the organization around 50 to 65 million dollars to construct. In April, Stalf told Business First that the levy was not about the Downtown Zoo, but instead was about improving upon existing assets of the Zoo. The timing of the cancellation would seem to tie it directly to the failure of the levy though.

“I think what I actually said was that the entire levy wasn’t solely about Downtown,” said Stalf this morning. “The Downtown satellite was part of the levy plan, and was part of how we got to the 1.25 continual request. If we take the Downtown satellite out of the plan, then we can reduce the ask and take the continual off the table.”

Stalf says that a revised levy request could be back on the ballot either in November 2014 or November 2015.

“At this time we don’t have our final plan in place,” he stated. “We’re talking to Franklin County voters through polls and surveys and talking to county and local leaders. As soon as we have enough information, we’ll make that determination.”

Some discussion about the project on the Columbus Underground Messageboard has revolved around the idea of raising private donations to fund the project. Stalf says that route is unlikely to be taken.

“It’s not just about capital dollars, but also ongoing operational dollars,” he explained. “We wanted to build something affordable to the public, and to make it affordable, it needed to be subsidized through the levy.”

Stalf says that the Columbus Zoo will remain committed to Downtown through an increased presence at festivals, in Columbus City Schools, at COSI and at other events. Additionally, Stalf says that the region has embraced the brand new Heart of Africa Exhibit, as hundreds of thousands of visitors have come to the zoo since the exhibit opened two weeks ago.

Click here to see our photo album of The Heart of Africa exhibit at The Columbus Zoo.

“Visitors have been amazed at the massive exhibit and the way we represented Africa with it,” said Stalf. “This zoo is an excellent facility and the reason why is the partnership with Franklin County — we’re very proud of it. But we’re also humbled by our levy loss and we’re taking it extreme seriously, and promise that the next plan will be the right plan.”

For ongoing discussion about The Columbus Zoo Tax Levy, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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