The impact: Zoo,
museums fight to thrive
The impact: Zoo,
museums fight to thrive
April 13, 2005
BY KIM NORTH SHINE, MARTIN F. KOHN and MARISOL BELLO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
The Detroit Zoo isn't to the point of offering to sell its
name for big bucks to a corporation.
And the Detroit Historical Museum on Woodward is hanging
onto its artifacts, not quite ready to go the way of the New
York Public Library, which will auction its art collection
to make up for city budget cuts.
Still, almost anything is up for discussion as the Detroit
Zoological Institute and the Detroit Historical Museum --
two city-owned institutions and regional gems for art
lovers, animal lovers, students and tourists -- figure out
how creative they can be in finding ways to make up for
millions of dollars in funding cuts proposed Tuesday by
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Ron Kagan, director of the Detroit Zoological Institute, and
Bob Bury, executive director of the Detroit Historical
Society, said they've tapped nearly every fund-raising
mechanism available, but they plan to find more ways to
raise and save money.
"From raffles to black-tie events to less-formal events and
all kinds of different things, we've tried it," Bury said.
However, with the cuts that lie ahead, he said there will be
an even greater focus on innovative ways to attract
Kagan said the zoo has already sold naming rights to many of
its exhibits. It has also renegotiated a contract for its
concessions in order to make more money, and cut its
operating hours from March through November.
The zoo will raise admission 50 cents beginning by July 1,
Kagan said. The new cost will be $11 for adults, $7 for
children and $9 for people age 62 and older. He and Bury
said another option is to revive a regional arts tax
referendum. Voters rejected the referendum in 2000 and 2002.
It would have funded places of art and culture in Wayne and
"Increasingly we are serving a metro Detroit area that is
broadening from a tri-county area to a nine-county area,"
Bury said. "It's only logical that we all should share the
Kagan added: "It has to happen. Otherwise there will be more
situations like the closing of the Belle Isle Aquarium."
Both said they understand the city's financial limits, and
are committed to surviving without city support.
The city is cutting about 16 percent of the zoo budget and
as much as 64 percent of the history museums' budgets. The
budget proposal would cut the zoo's funding by about $3.4
million and the budget for Detroit Historical Museums, which
runs the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle, Historic
Ft. Wayne on Jefferson and the riverfront, and the Detroit
Historical Museum on Woodward, by about $2 million.
The Detroit Zoo, which attracted 1 million visitors last
year, will also cut staff by about 14 people; six staffers
were let go in the closing of the Belle Isle Aquarium on
April 3, Kagan said. And the city department that now runs
the history museums would be almost eliminated with the loss
of 16 positions, according to the proposed budget.
Bury said the Detroit Historical Society, the charitable
fund-raising arm for the museums, expects to take over more
daily operations and nearly all fund-raising. He could not
say what, if any, negative effect the budget cuts would have
on the museums.
At a time when a severe budget crisis has the city
struggling to pay just for the basic services, museums and
zoos -- which serve the region, if not the entire state --
are luxuries that cannot be afforded, Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick said the city is headed toward shifting financial
and operational responsibility for the zoo and museums to
the Detroit Zoological Society and the Detroit Historical
Society, which are the nonprofit arms of the city
departments that now oversee the zoo and the museums.
The transfer of operations to a private entity mirrors the
Detroit Institute of Arts' arrangement that made the museum
almost independent by setting up a management agreement with
the city. The city would, however, keep control of the
Kilpatrick said the cultural institutions should become
self-sufficient rather than relying on the city for part of
"I think it strengthens the cultural institutions when they
are not tied to public funding," Kilpatrick said during his
budget presentation before the City Council. "We're not
disengaging from those institutions. We're changing our
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
will continue to receive its city subsidy of $1.8 million.
Kilpatrick said the museum needs more time to get its
finances in order. Last year, even as the museum struggled
to increase attendance and make payroll for employees, the
city bailed it out.
Renee Monforton, spokeswoman for the Detroit Convention and
Visitors Bureau, characterized the zoo and the Detroit
Historical Museum as "critical components of how we package
the city for potential individual leisure travelers and
group business travelers."
A few visitors at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak and the
Detroit Historical Museum voiced their opinions Tuesday.
Gazing at a display about the comic strip "Cathy" and its
creator, former Detroiter Cathy Guisewite, Alice Furman had
the Detroit Historical Museum mostly to herself Tuesday
afternoon. The morning's school group had left.
Furman, of Stoughton, Mass., said she was trying to prove
her husband wrong. He is attending the Society of Automotive
Engineers 2005 World Congress. When she had asked to come
with him, he argued that there was nothing to do in Detroit.
At the zoo, Lindsey Rem and her 2-year-old son Eric, both of
Ferndale, and Carolyn Ceccacci and her 5-month-old son Luca,
both of Royal Oak, were in the indoor butterfly garden.
Both women said they hoped the zoo would be able to weather
the city's budget crisis. "I think it stinks," Linda Hunt of
Bloomfield Hills said of the proposed cuts.
As Hunt and Wilson crossed a footbridge, a pair of trumpeter
swans gliding by below gave out with the call that earned
them their name.
"They're telling the mayor: Don't cut our budget," Hunt
Contact KIM NORTH SHINE at 313-223-4557 or