plans to pull zoo funding
By BOB GROSS
Of The Daily Oakland Press
ROYAL OAK - The Detroit Zoo will
no longer have a $3.6 million city-funded safety net.
The city of Detroit, searching
for ways to get out of a $300 million budget hole, is ending
its subsidy of the 76-year-old institution. A draft budget
released by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would transfer
day-to-day operations of the zoo and the Detroit Historical
Museums to nonprofit boards.
"What has been coming has been in this fiscal year around
$3.6 million, $3 and a half million," said Ron Kagan, the
zoo's executive director. "That's going to disappear, and
the only way to achieve that is to reduce expenses and
increase earned revenue."
The zoo's annual operating budget is about $11.2 million,
said Kagan. The state contributes about $600,000, and
private sources, such as the Detroit Zoological Society,
also contribute to the budget.
The end of the city's subsidy means the zoo will have to
change the way it does business, said Kagan.
"What we have been doing over the last couple of months is
taking a very hard look at all of our expenses and reducing
them significantly," he said. "At the same time we have been
looking at increasing our revenues."
The zoo already operates on a reduced schedule during the
winter, closing down on Mondays and Tuesdays. Administrators
laid off about 10 employees and plan to lay off another six
And the zoo closed the Belle Isle Aquarium on April 3 to
further save money.
The zoo will raise admission fees by 50 cents across the
board, said Kagan. Admission currently is $10.50 for ages
13-62; $8.50 for senior citizens 62 and older; $6.50 for
ages 2-12; and children 2 and younger are admitted free.
The zoo had about a million visitors in 2004, said Kagan.
Attendance is up about 15 percent year to date, he said.
"With a new polar bear cub, it's likely to go up quite a
bit," he said.
The zoo also has negotiated a new gift shop contract that
Kagan said may generate about $200,000.
Communities that don't support the zoo through direct
financial subsidies benefit from it, said Kagan.
"We tried several times to get a regional tax passed (to
support cultural institutions), and I think the situation
illustrates how important that sort of things is," he said.
"The zoo is enjoyed by the entire region. I think all of
those scenarios need to be explored to try to ensure that
the zoo continues to provide so much for this region."
He said the zoo will try to keep its admission prices as
reasonable as possible.
"I think it's important that cultural institutions should be
accessible to people," he said. "It would be unfortunate if
cultural institutions had to charge what sporting events
charge or what you have to pay if you go on vacation
The zoo, he stressed, is not in imminent danger of collapse.
"But we certainly need to make some major changes," he said.