Mayor’s Office: Penguin Exhibit Funding Vital to Zoo’s Future

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Facing a tight budget for 2017, the Evansville City Council will undoubtedly have to make cuts. But the mayor’s office hopes one item in particular, funding for a new penguin exhibit at Mesker Park Zoo, will be spared.

As part of Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s budget proposal, $600,000 was to be allocated to start designing a new penguin exhibit at Mesker Zoo. With a tight budget, however, comes the question of whether that money could be better spent elsewhere.

Steve Schaefer, the mayor’s chief of staff, said it’s important to know the distinction between capital expenses and operational expenses. Operational expenses include salaries of city employees, supplies and other costs of doing day-to-day business. Capital expenses, however, are for new projects or long-term investments and are usually derived from Riverboat funds.

Schaefer said the funding for the penguin exhibit would come from the city’s capital expense fund and wouldn’t impact the city’s ability to do day-to-day business. The design work, if approved, would take about a year, Schaefer said. After that, the zoo would begin its fundraising efforts.

The total cost of the project is expected to be around $5 million, Schaefer said.

The newest exhibit at the zoo is Amazonia, which opened in 2006.

“It’s a quality of life project. A facility like Mesker Park Zoo that uses taxpayer dollars, we certainly do not want it to fail as a public facility,” Schaefer said. “It’s something we’re very proud of and the community is proud of so we need to continually invest in it.”

“We need something to get people in the zoo. That’s one of those quality of life things where I’d hate to say this but we need to suck it up. We need to suck it up and think of something to promote the zoo,” said Councilman Weaver.

The zoo is expected to raise half of the money needed to complete the $5 million project. The city will match the other half, Schaefer said.

“In fundraising, people like to donate and contribute to construction and bricks-and-mortar rather than design,” Schaefer said.

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