Audits Say Jungle Island Is Not Keeping Pledge to Government Loans
aid, arguing that the park is actually responsible for creating about 1,200 jobs, including positions at nearby hotels and work for wedding photographers on the grounds. “Some are indirect jobs, but they are directly related to the Jungle.”
Levine also disputed the auditors’ figure that only 4 percent of Jungle Island jobs are held by workers who live in low- and middle-class neighborhoods.
“Our employees are definitely from low- to moderate income areas,” he said.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, convinced that Jungle Island is on shaky financial footing, said he wasn’t surprised by the auditors’ concerns.
When the $2 million loan payment came due over the summer, park officials said a secret investor was willing to foot the bill, but only if the city commission would approve a public referendum to expand the park and extend its lease. After commissioners said no, Jungle Island ultimately ponied up the money and put its expansion plans on hold.
“That’s why we were so firm when they asked for the extension and the referendum,” Regalado said. “We couldn’t keep asking voters to continue betting on a place that’s losing and that has so many serious problems. And that was before knowing they weren’t meeting all those requirements.”
The auditors also noted that the park’s independent accountant had “expressed doubts of its ability to continue.”
Jungle Island has been in a financial morass since moving from Pinecrest to city-owned land on Watson Island nearly 15 years ago. The number of annual visitors has never quite hit the 750,000 mark that was forecast, leaving Jungle Island una