Gulf Breeze Zoo To Close & May Auction Animals

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Zoo to close until funding approved: If Santa Rosa, Escambia say no, the park will close for good, director says

By Dusty Ricketts Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

Publication: Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Florida)

Date: Saturday, August 15 2009 

Aug. 15–GULF BREEZE — The Zoo Northwest Florida is closing its doors, at least temporarily.

Zoo officials announced Friday that the struggling facility will close to the public Monday to try to save money. If The Zoo receives funding from the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council on Wednesday and the Escambia County Commission on Thursday, it will reopen Friday. If the agencies do not approve funding, Executive Director Danyelle Lantz said The Zoo's board of directors is expected to vote to close it permanently.

" In looking forward at the end of the month, I know I'm not going to be able to make that payroll," Lantz said. "So when we notified our debt holders about that, they asked for us to do a temporary closure of The Zoo in hopes that would rally the community behind these votes and emphasize that The Zoo really is going to close without getting support from the community."

On Friday, The Zoo told 18 of its 38 employees they would be laid off Monday. They will be rehired if The Zoo reopens.

August typically is one of the four slowest months for The Zoo, and Lantz said the projected revenues from next week would not have been enough for the park to make its full payroll and feed the animals.

The not-for-profit Gulf Coast Zoological Society took over ownership of The Zoo in 2004 from Animal Park Inc. and has struggled financially for years. When the society took ownership, it agreed to pay off the facility's nearly $5 million debt, which includes the option to purchase the 50-acre park's land.

Lantz said the decision to temporarily close The Zoo was made at the request of Animal Park Inc., the debt holder. Animal Park Inc. will pay for the food and the cost of animal care during the temporary closure.

Lantz said the closing is not aimed specifically to draw added sympathy to The Zoo before the TDC and Escambia Commission votes next week.

"I know there's always been some hesitation in the community of candidly getting tired of hearing the zoo whine and ask for support," Lantz said. "And unfortunately, although it's not something we want to do, this community is on the brink of losing this zoo. I hope it inspires and encourages them to vote for support of the zoo and encourages Escambia County and the residents of Santa Rosa County to recognize what an amazing asset and treasure this is and to get behind it to save it."

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