Zoo NW Florida closes before TDC, Escambia County can act
By Pam Brannon
The Zoo Northwest Florida, located on U.S. Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze, is closed.
At least that was the announcement made by Robert Switzer at the beginning of the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council meeting Wednesday, Aug. 19. The announcement was made before the council even took up the subject of approving any funding to help The Zoo get through the winter, as had been requested by The Zoo.
Kate Wilkes, Executive Director of the TDC, said the announcement being made at the beginning of the meeting came as a surprise.
“We had already heard that Danyelle Lantz, the Director of The Zoo, was no longer there as of this week – she had resigned. And we hear that the chairman of the board of the non-profit Zoological Society had resigned, also this week. But I know I did not expect an announcement of any kind to be made even before we discussed whether to support The Zoo this winter through some funding.”
Animal Park, Inc. had taken over operation of The Zoo Sunday evening, when it was announced The Zoo would closed "temporarily" until the TDC and Escambia County Commission each met this week and made the decision whether to give $125,000 each to The Zoo to help get through the winter months.
Animal Park, Inc. is made up of the three deed holders to the land The Zoo sits on — Robert Switzer, Dr. Jim Potter, and Zoo founder Pat Quinn.
Switzer told the TDC Board on Wednesday that since the community had not made a long-term commitment to The Zoo, as other states and counties have done with their zoos throughout the country, The Zoo in Gulf Breeze will not re-open.
Wilkes said the TDC Board still discussed the issue after the announcement was made.
"We did not take a formal vote of any kind. We certainly did not take a vote not to give any money or support to The Zoo," she said. "I can say absolutely that every person on the TDC Board would like to see The Zoo survive. But there was a general agreement that before we could pledge giving The Zoo money we needed more information."
She said right now they really did not even know who would be operating The Zoo if it did re-open.
"If there was a commitment of monies, we didn't know who would be in charge of the daily operations of The Zoo. Mostly, board all agreed it would like to see a business plan. Audited financials are the biggest issue."
Quinn also spoke to the TDC Board after Switzer made his announcement.
"Pat Quinn made an emotional case as to why we should not lose The Zoo in this community," Wilkes said. "And he did a good job. That was after the announcement was already made.
“I do not think it is a totally closed issue. If someone could come up with a long-term commitment, I think The Zoo could be saved. That is my feeling. The TDC Board just all agreed by consensus that we need more information."
The Zoo Web site still says The Zoo is closed temporarily. A voice message on the Zoo’s phone system says The Zoo is slated to re-open Friday, as was reported in Thursday’s issue of Gulf Breeze News. The Escambia County Commission is scheduled to discuss the issue at today's commission meeting.
Switzer said The Lighthouse Academy, who operates on Zoo property, would not be affected at this time.
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