Waco: Zoo expansion project $10 million short

Zoo officials say inflation is the culprit
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 12:31 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Inflation is taking its toll on one of the top tourist attractions in Central Texas.

The Cameron Park Zoo is asking for millions of dollars more to finish its expansion project.

“We have experienced the aftermath of post-COVID inflation, and supply chain issues, that have caused substantial increases in the construction costs for the education and veterinary complex as well as the Penguin Shores exhibit,” said Terri Cox, Executive Director of the Cameron Park Zoological & Botanical Society.

Back in 2019, McLennan County voters approved a $14.5 million bond which was supposed to fund a series of zoo expansion projects including the fire-ever penguin exhibit.

However, now the price has skyrocketed to at least $22 million, but potentially $25,000,000.

“We have been very successful in raising funds for these projects and we continue to do that, but we are facing a shortfall of about $10,050,000 for the total package,” said Cox.

Without the desired black-footed cat exhibit or family restrooms included in the ‘total package’, the shortfall is about $2.5 million less, Cox said.

“The $10 million incudes an additional alternate package for the Penguin Shores exhibit--that package includes a large gathering plaza with family restrooms with adult-sized changing tables, as well as a black-footed cat habitat and a vending area, so if we take those away, then we are about $7.8 million short.”

The plan is to have the city, county and zoological society split the overtures three ways: $3.4 million each.

Zoo officials asked for the additional dollars last week.

“We hope that all of us can partner together to expand the zoo,” said Cox. “This year’s subsidy that is given to the zoo from the general fund of the city was cut by $1 million because we have been very profitable in the last year and we’ve made some changes with the contract between the society and the city that has helped reduced that subsidy and it’s been beneficial to all of us and it would be beneficial to all of us to have this expansion project, and I get the feeling that the county and city officials feel the same way, but they do have to look at their books, and we all have to make a decision based on that.”

Cox said the zoo is the second most visited tourism site in Waco.

“We had over 325,000 last year, and those visitors come not only from McLennan County but around the world,” said Cox.

Joseph Zielinski Jr. and his family live in Granbury but enjoy the zoo so much they prefer it over DFW-area zoos and have become members.

“It’s relaxing, it’s not overcrowded,” said Zielinski.

For zoo fans like the Zielinskis, there’s a new draw: penguins.

“My son, he loves the penguins, his sister loves penguins,” said Zielinski. “We walked by earlier and we were pretty excited to see it was coming here, but just kind of worried if it doesn’t come now due to the funding struggles.”

Zoo officials don’t believe that will happen and say the exhibit is already designed.

“The goal is, if these funds are approved, the goal would be to break-ground by the end of the year on the penguin, and to go to bid and start construction on all three of these projects by the first of next year,” said Cox.

Cox explains the process to bring the penguin exhibit to the zoo.

“When we build the penguin exhibit, we are part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) program with the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums, so when we get endangered species, when we get other animals from other zoos, they’re all part of a breeding program so that we can actually work to have 100-year genetic diversity in various species around the zoo and throughout the world,” said Cox. “When we go to build an exhibit like the penguin exhibit, we work very closely with the SSP and they are the ones that help us determine where the animals will come from, usually they try to get them as close as possible so you don’t have to transfer them too far, but the plan for our penguin program, the African black-footed penguin is endangered, and we plan to be a breeding facility for that.”

The zoo brings in an estimated $10 million to the local economy yearly, officials said.

However, the goal is to grow that number through the expansion.

“It’s our goal to bring in another endangered species, It’s our duty to continue to work on conservation of the species, and in order to do that you have to educate people, and in doing all of that it draws the gate and helps the local economy,” said Cox. “We are a very bright star in Waco and McLennan County, so we are hoping that we can continue to be that.”

Copyright 2022 KWTX. All rights reserved.