By Emory Bryan, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- The Tulsa Zoo will soon be under new management. The changeover could happen July 1, with a new, private group taking over management from the City of Tulsa.
The new group is a spin-off from Tulsa Zoo Friends. The current Tulsa Zoo Friends board will become an advisory board and the new board, called Tulsa Zoo Management, will take over daily operations of the Tulsa Zoo, that's now managed both by Zoo Friends and the City of Tulsa.
While the Tulsa Zoo remains popular with visitors, even in the heat, it's on a long term decline that is largely behind-the-scenes. Studies by experts have again and again said the zoo can't continue running as it has.
"Our maintenance has started to go downhill to the point that we're approaching crisis mode, if we're not there already," said Keegan Young, Tulsa Zoo Friends.
As the head of the soon-to-be dissolved Tulsa Zoo Friends, Keegan Young is now the fundraiser-in-chief for now at the zoo.
"It's not enough to make up on what the city has cut back on so we continue to have the deferred maintenance problems," Young said.
While new public and privately funded projects are underway at the zoo, the long term maintenance needs have piled up to where experts believe the only solution is new management, at arm's length from city government, with a new board that can really raise money to fix up the zoo.
"Looking at some of our infrastructure problems, rebuilding the zoo and new immersive exhibits and transforming the zoo," said Terrie Correll, Tulsa Zoo Director.
Transformation is expensive; $1 million to hit the urgent needs and about $3 million of basic repairs. Replacing each of the outdated, major exhibits like the Tiger grotto, can run well over $4 million.
As the zoo moves to a new private management setup, it will be more nimble than city government, and can be more aggressive in raising money.
"Tulsa Zoo is not unlike many other older municipal zoos in that over time zoo trends have left them behind," Correll said. "And so we're looking forward to going in and replacing them with newer zoological exhibits."
The City of Tulsa will continue to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million a year to operate the zoo and city bond issues will still have zoo projects in them.
It's not known who will make up the new board, but that's expected to come out when the zoo meeting is over Monday night.