Private foundation may run the state zoo

Posted April 18, 2012
Updated April 19, 2012

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— The N.C. Zoo Society, a private nonprofit corporation, would take over operation of the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro from the state if legislation lawmakers reviewed Wednesday morning passes.

While the state would retain title to the zoo property and continue a $10 million annual contribution toward its operation, the society would hire the zoo's staff, set admission rates and forge other business partnerships.

"By becoming more flexible and entrepreneurial, we can attract more partners," said David Jones, the zoo's director.

Currently, the zoo is a division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As such, it is subject to state regulations on contracting and competing with businesses in the private sector.

The new public-private arrangement, Jones said, would facilitate future plans for the zoo, such as building a hotel and attractions somewhere on the 2,100 acres owned by the state and the society currently.

The House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships is scheduled to endorse the draft legislation next week. The bill would then be considered by the General Assembly during the legislative session that begins May 8.

Changes to how the zoo operates have been discussed for years and most committee members seemed comfortable with the premise of putting zoo operations in private hands. But there were still some concerns. 

Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat, asked whether the zoo would still admit North Carolina school groups free of charge. That would be part of the management agreement, Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican said. Carney asked that specific language be added to the draft bill to ensure that was the case.

"Anything that we can put into this bill that eases the mind of the public ... I think we need to put the language in there," she said.

Jones said that the new operational arrangement could help the zoo push forward with the new Asia exhibit area, which will join the existing North America and Africa sections.

As well, he said, the new model would help the zoo tackle needed repairs and renovations. Private funds set aside to upgrade the polar bear exhibit have been tied up due to state regulations, he said.

Current employees of the zoo would be laid off by the state and immediately hired by the zoo society, under the bill. That transition would happen on or before Jan. 1, 2013, under the bill's draft language, although zoo officials said they may need until June 30, 2013. 

The bill would also require the society to agree to put two state officials on its board, and become subject to audits by the Office of the Statue Auditor and the legislature's Program Evaluation Division. 


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  • nowon_yuno Apr 19, 2012

    I went to an aquarium in TN (Ripley's) last year that was like $20-$25 per person

    next time you go to something like that see if they have a "locals price", I know they do in Branson, MO. When I went to the Titanic Museum we told the lady at the box office the local zip code and we got like 5 bucks off each of our tickets. I thought it was pretty shadey, but I guess a lot of places around there do it.

  • nerdlywehunt Apr 18, 2012

    While they are at it let's outsource all of the Police, HP, 911 and dispatchers and eliminate all of the retirement and medical benefits to this group.......continue on to school teachers, college profs and janitors. Slash pensions to retirees and let them buy their own insurance like everyone else........that should take care of a majority of the problems.

  • mmtlash Apr 18, 2012

    Hopefully they won't jack up the entrance fee if/when this happens. I went to an aquarium in TN (Ripley's) last year that was like $20-$25 per person... made the NC aquarium look like a great deal!

  • jodsum Apr 18, 2012

    I think you all are missing the point here, becoming a private operation does nothing to ease the monetary burden on the state. Still funding 10 million a year is still too much if they are taking over. What happens to the admission funds now are they put back into the general fund? No they are put to the side so everyone can't see them. If someone looked close enough to the operations there are tons of money that could be saved. For instance instead of letting a non profit sell memberships to a state facility why doesn't the state sell them and keep the money. Instead they hand the money over to the non profit to say how they can spend it, all while absorbing minimum costs. Yeah well someone should look at those minimum costs also new cars for everyone, massive per diem, paid meals daily, clothing and who knows what else. They already run the attractions.

  • superman Apr 18, 2012

    Sorry but I dont see that the "state" will win anything. They still going to give them 10M a year. Why dont they take over the big building in RM and so something with that. If the state is going to give it up--then the 10M needs to STOP. It is good business when you take have it both ways. Someone else controls it and they get money. This is a sweet deal. I be happy to control the zoo for 10 million.

  • jeffdewitt Apr 18, 2012

    It's a great idea and would free the Zoo from the shackles of the state government.

  • SouthernBornSouthernBred Apr 18, 2012

    wildponee - I think I missed something. Were in the article or in the 2 post prior to yours was it said that state workers are lazy, etc? I worked for the state for 5 years before leaving there and going to local government. As far as a the Zoo Society (I'm a member of) taking over the everyday operations of the zoo, kudos to them. This will allow the Zoo Society to raise money privately to fund the new expansions, etc. The State will maintain ownership of the Zoo but will outsource the operations. This is a win win for everybody. As far as the admission prices, sometimes (depending on family size and # of visits)it is cheaper to buy a yearly memebership through the Zoo Society. This gets you into most zoos and aquariums in the US for 1 year. Well worth the money.

  • xwife27609 Apr 18, 2012

    I'm wondering what that will do with the price of admission. It is already $8 for a child over 2 are families really going to be able to afford it?

  • NotFromHere Apr 18, 2012

    "The Zoo is great however at times it is stagnant." - Go Green

    The zoo is stangant becauase of the state. The state has never fulfilled its promised to properly fund the zoo and its expansions. Going private will free their hands to make their own agreements with the private sector.

    Some things should not be state controlled - and that includes pretty much EVERYTHING. When the state runs stuff, they are ineffective, inefficient and often corrupt.

  • NotFromHere Apr 18, 2012

    "Now instead of retiring with 30 years at any age, they will to work til they are 65 w/5 years to get full benefits." - bean112455

    Oh the horror. You mean they would have to work until 65 just like everyone else? My employer disolved my pension years ago and I'll have to retire on my social security (at age 67) and my own IRA money.

    By the way, the article mentioned nothing about what kind of pay/benefits/retirement deal the employees would be offered.