KC Zoo keeps promises with major upgrades
The Kansas City Star
Animal lovers made some big promises last year about how they would improve the Kansas City Zoo — if taxpayers ponied up extra funds.
So far, mission accomplished.
Since voters in Jackson and Clay counties endorsed a new eighth-cent sales tax in November 2011, zoo Director Randy Wisthoff and a host of others have been busy doing exactly what you’re supposed to do when handed millions more in public funds: Keep your word and use it as pledged.
On Saturday, for example, the zoo offered its fourth and final day of free admission for 2012 to residents from the two counties that passed the tax. Thousands poured through the gates, just as they had on the other free dates, topped by the zoo’s single-day attendance record of 32,000 visitors on a mild March day. On all other days, visitors from these two counties get half-priced admission, another perk.
By the end of the week, total zoo attendance for 2012 had topped 730,000. That’s already an overall record, and it’s come despite the blistering summer, during which the zoo wisely opened earlier to woo people when it was a bit cooler and more animals were out and about.
Much of the credit for the zoo’s success goes to Wisthoff, who has worked tirelessly to promote new attractions, primed the pump to attract additional private funds and made sure the 2011 promises are carried out.
Private and public funds are in place to build the highly anticipated penguin exhibit by late next summer. Pictures of penguins were heavily used to help pass the tax, so zoo officials should make sure this major attraction is completed on schedule.
Two “Zoomobiles” have been purchased, and the zoo staff is developing programming that will be brought to schools, libraries, community centers and other places in the two counties. The good goals are to expose more people to the zoo’s attractions, trying to lure back many who haven’t been in years.
Curriculums are being written that will be offered as part of free educational field trips to the zoo for schoolchildren from Jackson and Clay counties.
Staffing has increased to improve services to customers.
This fall, work began on long-deferred maintenance of asphalt walks, restrooms and pumps.
A board has been appointed to oversee spending of the sales-tax revenue.
Meanwhile, the zoo continues to do a better job of listening to its customers. A new pathway has eased one major complaint — that the walk to get to the African exhibits was too long. A reconfiguring of the entrance has made it easier to drop off passengers and park (for free) closer to the facility.
Still, more could be accomplished, if more counties join the effort.
Last year elected officials in Platte and Cass counties wrongly threw out valid initiative petition efforts to place the zoo’s sales tax increase on 2011 ballots. So voters haven’t had the chance to reap all the benefits offered by the zoo, including free and reduced admission. The issue is now in the courts.
Zoo supporters also want Johnson Countians to one day have the opportunity to join the zoo compact.
The best way to make these last few dreams come true is to continue building one of the finest zoos in the country. Wisthoff and his crew are on the road to doing just that.