City leaders take action to save Mill Mountain Zoo

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - The Roanoke City Council approved an agreement that will save Mill Mountain Zoo thousands of dollars.

Council members approved a proposal allowing the city to lease the property in order to operate and Maintain Mill Mountain Zoo.

The original agreement between the city and the zoo stated that Mill Mountain Zoo needed to be certified through the American Zoo Association in order to maintain a low rental rate of $10 a year rather than $5,000.

The zoo recently lost its American Zoo Association accreditation, meaning its rent was going to increase to $5,000 a year, further adding to the zoo's existing financial troubles.

That's now been modified and the zoo will continue to pay the $10 leasing fee.

"Everyone says ‘you know, I remember the zoo is great'," said City Manager Chris Morrill.

He said while the city is making the first move to help the zoo financially stay afloat, it will take a collaborative effort.

"There's no one person, no one organization that can say it's moving forward," said Morrill. "It's all about this idea of collaborative leadership. We see a challenge, the committee decides that it is important and then we have private sector, public sector, and nonprofit sector all working together. I think that's how the zoo needs to approach it too."

Morrill said the city currently gives nearly $33,000 a year toward the zoo's operations.

"We need to look at whatever funding we provide for the zoo as an investment in our city and an investment in the quality of life," said Councilman Bill Bestpitch. "So, if we look at it from that perspective we also have to decide what's the return on that investment."

One thing is certain, city leaders told us it's going to take a group effort from zoo management, Roanoke City and the community to help revitalize this Roanoke staple.

Lucy Cook, the zoo's director, released this statement:

Several weeks ago, Mill Mountain Zoo requested some simple language changes in our lease at Mill Mountain Park  to reflect our USDA permit approval.  The item before the Council this evening is the final approval of that language in the lease.  We appreciate the City Manager's office and our Council Members working with us to make this small clerical adjustment.

That being said, many of the Zoo's supporters are anxious to have an opportunity to let the Council know what the Zoo means to them and we welcome their support at tonight's hearing as we continue to move forward.

Our location offers unparalleled and unique opportunities for nature-based experiences and provides a natural gateway to all that is available in outdoor recreation and adventure in Virginia's Blue Ridge.  Mill Mountain Zoo is in a special position to integrate, manage and market the zoo with the entire Mill Mountain experience, including the Roanoke Star, the City of Roanoke's Discovery Center, the Mill Mountain Wildflower Garden and the great hiking/biking experiences the park provides.  With its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the park can become a true destination for introducing Virginia's Blue Ridge to our residents and visitors alike.   As part of Virginia's Blue Ridge, the Zoo can continue to educate the public about conservation, protection and preserving an urban park while also contributing to our expanding tourism ecosystem and economy.

Zoo leadership looks forward to our continued work with key stakeholders to engage in a visioning process that defines and builds community support for creating and funding for a regional destination in Mill Mountain Park focusing on children and families that will engage visitors with exhibits and experiences focused on animal habitat conservation and wildlife education knit together with experiences related to the Appalachian region's unique culture."