There’s money and support in the community for the proposed visitor center-small mammal building at the Irvine Park Zoo, a consulting firm said Wednesday.
”You have incredible quality of life here,” said Ellen Hongerholt of Crescendo Consulting, the firm hired by the Chippewa Falls Parks Board to head up the fundraising efforts. “It’s outstanding.
Residents interviewed by the firm showed a great pride in the community and they valued Irvine Park as an asset. Many said they would be willing to donate generous amounts of money to the project. None said they wouldn’t make a donation.
”It was overwhelming the numbers that people were throwing out,” said Laura Eddy, also from the consulting firm.
The city has decided not to fund past projects at the zoo, including the large animal exhibit that was funding by private donations.
Hongerholt and Eddy suggested that the city should put some money down on the welcome center project.
”It could be valuable, rather important for you to consider (donating) something,” Hongerholt said. But she added that they didn’t have a figure in mind. The main thing is that the city get behind the project early.
”If the city is holding back, people see that as the city not having faith in the project,” Eddy said.
Council member Mike Hanke asked Chippewa Falls Parks Director Dick Hebert how much he would like the city to contribute.
”In a perfect world, $250,000 would be wonderful,” Hebert said. “But we’ll take whatever you decide.”
The city contributes to the Irvine Park Zoo’s operational expenses every year. The construction of the new visitor center/small mammal building will likely impact that bottom line.
”What kind of staff do you anticipate for this?” council member Amy Mason asked.
”We’re not going to get another full-time employee,” Hebert said. But he did acknowledge that the zoo’s utility bill would likely go up after the construction.
He is going to get price quotes on how much that cost can be expected to increase. “It probably won’t go up a lot,” he said, noting that the current small mammal building is very energy inefficient.
“I would like to know, since we already have a tight budget, where the money to support this will come from,” Mason said.
Council President Bill Hicks suggested the funds could be borrowed and Mayor Greg Hoffman noted that the city will be receiving funds from a Tax Increment Finance district that could be used as the council saw fit.
Mason said that the city already has other projects in the works along with obligations such as roads. She acknowledged the benefits the park brings to the city but questions the fiscal responsibility of spending that much money.
”I think it’s a wonderful project,” she said. “I’m just uncomfortable with the $250,000.”
Ultimately whether the city gives funds to the project at all will be up to the Finance Committee, which will take up the issue next before sending a recommendation back to the city council.
”I support the city finding, something to support the park,” Hicks said, suggesting that the city needs to do something given the apparent support within the community. “I would, personally, like to give the full $250,000,” he added.
Mason said that the number could be negotiated.
The Parks Department is trying to raise $3 million for the project.
”If things go well we won’t just fund the building but start an endowment that would help support it,” Hebert said. He also said his department already has $450,000 promised from the Gerald O. and Evelyn M. Thorpe Fund which will also give a certain amount of money to the park each year.
With the initial survey done, the next phase of the fundraising effort will be soliciting of donations. That phase will likely occur over the next several months.
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