My family has been deeply involved in the zoo for decades and I’ve been an advocate for the zoo and the role it plays in our community.
Voters (including me) approved an expansion of the zoo, but now that specifics have been put forward, there has been a lot of anger about what has been suggested and people feel that they were misled. There’s a lot to like about the plan. The Pathway to Asia exhibit would put our zoo among the top facilities of its kind in the country.
That said, building it would require adding 3.5 acres to the zoo, acreage that would have to come out of Reid Park.
The current plan asks that that new acreage come from the duck pond and Barnum Hill, which are beloved features of that part of Reid Park. The Zoological Society has stated that they have done the necessary public engagement to secure support for the expansion. However, given the opposition that I and my fellow councilmembers have been hearing, it is obvious that those efforts at engagement, however sincere, fell short.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a series of letters from members of the Zoological Society to the mayor and other officials that have been counterproductive and at times threatening. The Reid Park Zoo is a public asset run on behalf of the citizens of Tucson. However frustrated members of the Zoological Society are with the way the conversation has gone, they need to remember that the zoo is there to serve the community, not the other way around. The notion that the council cannot ask further discussion is not the way we should do things in Tucson.
We have not cancelled voter approved zoo expansion; my colleagues and I have put a 45 day delay on the project and directed the city manager to reopen the dialogue with both the Zoological Society and other community stakeholders, including park users and neighbors. Despite what some in the community are saying, our contract with the Zoological Society allows for mayor and council to weigh in on the process. The Zoological Society board ought to welcome the opportunity to engage and explain their position to the community, but also hear and seriously consider alternative suggestions.
The Reid Park Zoo is a great asset that is beloved by the community as are open spaces like the duck pond and Barnum Hill. We need to find a solution that protects both.