My office has gotten a lot of feedback about the plans for zoo expansion and how it will affect the south pond at Reid Park, the smaller of the two ponds. My staff and I have been working with both Reid Park Zoo and the Parks and Recreation Department on an informative, comprehensive response to your questions. I thought I’d share our office’s response as part of this newsletter:
The Tucson community was presented with the opportunity to vote on the Reid Park Zoo master plan, and passing the one tenth of one cent sales tax to fund the plan, on the November 2017 ballot. The Zoo and the City of Tucson did significant educational and planning outreach prior to the item being placed on the ballot and even continued that outreach after Tucson’s voters approved the items as presented on the ballot. More than 100 meetings, including open houses, were held to develop and obtain input from the community. The conversations about the expansion and the master plan continued into 2018 as the Mayor and Council worked on the management agreement, approved in September of 2018, with the Reid Park Zoological Society. The plans that were presented and approved by the voters included the expansion of the Zoo into this area of the park for larger habitats for tigers and bringing new animals to the Zoo.
The Zoo is also a very important and beloved resource in our community as evidenced, in part, by the willingness of the community to vote to tax themselves in order to make the improvements that were on the ballot. The mission of the Reid Park Zoo is “to create inspiring memories for all by connecting people and animals to ensure the protection of wild animals and wild places.” The memories and connections that they create also nurture children and families. Through visits to this professionally accredited zoo, children and families learn about conservation efforts at a global scale and the simple actions that they can take at home to support that conservation locally. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and goes through a rigorous accreditation process every 5 years to ensure that they meet the ever-rising standards which encompass animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. Expansion and continuous improvement of the habitat for the animals in their care is a major part of this process.
The Zoo administration and the Zoological Society recognize that cost can be a significant barrier for some families. They worked with the Mayor and Council to ensure that there are opportunities, incorporated into the management agreement, for those who may not be able to afford standard entry fees including two $1 admission days per year, reduced entry fees for children of families that utilize Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card programs, and reduced pass prices for non-profit organizations.
Golf course profitability was not a driving factor for the zoo expansion discussions. The Mayor and Council have long been concerned about golf costs and privatized golf management at City golf courses beginning in 2013 in an effort to ensure that operational costs would be covered to the greatest extent possible by those community members and visitors to our community who play golf, while acknowledging that it is a valued form of recreation for many in our community including youth, families, and seniors. The privatization has successfully reduced costs each year. The Mayor and Council continue to monitor golf management and hold discussions that have included the repurposing of golf courses for additional open space and the possible sale of as many as two of the existing courses, in an effort to further reduce costs and ensure that the golf program is right-sized and cost effective for our community.
There will still be significant open recreation space and habitat at the north pond which will remain intact. The work being done on this phase of the Zoo expansion will improve the waterfall and enhance the water quality at the north pond, through the installation of new pumping equipment, while fulfilling the voter approved plans.
In other Parks and Recreation news, the city has been on the hunt for a new director for the department. There are three candidates.
Laura Hamwey has been leading the City of Miami, Florida’s Parks and Recreation department since 2019, and had been named deputy director in 2013. In addition, she has private sector experience running her own consulting firm for three years. I had a chance to meet with Laura when she was in town last week.
Joshua Medeiros is the Superintendent of Parks, Recreation, Youth and Community Services for the City of Bristol, Connecticut. He currently manages 300 employees and also serves as an adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University. His previous experience includes parks departments in other Connecticut towns and cities. My staff met with him on Thursday.
Christopher Nunes has family ties to Arizona and one of his first jobs was working for Tempe Community Services in a program much like our KidCo. Since 2006, he has been the director of Parks and Recreation in The Woodlands, Texas (outside of Houston). He manages an operating budget of $38 million. His previous experience includes work in Phoenix, Ohio and Colorado.
Tucson would do well with any of these three candidates and I am looking forward to working with one of them.
Remember that Saturday is America Recycles Day. As a part of that, Tucson Clean and Beautiful is Partnering with Environmental Services & local businesses to provide an E-Waste, Textile, and shred collection event.
The event will run from 9 am until 1 pm at the City Complex at 4004 S Park Avenue. They will be accepting documents to be shredded, textiles in any condition and electronics (functioning or not).
This will be a contactless event, so we ask participants to remain in their vehicles and volunteers will remove donations from your vehicle. Masks are required to be worn by anyone in attendance and social distancing will be in place.