By Mike Steely
Knoxville’s top attraction normally makes 75 percent of its operating funds through ticket sales but Zoo Knoxville closed in March and won’t reopen until the coronavirus pandemic is over. That puts the animals there at risk and the city and county are coming to the rescue.
The Knox County Commission voted last week to loan the zoo $500,000 from Hotel and Motel Tax Funds in an emergency action. Mayor Glenn Jacobs asked for the resolution and all the commissioners added their names to the motion during the commission’s online Zoom meeting.
Mayor Jacobs said he also authorized the delivery of two dump trucks of tree and brush debris to the zoo for the elephants. Finance Director Chris Caldwell said the zoo will have 15 years to repay the loan starting in fiscal year 2022.
Commissioner Larsen Jay questioned if the county will be prepared to fund other local concerns when asked for assistance. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said she is recommending $700,000 in emergency funding for the zoo because of its budget shortfall during the crisis. She transferred $100,000 under her powers to take legal and financial action during a declared State Emergency.
Mayor Kincannon said she will ask the city council this weel to approve anadditional $600,000 in $200,000 monthly installments through June. This year the city’s portion of the zoo’s operating funds has been $1.4 million.
Each year Zoo Knoxville draws about 500,000 visitors. Kincannon called the zoo “a valued partner and a unique educational asset.”