Topeka Zoo restarts talks on shifting operations to FOTZ

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 9:14 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Efforts to move the Topeka Zoo under the management of a nonprofit group are back on the table.

Zoo director Brendan Wiley outlined the issues at Tuesday’s Topeka City Council meeting. He said the proposal would make the zoo a public-private partnership, with the city owning it and Friends of the Zoo taking over operations.

Wiley previously brought the plan to the Council in early March, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the discussions on hold. Still, he said the idea goes back 10 years earlier, but, at the time, the zoo was facing other issues with management that needed to be addressed before making a major shift.

Wiley told council members the current model keeps the city and FOTZ divided on maintaining the zoo, and in employee and insurance issues. FOTZ already oversees areas like marketing, fundraising and events, concessions, and the gift store. They also are responsible for some part-time staff, including animal care and camp counselors, and a full-time educator.

Wiley says the change would allow increased fundraising, a more consistent product, and a chance to grow the zoo’s property and operating budgets.

Eventually, Wiley said friends of the zoo could pursue legislation to create taxing authority for the zoo’s future financial needs, similar to the Topeka and Shawnee Co. Public Library and Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority.

Wiley said zoo and FOTZ leaders would take several more council sessions to further discuss issues. A proposed timeline would have the council acting on agreements in late November, and starting the transition in January.

Read the Topeka Zoo’s plan

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