Committee debates zoo’s name change, separation of park
The city of Roswell’s Spring River Zoo Review Committee gave approval for funding the remainder of the large cat enclosure at Spring River Park & Zoo.
During a nearly three-hour meeting on Monday, Roswell City Councilors Angela Moore, Judy Stubbs and Jacob Roebuck, zoo review committee members, voted to allocate funding to complete the large cat or jaguar exhibit, which was formerly called the interim mountain lion exhibit.
Roebuck made the motion to send the item to the city’s Finance Committee, so the additional committee can also review allocating $291,156.61 — from the city’s cash on hand in the General Fund, which City Manager Joe Neeb said was about $1 million. Stubbs was the second and the measure carried unanimously.
Already, $208,843.39 in donations have been raised — since the council’s adoption of the zoo master plan in March 2017 — for the enclosure that will temporarily hold the zoo’s one male mountain lion when the existing mountain lion enclosure undergoes construction before reopening for another large cat later.
Neeb presented the plan drafted by Kevin Dillon, the city’s facilities and maintenance director, for the jaguar exhibit and the costs associated. Neeb said the 961-square-foot night house (with the inside visible to visitors as an attraction, a small pond and 9,583-square-foot enclosure) is estimated to cost $500,000 in total.
“Again I believe … the intent was — we build an exhibit the right way,” Neeb said. “We build the exhibit to be complete. If we don’t do that, we’re short-circuiting the entire reason of why we did the master plan.”
At a special meeting on July 25, Roebuck made — and later withdrew — a motion to give the zoo $200,000 to finish the exhibit. Also at the meeting, Neeb said he would present a better number at a later date. Roebuck said he wanted to match the commitment from the community in their donations and push for the zoo to get to a point where it can charge admission.
In addition to this, the committee and various people associated with the zoo discussed changing the name of the zoo and separating the park from the zoo. No formal action was taken on these items.
Neeb and Roebuck referred to goals approved in the master plan, that were listed on a PowerPoint slide, for the zoo to “become the best small facility in the region, become the number one attraction in Roswell and promote conservation through education and outreach.”
Moore said these goals were “ambiguous.” Additionally, those present at the committee questioned the “number one attraction” goal, due to the annual UFO Festival and International UFO Museum & Research Center being the main draw to the city for tourists.
Neeb showed two logos with the names Spring River Zoo and the Roswell Zoo, with an overlay of a mountain lion stepping in the O’s of zoo.
Roebuck said the current name had “low marketing value” and top zoos are often named after their respective cities.
“If we’re trying to reach these goals, we need to think about this not sentimentally, but what can reach these goals,” Roebuck said. “Because these are the goals that are going to keep the zoo alive … Names are important. Marketing is important. Roswell, whether you like it or hate it, is a billion-dollar brand. It is foolish not to use it for our zoo. It’s just a waste.”
Zoo Superintendent Marge Woods, Senior Zookeeper Andrea Cole, Kerry Moore, Councilor Angela Moore and Stubbs were in favor of keeping the name Spring River Zoo. Some of them cited reasons for preserving the historic value and educational purposes, and some also showed support for Spring River Zoo Roswell.
Kerry Moore also reminded the committee that the park adjacent to the zoo and close to the two gates on East College Boulevard used to be called Peppermint Park. In “100 Years of Dreams: A History of Roswell Parks and Recreation” by A.B. Gwinn, the first mention of the park next to the zoo notes it was called Peppermint Park some time after 1966.
“I am going to disagree with this discussion because first of all, I’m going to say — I can’t fathom that the zoo would ever be what draws people to Roswell,” Stubbs said. “I mean they are coming for other reasons, so if it’s within Roswell, I don’t think it necessarily needs the name Roswell because they’re not coming for that reason.
“The logo up somewhere would be great and I honestly believe the whole facility loses … its whole ambiance without Spring River Park & Zoo. I think it is really critical to tie those together because that’s what it is. When I think of a zoo … a different image comes to me other than the whole experience of a park and zoo …”
Neeb said the recommendation to separate the park and zoo came from Roebuck, who said the park side could remain open and free when admission was charged to see the animals. Whether or not the fishing lake should be separated was also mulled over by the committee and members of the public in attendance.
Neeb said the zoo operates for about $700,000 per year and $660,000 was budgeted this year. He said admission would have to be between $8-$13 per ticket to cover these costs and a future consideration is the cost recovery needed for the currently free zoo.
According to the zoo’s monthly report, the zoo had 7,517 visitors for the month of July. Woods explained the zookeepers count how many people are at the entire zoo area three to four times per day.
Jim Burress, Parks and Recreation director, who also oversees the zoo, reminded the committee that the city has “more green space than the national average” and there are available parks, even as close as Loveless Park at the 1200 Block of North Atkinson Avenue.
Burress recommended that the zoo and park be left as one piece, though the pond could be separated. Woods and Cole shared similar opinions.
Kerry Moore asked if the carousel and train would be part of the zoo or the park and Neeb said both would remain within the zoo.
At the end of the meeting, the committee went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter pertaining to zoo staff.
City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.