Options for Duluth Zoo?

Various recommendations have been made for the revamping of the Lake Superior Zoo. This was reported on in today’s DNT, but I was unable to include the link here. I am curious to hear about the opinions of the PDD community.

31 Comments

TheKujawa

about 7 years ago

Maybe the DNT could sponsor a huge interactive bear exhibit. The DNT could take pictures of visitors feeding or riding the bears. The pictures would be more interesting than the Grandma's Brag Book section.

TimK

about 7 years ago

I have fond memories of the zoo when I was a kid -- none really having anything to do with the animal exhibits. I wouldn't shed a tear if it became something else. Maybe people would pay money for Kujawa rides.

Sam

about 7 years ago

I'm afraid I believe the zoo should be converted to something else--e.g., a Nature Center that is largely free of animals.  I think there are a number of reasons for this.  

First, a well-run zoo is wildly expensive thing to have for a small city.  No zoo is ever financially supported by visitor ticket sales alone.  Large cities have much better combinations of ticket sales, fat-cat donors, and local tax support.  Smaller cities are a poor place for a zoo.

Our zoo will continue to be a financial albatross around the neck of the city.  We have pumped millions of tax dollars into the zoo over the years, and we still have a poor zoo to show for it.  It will take millions more tax dollars over the next few years to keep the zoo up to basic standards.  And a basic standard zoo just isn't going to bring in tourists.  It is a poor investment.  Those millions of dollars should be invested elsewhere.

Second, it has been widely reported that the Duluth zoo has failed over the years to meet basic standards, let alone the standards for a first class zoo.  The zoo recently lost its accreditation for 5 years due to its poor condition.  It has recently regained accreditation,  but it is still underfunded.  It will be very expensive just to keep it a minimally accredited zoo, and will never get the funding to be a higher quality zoo.

Third, the Duluth zoo is an old design built long before much was known about animal well-being.  Now it is well-known that many animals in small confined spaces without the ability to roam long distances are significantly stressed socially and psychologically.  Better equipped and funded zoos have dealt with this problem, but the Duluth zoo would have a hard time fixing this.  It would need to invest significant resources in expansion (e.g., by taking over neighboring homes via public domain), and probably also need to reduce the number of animals (which might reduce the number of interested visitors).

Millions of tax dollars in the next few years to keep a marginal zoo open just isn't a good idea for a city with the needs Duluth has.

Sam

about 7 years ago

And pardon my grammar.  I can never see the errors before posting, and there is no edit function. ;)

Funkenschutz

about 7 years ago

Disc golf! More disc golf!

DaVe

about 7 years ago

Wild animals should not be imprisoned like that . It is a sad, sad place. I know some zoos serve a function in preserving endangered species, but for the most part zoos are torturing these beasts whose intelligence we've barely begun to appreciate. Educational for kids? I guess so, but at a terrible cost. It seems like a holdover from an earlier,  more ignorant and less humane time.

vicarious

about 7 years ago

Good option: Don't confine wild animals in small cages. Send confined-born  or injury-acquired animals to refuges. Problem solved.

Special K

about 7 years ago

Close that depressing place down.

Turn it back into a nature park, and give all the money we wasted subsidizing the zoo to Wildwoods for them to open a rehab center in one of the old buildings.

If people will gather to gawk at a bear in a tree at city hall I bet they'd stop off a trail to see a recovering snared bobcat or injured owl, and maybe learn not to be jerks at the same time.

Endion

about 7 years ago

1. Making it into a park there would be the biggest waste of money in the city's history. There are more parks  in this city than anywhere, if anything close a few and make the zoo better.

2. I used to feel like some of you when I didn't have kids, but kids love to see animals at the zoo. The crappy little ones or native animals are useless. I grew up with Como Park and love that zoo - it would be nice to have something smaller yet similar up here. The lions are in a building and you can go all year long and see them up close, as well as tigers, gorillas, and other exotic animals. That is the direction that the zoo should take, have the indoor areas built so that you can see the cool animals up close. 

3. The Great Lakes Aquarium is a huge joke with native animals and fish. We can go outside and see that stuff, which makes having deer and other animals at a zoo a waste. 

4. A nature center? Like Hartley would be a waste as well. 

5. I pay taxes for so much stuff in this city I do not use. Spirit and the Great Lakes Aquarium come to mind as well as the Red Plan and cleaning up this town's polluted history. I even pay to eat at local restaurants so that a company can promote tourism for people to come up here. 

I want to keep the zoo. Even in its crappy condition it still is a great place to bring kids. Yes, we know that the animals are prisoners, but educating the future can take a few animals having to live in captivity. 

Get rid of the local animals - hey kids look in that cage at the ground squirrel! Focus on the big ones - lions, tigers, bears, elephants, giraffes, apes, monkeys, and maybe a polar bear. Seals would be fun to feed, but our last one ran away in the flood. Make the zoo smaller, but with better animal choices. Build the displays like Como where you can go up to the animals. Take the rest of the space and make it into a park and more area for the animals to roam. 

Those without kids need to remember that seeing those animals is a huge thrill in life. Driving down to the Twin Cities just to go to a zoo would make this area feel even more isolated than it already is.

vicarious

about 7 years ago

Yes! Keeping lions indoors for the viewing pleasure of children is a brilliant idea! The lions love it, too.

Sam

about 7 years ago

The mention of the Great Lakes Aquarium brings back some painful memories.  Wow was that a bad idea.  Worse than the zoo, and ridiculously expensive to taxpayers.  Plus, hardly anyone goes there.  Who wants to see drab, brown local fish in a $34 million dollar aquarium?  No joke, $34 million to build and many millions more in tax money to maintain over the years.

You can read more of its depressing history at its Wikipedia page.

It has been closed on-and-off due to poor management, poor maintenance, and runaway costs.  The folks at Ripley's Believe It or Not ran it for a while, and then they ran away from it.

Endion

about 7 years ago

Vic:
The lions come in to the glass area during visiting hours, then they have an area to move around. I care about animals, but it is tough to fly to Africa and go on a safari where they are poached and tortured. There isn't a lot of truly safe "nature reserves" these days.

Go to Como Park and then come back and give your opinion. Kids love the zoo and this is needed for younger families with kids. We have plenty of dirt bike trails and all sorts of things for hipster nylon growler drinkers. How about one thing for the kids of the town to learn about animals and see them?

vicarious

about 7 years ago

Endion, 

I grew up very close to Como. I've been there dozens of times.  Last time I was there (maybe 5 years ago) I watched a polar bear clearly suffering intense anxiety pacing back and forth in its enclosure. I watched great apes throwing their shit at each other in their pathetic little enclosures. Animals are not here for your amusement, nor your children's.  

Kids love the zoo, huh? Super. Let's ask the animals if they love the zoo.

Endion

about 7 years ago

I've asked the animals and every time I ask them to just tell me they want to go free they ignore me and don't understand or answer. I went to Como tons growing up and never saw what you saw. Maybe the animals just don't like you  and want to throw their crap at you to tell you to go home?

Kids love the zoo. Whenever I go it is packed with kids having a great time. You can make large areas for them to run around and then have enclosures so people see them. They are probably safer in Duluth than in the wild where some gun fanatic will gun them down for a Facebook post. The zookeepers care about the animals and the kids love them.

vicarious

about 7 years ago

Good lord, Endion. The kids love them! The kids love them! It's painfully obvious you don't understand the basic premise of the immorality of caging animals for human pleasure.

Endion

about 7 years ago

I get it. I think the loss of freedom for a few animals for the enjoyment and education of the masses is worth it. If they were in the wild they might not survive their first week of life. Then we add in that their habitats are basically gone they would stand little chance out in the wild. So why not have those few select animals, give them an area to live, but also have a viewing opportunity for people? My dog would love to run wild, but it isn't an option as she would be run over by a car or something within days.

I'm being a realist. Yes, it is sad that some animals live in a cage, but most wouldn't survive in the wild as that is gone for the most part. Give them a decent area and let us enjoy them. Theory and practice are two different things. I'd rather see a bear at the zoo than posted dead on facebook, killed by some game hunter in Africa.

vicarious

about 7 years ago

Endion,

What can be said?  Apparently, you do not believe that animals have an intrinsic sovereignty.  You believe that "the loss of freedom" of "a few" animals is justified for the "enjoyment of the masses." You believe, apparently, that humans have dominion over the Earth (how's that working out?). 

You believe that since humans are destroying the native habitats of animals, that we might as well put them in cages. It's in their best interests! You believe that dogs, domesticated for thousands of years, are somehow comparable to primates and lions.  You believe that theoretical bears are theoretically better off in a cage as opposed to being theoretically shot and posted on Facebook.

Your outlook concerning wild animals is insane,

The Lake Superir Zoo is an underfunded and barely-accredited institution that serves no research or conservation purpose. So, per the question posed by the author of this post, it should be permanently shuttered.

Endion

about 7 years ago

I guess we will have to disagree. I see great value in having a zoo here in Duluth. It is a great highlight for my child's life to read about animals in books, see them on the screen, and then be able to see them up close in real life. That is the reality of having a zoo here, but I shouldn't have digressed into the beliefs on dominion over animals.

I pay taxes for so many things in this city that benefit others. When I go to the zoo I see lots of kids bright eyed and interested in the animals there. To see a lion, a bear, and a tiger is a big deal for children. It also peaks their interest in preserving their habitats.  It isn't a tourist draw, but it is something that the local community uses. 

After the flood the zoo has become run down. It needs funding to be something we can be proud of. We have many parks all over the city, but we need a zoo. The people who work there would lose their jobs, and they seem to care for the animals there. 

It is easy to get philosophical and be a keyboard advocate for utopia, but the reality is that a lot of people like the zoo and appreciate having it around.

Sam

about 7 years ago

Endion makes some good points.  I too think zoos are good for kids, and can be worthy of tax support even when they operate (as most all do) at a deficit before tax support.   

However, I believe that generally only entire states (like Minnesota) and large cities have the ability to properly support a zoo that is large enough and well-funded enough (through a large tax base and wealthy donors).   Small cities just can't cut it.

That means, of course, that one might need to drive a few hours to go to the main Minnesota Zoo, but hopefully many families would get that opportunity while the kids are still young.  There are many states with only one large state zoo, and those states have many cities larger than Duluth that lack zoos.  

Most cities the size of Duluth do not have zoos.

Endion

about 7 years ago

I'm tired of driving to the Twin Cities for everything. At a certain point you are telling people with kids that this area is meant for granola eating marathon running skiers who dirt bike down trails as they stay here a few years after college. The goal should be to get young families to settle in the area to increase the long term viability of this city.

You don't need a huge zoo, like I said, just some of the main animals. Forget about prairie dogs, squirrels, deer, wolves, and other things I can see out my door. What kids want are lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, and a few others. If you had those animals and a few smaller ones, along with a petting zoo, that is really all you need. We don't need a gigantic zoo like the MN Zoo, which I find kind of lame, and Como has rides and the gardens, which also are not needed. 

I thought the mayor said he is trying to bring people to this area. You need more to entice families than hipster festivals, trails, and a giant college hockey arena. My tax dollars fund so much that benefits a few, but when I go to the zoo I see tons of kids having a great time. Don't take that away as there really isn't much else for kids to do here. If you want families keep the zoo. Spirit Mountain takes more tax money in a year than the zoo probably ever has.  The Aquarium, Amsoil, Wade Stadium, and many other expenses benefit a few, but the zoo benefits local families.

vicarious

about 7 years ago

No, Endion makes no good points. Utopia? That's amusing. A Utopia is an imagined and unattainable state. Making a reasoned decision that animals are sovereign and not here for our amusement is hardly utopian. It's basic morality.

You want to teach your children something, Endion? Teach them that all creatures, "great and small," have intrinsic value that is not measured in their usefulness to humanity. Teach them that knowledge is not gained by harming and imprisoning intelligent animals.

"What kids want are lions, tigers, bears, monkeys..."  This makes me ill.  You set the example, Endion. Your kids follow.

Endion

about 7 years ago

I live in the real world and so my children will understand the world we live in, not one that doesn't exist. I love animals, but I also want my children to be able to see a lion without flying to Africa. I take it you are a vegan as well? Do believe in Jainism or something?

I'd rather teach my children by showing them animals at a zoo than to hunt or kill the animals for sport. I have a moral compass, but I do believe that a few animals can live a life of captivity to educate and expose children to something they would never see in real life. If my kid saw a lion in your Utopic dream they would be eaten. The habitats for those wild animals are almost gone, are you over there taking over governments? Are you fighting to stop people from taking medication made from tigers? Those animals are the ones who are truly suffering.

Utopia is what you want, but what do you do to get us there? Type on a keyboard about abstract beliefs that a minority of humans believe in? 

We are talking about saving our local zoo here. Keeping families here, who I am sure might agree with me, that they are tired of hearing "drive to the Twin Cities" for that. We pay all of these taxes to entice people to come here with websites, hockey arenas, and trails, but what about those of us who have young children? We are paying the same taxes and are supporting the schools and businesses of this city. A zoo is a great thing for a city to have. We need to support the zoo and the jobs it creates.  Those people who work with the animals every day are doing more to better the animals' lives than some anonymous commentor on a local blog.

vicarious

about 7 years ago

You are over-thinking. 

- Families will not make the decision to live in Duluth, or not, based on the state of its local zoo. That's ridiculous. 

- If you cannot impart knowledge on your children in the Duluth area without a zoo, or without teaching them that wild animals are their for entertainment, you have truly failed.

- Morality is anything but abstract. It is absolute. 

- I am hardly anonymous in these parts. I've been here for ten years.

Endion

about 7 years ago

- If you cannot impart knowledge on your children in the Duluth area without a zoo, or without teaching them that wild animals are their for entertainment, you have truly failed.

I never said the animals were there for their "entertainment" - I said for their education. Do you have children? I would never teach my children animals are there for their entertainment. They are there for food, enjoyment, and to live and share the earth with us. People live in cages, millions here in the U.S., are they there for my entertainment? Are they there for my protection? You live in an argumentative abstract world that does not exist. A "higher than thou" dreamland. Welcome to the real world, unless you are just a troll, which would make any argument moot. 

And if I want my kids to see animals for entertainment I will take them to a circus and see the trapeze kids or the clowns. Maybe see a lion trained to jump through a hoop of fire or something. Before you have a heart attack though let me be honest and say I haven't been to a circus since I was a youngster. Although if someone wants to go - more power to them! 

- Morality is anything but abstract. It is absolute. 

Of course it is. Do you ever talk in real world or just the abstract? I feel like I am talking with Yoda or something. 

The zoo brings families here. It keeps families here. It contributes to our standard of life in this area. Making it into a swampy nature center like Hartley would be dumb. Some guy's field is now a "nature center" with soon to be paved trails around it. Then you have the well-to-dos all living on the edge of that swamp with their expensive houses. Hey kids, lets walk that nature walk again and look at weeds and a few trees! Isn't this fun kids!

Kids want to see animals up close. I did as a kid and went to Como Park many times a year while growing up. As someone who lives here I want to have the zoo stay open so I can have my kids experience the standard of life that I did while growing up. I don't want to drive down to the Twin Cities for another thing. That is why people are moving down there at such a high rate. Even snooty Saint Paul people appreciate a good zoo. We need to support ours here and make it even better! Close the aquarium if necessary,  stop loaning Spirit Mountain a bundle of money for a year, let the dirt trail for biking for a hundred miles get a little more rough. I pay my property taxes and am taxed locally just to eat here in my town as a "tourist".

I support the zoo and want to see it better funded. We pay lots of taxes for tourists to enjoy this city, but the zoo is something for the children of this community. It is something they need so they can learn about the world they live in.

Sam

about 7 years ago

To get a quality zoo, we would need to do something like doubling the budget and cutting the number of animals in half.  We would need to increase space per animal dramatically and spend gobs-o-money expanding and improving habitat.

That is theoretically possible, but politically impossible.  It would cost the city something on the order of $1 million a year (up from the $500,000 it could cost under the current regime).

Since improving the zoo to that level is politically impossible, I think we should not have a zoo.  The only politically viable choice is to either have a low quality zoo for $500,000/year or not have a zoo.  Given this, and that the vast majority of cities this size do just fine without a zoo, and that there is a decent zoo in the Twin Cities area, we should get rid of the zoo.

Endion

about 7 years ago

Pennies compared to the 5.5 million budget of Spirit Mountain. I'm fine with a smaller zoo with the main animals that kids want to see for $500K. The Aquarium cost $36 million to build and costs $300K-500K a year.

Someone else might know the other numbers around town, but the zoo isn't that much in comparison. It has a lot of value as well!

Sam

about 7 years ago

Endion makes some very good points.   Spirit Mt, the zoo, and the aquarium all cost taxpayers money, and they all benefit Duluth families and visitors.  

For now, lets say Spirit Mt, the zoo, and the aquarium all cost taxpayers about the same amount annually.  Lets say each of the three cost taxpayers about $500,000/year (the $5.5 million figure is the operating cost of Spirit Mt before revenues and ticket sales are factored in).  I'd be happy if someone could give more precise numbers.  

Which is the best value for the community?  One measure of value is the number of visitor-hours per year.  A visitor-hour is one visitor visiting the place for one hour.  

Spirit Mt gets many, many times the visitors a year compared to the zoo or aquarium (again, I'd be happy to see precise number of this; I'm just guessing).  Plus, I would guess that the average Spirit Mt visitor spends more time visiting than the average visitor to the zoo or aquarium.  People ski at Spirit half or whole days at a time.  Hardly anyone goes the the Duluth zoo or aquarium all day long.  The average visit at those two places is much shorter than the average visit to Spirit.

So while the same taxpayer money might be spent per year at those three places, Spirit Mt gets more visitor-hours, and thus more bang-for-taxpayer-buck.  Also, Spirit is more high profile for the city's reputation, and has more bang-for-the-buck in that way as well.

Spirit Mt also has the potential to be self-supporting someday, unlike the zoo  or aquarium.  I don't know if that will ever happen, but it is a real possibility.  Many ski hills around the country are self-sustaining, but no zoo or aquarium is.  Zoos and aquariums always need large donor and/or tax support (usually plenty of both). 

A recent DNT article said that Spirit's revenues were strong this year, and only ended up being $90,000 in the red.  If Spirit continues to do well, it could be on the path to be self-sustaining.

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/politics/3732664-duluth-city-council-approves-spirit-mountain-budget

I'm for ending tax support for the lower bang-for-buck zoo and aquarium, but I understand that some families get a significant benefit from the tax support we give them.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

The DNT doesn't send reporters to Spirit Mountain board meetings, so take it from somebody who goes to all of them: Spirit Mountain is in terrible shape financially. This is due to several consecutive poor winters and the unrestrained building-out that has occurred during 2010.

Spirit Mountain has a $1.2 million line of credit from the city, which is already maxed out as they enter their slow season. Undoubtedly, the city will have to forgive that money at some point. The ski hill has no money in hand for capital maintenance, having squandered that fund to build the Alpine Coaster. The city is making the Alpine Coaster lease payments (10 years to go) and the Grand Avenue Chalet bond payments (18 years to go). 

Spirit Mountain ended their fiscal year 90K in the red--after a $725,000 city contribution. For the current year, the city has already committed $895,000 to Spirit Mountain. This is up from a zero-dollar city contribution eight years ago.

There is some progress being made by the new executive director. Expenses have been cut, senior employees have been laid off, and prices have been raised. Nevertheless, Spirit Mountain remains in a deep financial hole that will certainly require ongoing city support--probably very substantial city support.

The problem with Spirit Mountain, as with the aquarium, is that we just build the shit of everything, with no regard for frugality or common sense, then sit back and hope it works. Most of the time it doesn't, and the city ends up on the hook. I'm extremely tired of pointing this out, particularly because the same thing happens over and over again, no matter what I say. 

Here are some articles on the subject:

http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/10/02/4133_snow_job

http://duluthreader.com/articles/2015/04/08/5089_spirit_mountain_update

http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/08/21/3916_torvinens_egg

http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/06/12/3548_too_big_to_fail_duluth_style

Endion

about 7 years ago

Thank you Ramos as I know you have written extensively on the Spirit Mountain issue. Going to those meetings and showing this town the truth helps us understand what is happening with all of our tax money. I've read them all, which was why when Sam was writing about that I looked up some numbers, but I should have referred to your articles. 

I would like to see the zoo at the very least preserved in its current form. A polar bear swimming around a tank isn't as much of a draw as a lion, tiger, and bear. I'd like to see a few monkeys or a gorilla, but I won't hold my breath. 

What I wonder about is what is the total we spend on all of these parks. I read that we have the most parks per person of any city, but what is the cost of all of those parks? How are the parks spread out? Does one community have more parks than others? How much are we paying for all of the services around town? 

I get mad that I have to pay a "tourist" tax to eat locally, only to find that it is funding a website that seems awfully expensive. 

We need some things for kids to do as the people up here who have kids are the families who are paying taxes and establishing roots.

Sam

about 7 years ago

Thank you Ramos. That is helpful. It looks like Spirit Mountain would have been much better off not building the new chalet. How did they think Spirit could pay for its $40 million in improvements? Did they think the new chalet would dramatically increase revenue?

Even at $1 million in tax support per year, however, Spirit still seems to have a higher visitor-hours-per-tax-dollar value than the zoo or aquarium.  I'd be happy to see more precise number of this, since I can't find this kind of information.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

At some point I might actually read all these comments and render an opinion of my own, but that kind of seems like work.

At the very least I'll mention the June 4 Parks & Recreation Commission meeting, where members of the public have the opportunity to hear a presentation about zoo plans and then cut a three-minute rant.

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