SOUTH BEND (AP) — A nonprofit group that raises money for South Bend’s Potawatomi Zoo has proposed that it take over the facility’s management from the city.
The Potawatomi Zoological Society’s proposal would have it manage the century-old zoo while receiving $1.1 million in annual city payments. That is about what the city parks department now spends on the zoo, making up roughly half of its annual budget, the South Bend Tribune reported Thursday.
George Horn, the zoological society’s attorney, said the new structure would make it easier to raise money from private donors who sometimes are reluctant to give money to government-run entities. He said the change would unify management of the zoo’s daily operations and the society’s fundraising efforts.
“I feel very strongly that this is the right move, and that this is the right time to make it,” Horn said.
The city now owns and operates the zoo, while the society, which has a 21-member board, supports it by funding improvements and helping to educate zoo staff.
The society’s recent activities have included raising about $1 million in donations for the zoo’s river otter exhibit that opened in 2011. It also sponsors several annual fundraising events.
The proposed management change is being presented to City Council members and would have to be approved by the city’s parks board.
City Councilman Henry Davis Jr., chairman of the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, said he was concerned about how the management change would affect city employees who work at the zoo.
“I don’t want any employee to lose any benefits they signed on to when they first became employees of the city,” Davis said.
A similar switch in management from the city to a nonprofit group happened about 10 years ago at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, said its director, Jim Anderson.
It is important to consider what type of zoo the community is willing to support, he said.
“We have seen more of a trend towards management by not-for-profits, but it’s not a magic bullet or something,” Anderson said. “And whether it’s right for South Bend and Potawatomi Zoo, that’s very much a local discussion to have.”