COAL VALLEY, Ill. (KWQC) – Support may be wavering for the plan to transition Niabi Zoo to a new public-private partnership, which an oversight committee has been working toward for the last year.
New Niabi Zoo Director Lee Jackson says a new public-private partnership could work down the road but now is not the time. This comes after the Civil Division of the Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s Office recently issued an opinion recommending against it. Now, members of the zoo oversight committee hope it’s not dead in the water.
“A lot of it has to do with the history of the relationship with the people of the area, with the county, and the fact that most people everywhere don’t want to give money to government,” said Jackson.
The opinion of the State’s Attorney’s Office is that possible risks of a third-party management agreement far outweigh the benefits. A summary of the opinion states that the Niabi Zoological Society in its current form is not a viable partner for a PPP managing control and that Illinois law does not favor these types of partnerships.
“We can’t live without the tax support that we get from this being public-owned property, but we can’t run the zoo without private donations also,” said Terry Brahm, a member of the oversight committee. “We’re trying to nail down and narrow down what is palatable for all parties concerned.”
As for what’s at stake with not moving forward right now, Jackson says animal care or visitor experiences will by no means see an impact. He adds that some changes planned for this spring will still happen, while others could be delayed.
“Some bigger projects would certainly be made a lot easier with a public-private partnership,” said Jackson.
Brahm spoke about these new developments as frustrating, but that he isn’t giving up hope for a long-term solution for the zoo.
“We’ve got a tremendous asset here for the community in this zoo. I don’t think anybody in their right mind wants to see this zoo go away,” he said.
Jackson is now recommending a new Memo of Understanding under the current structure, one that is more comprehensive in outline roles and responsibilities. There’s work to recruit new zoological society members as well. A joint meeting with the Forest Preserve for more discussion is expected in December.