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Faced with aged and outdated facilities, Little Rock Zoo director makes case for city’s bond proposal

Updates needed, public meeting told by Joseph Flaherty | June 9, 2022 at 3:31 a.m.
Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore explains drainage improvement bonds on Wednesday during a community meeting at the Little Rock Police Department Northwest Substation. At an Aug. 9 special election, voters will be asked to act on six categories of capital-improvement spending. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

The director of the Little Rock Zoo said at a public meeting on Wednesday that the city's bond proposal up for a vote in August would help the zoo make needed improvements.

Because the zoo was founded in 1926, "we have a lot of old infrastructure -- a lot of old [Works Progress Administration] buildings that are in need of rehabilitation -- and a lot of other facilities that are also in need of major repair and replacement," Susan Altrui said.

The zoo director's comments came during the latest in a series of public meetings Little Rock officials have arranged in order to share information and take questions regarding the proposed extension on three mills ahead of the Aug. 9 special election.

The meeting Wednesday evening was held at the Police Department's northwest patrol division substation located at 10001 Kanis Road in Ward 6.

In addition to Altrui, other individuals who spoke to attendees included Little Rock Port Executive Director Bryan Day, Parks and Recreation Department Director Leland Couch and Little Rock District Court Judge Mark Leverett.

The six categories of capital-improvement spending under the bond proposal are streets, drainage, parks (including the Little Rock Zoo), fire apparatus, expansion of the Little Rock Port industrial park and the construction of a new Little Rock district court facility.

With a combined maximum aggregate principal amount of $81 million, the two categories of streets and drainage are expected to encompass approximately half of the total spending under the $161.8 million bond issue.

Parks and the zoo together will get bond proceeds in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $37 million.

At a Little Rock Board of Directors meeting in May, board members voted 6-4 to reduce the funding allocation by 5% each for streets and drainage and allocate the balance to the category of parks instead.

At the moment, some facilities at the zoo are no longer able to be used and must be torn down, Altrui said. Other facilities no longer meet modern zoological design.

Officials at the zoo recently made the decision to demolish the zoo's small carnivore area, which dated back to 1967 and housed species such as foxes, caracals and a clouded leopard.

Altrui on Wednesday said the zoo right now is in the process of tearing the small carnivore facility down. And she said the zoo will soon begin to tear down its bear area "because it does not meet modern zoological design."

"We have to do better by those animals and provide better habitats for those animals," she said.

Most zoos have moved onto better areas and spaces for those types of animals, she said.

Zoo officials in Little Rock "want to look at building better habitats for those animals that enhance the experience for those animals, and also for our guests -- that provide a better educational experience for our guests," Altrui said.

Likewise, the zoo wants to provide improved guest amenities and classroom spaces, she said.

Altrui emphasized that the only zoo in Arkansas is located in Little Rock, meaning hotels, restaurants and stores benefit from the tourists the zoo brings to the city.

Residents on Aug. 9 will be faced with six ballot questions and will be able to vote for or against them individually.

If approved, bonds will be issued in one or more series under the proposal and property taxes will not increase from their current level as a result.

The last time the three mills -- each represents the dollar amount of tax paid on every $1,000 of the tax-assessed value of a piece of property -- were extended via a citywide referendum was September 2012.

At that time, voters authorized spending the bond proceeds on streets and drainage at a millage rate reduced from 3.3 to 3.0 mills.

  photo  Little Rock City Director Doris Wright speaks Wednesday to attendees at a community meeting at the Little Rock Police Department Northwest Substation. Little Rock officials have been holding a series of meetings to share information and take questions regarding the proposed extension of three mills ahead of an Aug. 9 special election. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Print Headline: Zoo director states case for bond issue


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