Zoo to don’tWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
“We have an exciting opportunity to be a regional partner and work with a new administration and new economic development officials in Lucas County and Toledo. This is a great opportunity to think and act with a regional purpose and we look forward to enhancing these relationships.”
— 2009 Wood County Economic Development Commission
The three Wood County Commissioners — Tim Brown, Jim Carter and Alvin Perkins — fulfilled their duties as elected officials on June 21 when they unanimously denied the Toledo Zoo’s request to put a levy on the Wood County ballot. The proposal had little public support and the commissioners were well within their rights to vote to “kill it in committee,” although it leaves a sour aftertaste whenever the broader public is denied an opportunity to vote on such a proposal.
There are a few details that should be noted for the record before the conversation is forgotten. As a former board member for the Toledo Zoo, I am well aware of the economic impact the institution represents and the tremendous amount of resources that go into that effort. The Regional Growth Partnership (RGP) reported in April that the attraction generates more than $38 million for the local economy each year. This includes 500 jobs and a hard-dollar benefit that extends beyond Lucas County and reaches into Ottawa, Fulton, and Wood counties in Ohio and Monroe County in Michigan.
“First and foremost, the Toledo Zoo provides jobs and discretionary spending dollars for this region, but in addition, it adds significantly to the quality of life assets we promote both nationally and globally,” said Dean Monske, president of the RGP. “It is not uncommon for the RGP to include the Zoo in showcasing our region to visiting site consultants, corporate executives, and potential international investors.”
In fact, plenty of Wood County interests promote the Toledo Zoo as part of their efforts to attract visitors. The Perrysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau repeatedly lists that city’s proximity to the Toledo Zoo as a benefit. Perrysburg is only one part of a very large county, but the point is that Wood County attractions do recognize that the Toledo Zoo is a regional contributor.
I understand the resistance the proposal met in Wood County. It wasn’t as much about details regarding one-day free admissions and free school visits as it was about preventing a neighboring county from getting its tax-collecting fingers under the tent. If the Zoo is entitled to Wood County money, why not Imagination Station, or any other faction in a long line of quality attractions?
Perhaps it would be worth discussing the idea of joining all the zoos in Ohio for statewide funding, much like libraries are allotted.
It is clear the Toledo Zoo, like nearly all cultural attractions, is going to have to be smart, conservative and creative as it navigates challenging economic times. And while we respect Wood County’s decision to limit its participation to individual memberships, its people should remember that the Toledo Zoo does add value to the entire region’s quality of life, and if its leaders are serious about regional cooperation, perhaps they will be open to nonlevy ideas to contribute to, as well as benefit from, its well-being.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.