WATERTOWN — The Thompson Park zoo is getting some immediate financial help from the city.
The City Council on Monday night unanimously agreed to provide $25,000 to the struggling New York State Zoo at Thompson Park.
The $25,000 will be used by the Thompson Park Conservancy, the operators of the zoo, to enhance publicity and marketing for the zoo.
Now that the funding is approved, city staff will turn attention to the development of a multi-year assistance program to help ensure the zoo can keep its doors open.
Larry Sorel, the zoo’s executive director, said he’s “happy” that council members agreed to come to the zoo’s aid.
“We want to help solidify something that’s fair to everybody,” he said.
In addition, zoo officials are looking to the city for some long-term financial support to keep the zoo afloat. That funding level would be comparable to what zoos in other communities receive in government funding, which includes funds from the city, state and county.
Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo said she started going back to the zoo after becoming an aunt a few years ago, saying the zoo “is a big draw” for visitors and hopes the city can make a difference.
Earlier this fall, the zoo’s financial issues came to light. For the first time, the zoo’s $50,000 credit line that it relies on to pay for salaries and animal expenses during the winter maxed out.
The $25,000 will be appropriated by funding in the 2019-20 budget. The city owns the buildings, while the nonprofit conservancy runs the facility.
In October, zoo officials said they hoped to get permission to use an annual $30,000 payment from the city toward operations expenses. Currently, the zoo receives funding to take care of capital improvements.
The resolution approved on Monday night now will allow the zoo to use it for other than capital projects.
They’re also looking for a range between $100,000 and $120,000 in funding to keep the zoo going from a combination of the city and Jefferson County and through state funding.
The zoo currently has an annual operating budget of $750,000 and a staff of 10 employees. The zoo attracted about 37,000 people to come through the gates this year, slightly higher than in 2018.