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Hogle Zoo requesting $65 million bond

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Not to be deterred, Hogle Zoo officials are once again asking for a $65 million zoo renovation bond.

But to get there, they have to get through the Salt Lake County Council first. The council must vote to put the bond on the November ballot and is scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday.

Last summer the council rejected the same request on a party-line vote.

But things are different this year, said Brad Parkin, the zoo's marketing director.

Now the zoo has $7.8 million in private donations, compared to the $1 million it had in hand the last time the council considered putting the bond on the ballot.

The bond would be part of an $85 million public-private partnership, with $20 million coming from private funds.

"We're trying to raise as much money as we can privately to put into this effort," Parkin said. "We've put the pedal to the metal, so to speak."

Zoo officials want to use the money to build out the zoo's master plan, with a new animal hospital and arctic edge area tops on the priority list. In total, the master plan includes 16 projects, including new buildings and renovations, Parkin said.

One thing that could work in the zoo's favor this year is November's general election, where thousands of voters will flock to the polls to vote in the presidential race.

"I would be more in favor of it going on a ballot this year than I would an off year, absolutely," said Councilman Marv Hendrickson, a Republican who voted against placing the bond on the ballot last year. "But that's a lot of money."

Republicans last summer balked at the $65 million price tag, saying property-tax money should not be used on the zoo when those same funds are also needed to fix Utah's educational system. At the time, the bond would have meant an additional $10 a year for the owner of a $250,000 home.

The slumping economy likely won't help the zoo's cause this year.

"At the end of the day, the major factor in the discussion is going to be the economy and the state of the economy, and if we as gatekeepers feel comfortable putting something on the ballot that will impact the residents," Jensen said. "The economics will be the number one issue that will drive the discussion."

Councilman Joe Hatch, a Democrat, said it should be the voters' call, not politicians, on whether they want to pay higher taxes for a renovated zoo.

"It would be very hard to keep them off the ballot, simply because the voters ought to decide this sort of thing," Hatch said.

The county's debt review committee already gave the bond a positive recommendation, but Hendrickson said he's not comfortable making a decision until he sees the county's complete debt situation.

Zoo officials are positive their fortunes will turn this year.

"Great cities always have great zoos, and in order to have a great zoo, the public has to be a part of that," Parkin said.

The Tracy Aviary will be competing with the Hogle Zoo for bond dollars on the November ballot.

The aviary wants a $19.5 million bond to fund the second phase of its four-part master plan, said executive director Tim Brown. Additional walk-through exhibits, an entryway plaza and indoor space would be built in the core of the park if the funding is approved.

The bond would add about $2.50 to the annual property tax bill on a $235,000 home in Salt Lake County. If approved, renovations are expected to spur increased aviary attendance and philanthropic support, which would make the aviary more self-sustaining, Brown said.

Contributing: Rebecca Palmer

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com