Faced with aging and outdated facilities, Little Rock Zoo director argues for city bond proposal

The director of the Little Rock Zoo said at a town hall meeting Wednesday that the city’s bond proposal to be voted on 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 need rehabilitation – and many other facilities that also need major repairs and replacements,” said Susan Altrui.

The zoo director’s comments came at the latest in a series of public meetings Little Rock officials have held to share information and answer questions about the proposed three mill expansion ahead of the election. August 9 specials.

Wednesday night’s meeting was held at the police department’s Northwest Patrol Division substation located at 10001 Kanis Road in Ward 6.

In addition to Altrui, other people who spoke to attendees included Little Rock Port Executive Director Bryan Day, Department of Parks and Recreation 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, industrial park expansion of Little Rock Port and the construction of a new Little Rock District Court.

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

The parks and the zoo will together obtain bond proceeds of up to $37 million in total.

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

At the moment, some zoo facilities can no longer be used and must be demolished, Altrui said. Other facilities no longer meet modern zoological design.

Zoo officials recently made the decision to demolish the zoo’s small carnivorous area, which dates back to 1967 and housed species such as foxes, caracals and a clouded leopard.

Altrui said Wednesday that the zoo was in the process of demolishing the small carnivore facility. And she said the zoo would soon start demolishing its bear area “because it doesn’t meet modern zoological design.”

“We need to do better with these animals and provide better habitats for these animals,” she said.

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

Little Rock Zoo officials “want to consider building better habitats for these animals that enhance the experience for these animals, as well as for our guests — which provide a better educational experience for our guests,” Altrui said.

Likewise, the zoo wants to provide improved equipment and classrooms, she said.

Altrui pointed out that Arkansas’ only zoo is located in Little Rock, which means hotels, restaurants and stores benefit from the tourists the zoo brings to the city.

On August 9, residents will face six questions on the ballot and can vote for or against them individually.

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

The last time the three plants — each represents the dollar amount of tax paid on every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value — was extended via a citywide referendum, c was in September 2012.

At this time, voters allowed the proceeds of the bond to be spent on streets and drainage at a reduced mileage rate from 3.3 to 3.0 mills.

Little Rock City Superintendent Doris Wright speaks to attendees at a community meeting at the Little Rock Police Department’s Northwest Substation Wednesday. Little Rock officials held a series of meetings to share information and answer questions about the proposed three-plant expansion ahead of the Aug. 9 special election. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Richard F. Gandhi