Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott said, Wednesday, he will run for Mayor of Columbus next year.
Columbus Zoo Levy: Downtown Zoo
Listen to the Story
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is ranked as one of the nationâ€™s best.Â It has grown immensely in the past two decades. Much of that success and growth is thanks to Franklin County taxpayers.
Since the 1980s, the Columbus Zoo has relied heavily on a tax levy to pay for capital projects that helped shoot the zoo to the top.
That levy is up for renewal. And for the first time in recent memory, it has organized opposition as some balk at the size of the increase and its permanence.
A rain forest tree canopy walkway, down below a crocodile slides along the forest floor, somewhere a Macaw cries out. Below the waterâ€™s surface sharks glide through the waterâ€¦ all of this in a three-story building on an acre along the Scioto River.
Thatâ€™s what zoo officials want to build in downtown Columbus. Itâ€™s part of the Scioto Peninsula revitalization project.
â€œWe were honored to be on the south side of COSI and be a part of this revitalization,â€ said Tom Stalf, Columbus Zoo president and CEO.
Stalf says the 50,000-square foot attraction will cost between $50 and $65 million. Part of the zoo levy would pay for it.
And he markets it as an option for people who cannot get to or donâ€™t have time to spend at the large main campus in Delaware County.
â€œWe want to serve the under-served,” Stalf said. “We want to make sure that people who donâ€™t come to the zoo often, maybe they live in Grove City or south of Columbus, we want them to have an opportunity. People are loving the Scioto Mile. So we want them to have a place next to COSI to enhance their experience.â€
Stalf says admission prices to the downtown zoo will be less expensive than the main zoo.
Too Many Zoos?
But some zoo levy opponents take issue with the downtown zoo, and for various reasons. They say with main zoo in Powell and the conservation center The Wilds in Muskingum County, and now one downtown, three zoos are too many.
If the zoo wants to build downtown, zoo opponent Johnathan Beard says voters should decide it separately.
â€œProjects like that should be uncoupled, and there should be two presentations, two things for people to vote on,” Beard said. “When you throw it all in together youâ€™re funding bad with good.â€
But Stalf says itâ€™s common for zoos to have multiple attractions. He notes New Orleansâ€™ Audubon Zoo has an insectarium and an aquarium.
â€œThere are many cities that will have a piece with an aquarium as well as the zoo, and itâ€™s a great fit because, although we have aquariums here on our main campus, we do not have the shark tank that weâ€™re talking about or jelly fish and things that weâ€™re going to represent Downtown,â€ Stalf said.
Stalf says the downtown zoo will feature species that are not at the main zoo. And he adds the satellite attraction will not compete with the larger zoo in Delaware County.
Veterans Upset, Overbuilding
Some Central Ohio veterans say they will vote against the levy because the downtown zoo is part of a larger downtown development plan which calls for the demolition of Vets Memorial. The new zoo would be built a half mile south of Vets.
Then thereâ€™s the worry about overbuilding. COSI struggled when it moved from its location on East Broad Street to its larger location.
Stalf says the zoo is not building to excess.
â€œWeâ€™re planning on building an appropriate-sized facility that enhances it all,” Stalf said.Â â€œWeâ€™re not building something that we canâ€™t afford. Weâ€™re building something thatâ€™s going to inspire people and drive the economic impact.â€
The cost to operate the Downtown facility would be roughly $6 million year.
But if the levy fails, the zoo says all capital improvement projects would be in jeopardy.
â€œThe master plan, the things Iâ€™ve been speaking on, would be completely revised, and we would not be able to provide the improvements that weâ€™re planning,â€ Stalf said.
If voters approve, the downtown zoo would open in 2017.