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Watertown City Council explores funding Zoo New York

Zoo New York

Watertown's Zoo New York is still exploring pathways forward as it closed operations due to financial challenges. The zoo is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in local government funding.

The Zoo leadership is looking for $750,000 in yearly payments from local government funding for at least five years, split evenly between the City of Watertown and Jefferson County.

Councilor Lisa Ruggiero said she’d like to see the zoo stay open, but asked what the plan is long term if the city does commit to the funding.

“After five years, then what?" Ruggiero said. "I guess are you going to come back and say, 'Well, we need this all over again?' I mean, it just seemed a little I don't want to say open-ended, but when I read through it, it just to me, it made me ask even more questions about after the five-year period, then what happens?”

Thompson Park Conservancy Member Ken Mix said if they can make a plan for five years, then it will help in recruiting people like an executive director and curators who help provide stability in zoo operations.

“The whole point of this is to put a stable foundation under the financing of the zoo so that we know what we're going to have and can continue to improve it rather than just holding on by the bare threads, keeping the operation going and deteriorating as we go along,” Mix said.

Zoo New York Interim Director Mark Irwin said if the zoo receives funding they would phase in any new exhibits, activities or staffing.

“We won't be starting with full staffing right off the top, and nor would that be a good idea to try," Irwin said. "Zoos are not going to be self-sustainable. So I would say that is probably not the goal, however, it's an aspiration that I have no problems aiming toward. I just want to set clear expectations that most zoos do take significant operating funds from the municipal governments.”

If the zoo receives funding, Zoo New York is looking at a May opening.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.