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Watertown Zoo begins to execute on its strategic plan

New York State Zoo at Thompson Park
Lawrence Sorel took over as executive director of the Thompson Park Zoo in Watertown in 2018 after more than 40 years of experience in the industry.

Thompson Park Zoo Executive Director Lawrence Sorel, who is the latest in a long line of executive directors there, said one of his first priorities on the job was to develop a strategic plan. The last one adopted by the zoo board was made in 2005.

"So, clearly it was overdue," Sorel said. "You can’t make progress, you can’t know where you’re going until you set some kind of path in front of you."

The five-year strategic plan is designed to help the struggling nonprofit organization reach financial stability. It calls for more financial support from local governments and authorities.

The zoo was just given a $40,000 loan from the Watertown Local Development Corporation. Next, Sorel says the zoo hopes to get a $100,000 loan from the Development Authority of the North Country. These loans are meant to address short-term financial challenges, but they are just the initial stages of a longer-term initiative to increase visitors and add moose, buffalo, bison, and a walk-through bird habitat.

Sorel said the zoo can be an asset for the North Country to improve the quality of life for the region and attract new residents and visitors as well at a time when the area is trying to increase its tourism business, but they need buy-in from local stakeholders.

"I think we’ve got a great chance to move forward, but the other side of that is either we move forward now and are successful in gaining the support of the city, continued support of other agencies, local governments, etc., or it's going to be difficult to continue to exist," He said.