Toronto Zoo Aims to Go Green
The Board of the Toronto Zoo, which is comprised mostly of City councilors, unanimously approved a $250 million fundraising campaign that is based on the Zoo's Blueprint
Feb 29, 2008
John Spears City Hall Bureau
The Toronto Zoo is on the verge of launching a quarter-billion-dollar fundraising campaign while repositioning itself as a major force for conservation and education.
The ambitious $250 million target is in a similar range as recent fundraising drives by the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. But with those campaigns in their final stages, consultants say the timing is ripe for the zoo to launch its own drive.
The zoo must persuade donors it's more than just a place to see cute or exotic animals, a consultant told the zoo's management board yesterday.
Many of the projects the $250 million will cover meet a refreshed green mandate, including:
A $32 million revamp of the Canadian exhibits, including a grizzly bear compound.
A $21.5 million education centre focusing on biodiversity and sustainability. The structure will be built to top-rated environmental standards. A $17 million permanent giant panda exhibit. The zoo has an agreement with China to get the animals, but still needs co-operation from the federal government before the pandas can be secured. A new animal health centre for $8.3 million. A $32.8 million conservation fund that would allow the zoo to fund projects anywhere in the world. A $2.5 million fund for reproductive research so the zoo can breed more animals. That's in keeping with the zoo's conservation mandate.
"You need to create a grander vision of what the Toronto Zoo is," consultant Sandy Mackenzie of DVA Navion told the board.
The firm's public research found that people mostly had positive feelings about the zoo, with one exception: “They didn't truly believe that you lived your conservation and education mandate.”
“Just to be an attraction will not raise you this money," MacKenzie said. “You need to go to the next level, and you must live green and cause people to become green.”
Board members agreed that the zoo's green mandate needs freshening.
"Most people look at the Toronto Zoo as an entertainment attraction similar to Canada's Wonderland," said Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre).
Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre) agreed the zoo is "not living up to its potential.”
Although attendance has remained healthy - it grew 16 per cent last year, to 1.43 million visitors – it has suffered from declining city funding.
The city gave the zoo $8 million annually in the early 1990s, equivalent to $13 million today. But recently, city grants for operations have shrunk to less than $5 million a year.
Spending on exhibits has also withered. Under constant budget pressure, for example, zoo staff had originally proposed a $15 million overhaul of the Canadian exhibits.
But chief operating officer Robin Hale said staff now want to decide on the best way to do a project, then raise the money to do it right. Zoos today must also meet higher standards to keep animals healthy and happy.
In response, the zoo board yesterday approved spending $32 million on the renovation, which will be paid for by the fundraising.
Hale agreed the zoo needs to reassert its role in conservation and education. "I think our voice can speak volumes for people to respect nature, and we have the opportunity with our site to introduce people to nature.”
The fundraising campaign, to be run by the arm's-length Toronto Zoo Foundation, will begin with a $50 million first stage.
DVA Navion said it's crucial to have the foundation run the campaign because the zoo is a city agency and donors want to be sure their money isn't siphoned off into other parts of the city budget.
The zoo board will ask the foundation to work out a detailed campaign, but the broad elements of how the money will be spent have already been plotted, Hale said.
The plan calls for $110 million of the $250 million total to come from three levels of government. A further $115 million will be raised from individuals, while corporate donors will be targeted for $20 million, and foundations for $5 million.
Board members embraced the fundraising goal and the idea that it will require a bigger emphasis on conservation. “I think we can do it,” said De Baeremaeker. “We've never dared to dream this big before."