Feasibility study shows new Elk Grove Zoo could cost up to $363 million; financing details murky

Last night the City of Elk Grove and the Sacramento Zoological Society released their feasibility study for the relocation of the facility to larger quarters in Elk Grove. Among the significant findings was that the phased-in construction of a new zoo in Elk Grove Southeast Policy Area could cost up to $363 million. 

The relocation of the almost 100-year-old 15-acre facility in Sacramento's Land Park neighborhood has been pursued for several years. The relatively small size of the zoo and its inability to expand has led to the loss of accreditation to house a variety of species, and a new larger facility such as the one being proposed in Elk Grove would rectify those setbacks.

Presenting the financing data was Elk Grove city manager Jason Behrmann who stressed if the zoo relocated to the city, it would not affect services provided to residents. 

"We can't make this happen using existing city resources that are fundamental for existing programs and services," he said. 

Behrman identified revenue sources for construction that would be generated from admission fees and parking. In addition, new hotel and local sales taxes they believe will be generated by the zoo could be used for construction costs.

Without identifying how much the city had, Behrman also said, "there is one-time capital construction funding the city is set aside over a number of years for a project such as this." 

Although these sources could be used for construction, they would be captured after the zoo opens. Behrmann did not elaborate on how intermediate financing for construction would be secured. 

Additionally, Behrman said the money the city will receive from the SkyRiver Casino are not entirely needed for general operating purposes and a portion could be directed toward the zoo. 

"The city has an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the tribe [Wilton Rancheria, owners of the casino] that will allocate between four and four and half-million dollars annually to the city of Elk Grove; a portion of that is earmarked for important services like police services, roadway, so forth," Behrmann said. "But there is a large portion that is not."

He added, "those funds could be allocated towards the construction of the zoo if the city council so chooses."

Behrman stressed the process is just beginning and the cost and revenue projects will be refined but said, "We think there is a path forward that will allow us to move forward with construction of a zoo based on the information we have today."  

Along with the funds from Elk Grove and parking and attendance fees, the feasibility study claims to have identified up to $59 million from corporate, private donors, and naming rights fees. However, those corporate donors were not identified.

If the city pursues construction, the zoo would be on 70 of the 100-acres the city recently purchased for $9.2 million and would be located on the northside of Kammererer Road, west of Highway 99. As noted, plans are for a two-phase construction of the facility, with each portion costing up to $205 and $158 million, respectively. 

The feasibility study claims the one-time construction payrolls would be $108 million. When operating, the zoo would have 197 full-time equivalent employees, 75 to 80 food and retail jobs, and the zoo could create 138 ancillary jobs in the city.  

If built, zoo officials believe that in the first several years of operation, annual attendance would top 1.2 million. The Land Park zoo now draws about 500,000 visitors annually.  

During their March 23 meeting, the Elk Grove City Council will hold a public hearing on the matter. They are expected to approve the pursuit of the construction of the facility. 

The feasibility study and video of the meeting will be posted today on the City of Elk Grove's website. 

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