Helping Watertown’s Zoo New York survive

Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 6:02 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Zoo New York in Watertown’s Thompson Park is barely scraping by.

“Hanging on by a thread. We’re taking care of the animals like we are supposed to but really long-term sustainability, growth of the zoo, adding animals, change of habitats, those are all dreams,” said Larry Sorel, the zoo’s executive director and CEO.

He says soon the zoo will no longer be able to sustain itself or have enough money to carry out its master plan.

“There is a good reason for the zoo to be here - entertainment, education, conservation, economic development, quality of life,” he said.

Right now a committee is in the works by the mayor and city council.

Mayoral candidates, Sarah Compo Pierce and Lisa Ruggiero both agree the zoo is a staple for the community.

“It is very important to have stakeholders who are parents who visit the zoo with their children regularly because I think that’s where your most important feedback is going to come from,” said Compo Pierce.

“I hope that this panel will able to provide some solutions, some short-term solutions that can help them in terms of their finances,” said Ruggiero.

Monday night’s city council agenda includes a resolution to give money to the zoo to be able to operate as part of the city’s annual budget, this year $100,000, strictly for operational purposes, meaning the money cannot be used towards the zoo’s master plan.

While Sorel says budget funding is great, it still leaves the zoo’s future up in the air.

“Doing things tomorrow if we could do it because if we don’t, we’re approaching a very hard decision point that we have no control of,” he said.

Mayor Jeff Smith says the committee will have 17 people on it and the list of members could come out later this week.