MetroZoo wants $18 million advance to build Amazon exhibit
By Dan Dolan
MetroZoo officials want to use $18 million in General Obligation Bond revenue a decade ahead of schedule to build a $48 million Amazon exhibit that's designed and ready to go, Miami-Dade officials said last week.
But moving around the money, a budgetary procedure, must be approved by the county commission, which was cool to the idea when zoo officials tested the waters last month.
Commissioners told county capital-improvements director Roger Hernstadt to make sure spending the $18 million wouldn't sink a Caribbean exhibit that was to get the funds in 2017 under $87 million in expansion bonds approved by voters two years ago. Last week, Mr. Hernstadt gave the request his blessing.
"Our initial review indicates we can accommodate funding the Amazon exhibit with minimal or no impact to any other bond project," said Mr. Hernstadt, who will present his findings to a commission committee next week.
If the commission OKs the spending plan, it would take about 18 months to complete construction on the 27-acre, 11-building Amazon & Beyond Exhibit, said Parks Department executive Frank Faragalli.
"This project is ready to start construction," Mr. Faragalli said. "We have the contractor, the designs and the permits. We've already put in the utilities and the other infrastructure. We're just waiting for a commitment on funding so we can begin the above-ground phase."
Mr. Faragalli said the exhibit wouldn't be taking money from other bond-backed zoo projects. He said money used to build Amazon displays ultimately will be replaced on other projects by bond funds and private donations.
"We believe we will be able to deliver Miami-Dade's citizens a better project with more value for their dollars by building now," Mr. Faragalli said. "It's just common sense that your money will go further today than it will 11 years from now."
Miami-Dade Zoological Society board member Dan Licciardi agreed. He calls the advanced funding proposal a win for taxpayers because it allows MetroZoo officials to complete a project promised in the zoo expansion master plan.
Private donations will be used to replenish the public money spent on the Amazon project, said Mr. Licciardi, chairman of the zoological society's master plan construction committee. That way, when other exhibits are ready to build, Mr. Licciardi said, there will be cash on hand.
Amazon & Beyond is part of a $500 million, 15-year improvement plan that would be paid for with public and private money, Mr. Licciardi said. He said the historic exhibit includes giant sea otters, which weigh 70 pounds each, and a jaguar display.
Amazon & Beyond would be home to 1,000 animals and include a 40,000-gallon fish tank, he said.
"Our goal is to make MetroZoo the No. 1 zoo in the country," Mr. Licciardi said. "This project goes a long way toward making that a reality while providing excellent educational opportunities."