Saturday, April 17, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Council says
mayor ignoring
zoo ideas

A study says a nonprofit group
should operate the zoo

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


City Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann and his colleagues feel Mayor Jeremy Harris is treating the Honolulu Zoo like a "forgotten stepchild."

Hannemann said the administration has been either foot-dragging on, or ignoring, a 2-year-old study done by the Honolulu Zoological Society calling for the nonprofit group to operate the zoo.

"Whether we use the study or not, we need to move toward a joint, public-private partnership," Hannemann said. "(The study) is just in never-never land."

The report says handing operations over to the society would improve the financial outlook of the facility, eventually making it self-supporting.

Hannemann said the administration has been slow to move on the recommendations, which have the endorsement of zoo Director Ken Redman.

Redman said it makes sense for the society to take over operations.

"This is a proposal that I've been advocating for a long time," he said. "The city administration and the City Council have a great many things on its plate with public safety concerns, and to devote a great deal of time and attention to the zoo shouldn't be your high priority."

Hannemann is angry that the report has been sitting on the shelf.

"So this was just another nice proposal that was done and (thrown) on the side," he said.

"The bottom line is, we haven't gotten anywhere with it," said Mark Bogart, president of the Honolulu Zoological Society. "There seems to be a lot of goodwill talk but a small amount of actual action."

Public-private partnerships have done well with zoos on the mainland, he said.

"The public is quite giving in general when it's going to a nonprofit and they know where the money is actually going," he said. "The public generally doesn't want to give money to the city."

Hannemann said the shelving of the society's plan is symptomatic of the administration's lack of attention to the zoo, citing the recent flap over the urgency to construct mating facilities for the elephant exhibit.

"The problems have existed for such a long time," Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim said. "The city has been moving at a snail's pace, if not worse."

Bogart said his organization wants a slow transition. It now runs the Zootique store at the zoo.

It has also taken over nearly all zoo education programs, financed from grants and fund raising, Bogart said.

Now it wants to add the food concession stand to its operations.

But the administration says because the society wants to subcontract an outside operator to handle the concession, a competitive bid for proposals needs to be undertaken.

Council members say the process is taking too long.

Bogart said the society proposed taking over the concession 10 months ago and found out it would need to submit a bid for it five months ago.

Alvin Au, director of environmental services, said, "We want the society to be a partner with us, and if we don't design the (request for proposals) in a proper way, they will not qualify for it." Au said his department is working closely with the Finance Department's Purchasing Division in drafting a request for proposals.

He declined to say when it would be available.

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