Mayor feels a “sense of urgency” in signing zoo management firm

Mayor feels a “sense of urgency” in signing zoo management firm
City officials have been in contract negotiations for several months with ZoOceanarium to manage the Jackson Zoo. (Source: WLBT)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city is working on a “short timetable” when it comes to signing an international firm to manage the Jackson Zoological Park.

“We feel a sense of urgency to get this done and are expressing that sense of urgency to the contractor that won the bid process,” he said. “We are extending what is a reasonable timeframe by which we need to complete this process.”

The contractor in question is ZoOceanarium Group. The city has been in talks with the Dubai-based firm since early 2019.

Efforts to finalize a contract have been delayed numerous times.

Previously, the mayor said ZoOceanarium couldn’t come to Jackson to discuss the agreement because of COVID-19. Recently, he said the firm wouldn’t sign the contract until Jackson received its permanent USDA exhibitor’s license.

The USDA granted the city its exhibitor’s permit in September. The zoo reopened to the public in August.

“We’re trying to do this on an escalated scale,” Lumumba said. “We’re very serious about moving this forward now.”

Lumumba said firm officials reached out to Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine this week and were working to schedule a walk-through of the West Jackson park.

He hopes that an inspection will occur in the “next couple of weeks.”

He said it’s important to get a management firm on board as soon as possible so zoo employees can again receive benefits.

The park has about 25 employees, stalwarts who stayed on after the zoo closed to the public a year ago. The city was forced to close the 100-year-old destination last October after the Jackson Zoological Society disbanded and its exhibitor’s permit expired.

However, the city kept on former society staffers as contract employees to help care for animals and maintain park facilities until new management could be brought on.

As contract workers, those employees receive a steady paycheck, but are not eligible for health insurance or other benefits that would typically come from being a city employee.

Said Lumumba, “The timetable is very critical … because we don’t want to continue to leave them in the vulnerable place where they don’t have the benefits they deserve.”

Copyright 2020 WLBT. All rights reserved.