JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Time is running out for the ZoOceanarium Group to ink a contract with the city of Jackson.
In early 2019, the city tapped the Dubai-based firm to take over management of the Jackson Zoological Park.
The Lumumba administration has been in talks with company officials since then, but has not been able to get a contract finalized.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine discussed that frustration recently with WLBT.
“They are coming to Jackson next month for us to have an actual meeting to discuss the final pieces of the contract,” he said. “This is the last negotiating piece. If we’re not able to get it across the table this time, then we’ll take (the zoo) over ourselves.”
Officials with the firm are scheduled to do a walk-through of the zoo in early November. The trip would be the second time the company has visited the park.
The first time was prior to the city issuing a request for proposals for zoo management, Blaine said. The visit also was done prior to the park being closed and prior to improvements being made to the century-old facility since last October.
Jackson worked for months to make improvements to the park, in large part, so the city could again receive a USDA exhibitor’s license, which was needed for the zoo to reopen to the public.
The city has been in talks with the agency since early 2019, after ZoOceanarium was selected through the RFP process.
The firm would replace the now defunct Jackson Zoological Society, which had managed the West Jackson park for years.
While talks have continued with ZoOceanarium, little is still known about the company.
It’s website states that the company has “more than 20 years of successes” and offers “expertise from concept design through animal collection planning, and facility operations and management.”
It goes on to state that it has company offices in Dubai, Singapore and the United States. However, the website does not provide addresses, nor does it provide a phone number or email to contact the firm.
According to a 2018 article at Blooloop.com, ZoOceanarium was involved in developing the Green Planet attraction in Dubai. The attraction is described as a “bio-dome (that) encloses a complete tropical ecosystem, featuring over 3,000 species of plants and animals.”
Stateside, the group also manages the St. Louis Aquarium, which was part of a $187 million “transformation of the historic former train station in downtown St. Louis,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Post-Dispatch reporter Valerie Schremp Hahn covered the train station renovations. She too said she knows little about ZoOceanarium, but said, “They do seem to have their act together and have been chugging along since the pandemic.”
WLBT reached out to the aquarium, in hopes of getting in touch with ZoOceanarium officials, but those attempts have been unsuccessful.
Getting in touch with the firm locally also led to a dead end.
According to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website, ZoOceanarium’s principal address in the U.S. is 100 S. 4th St., Suite 550, St. Louis, Mo.
Locally, the firm’s address is 460 Briarwood Dr., Suite 100, at the Triad Business Center. Its registered agent is listed as United States Corporation Agents, Inc.
A receptionist at that Briarwood office said ZoOceanarium did not have an office at the location, and that mail received there is forwarded elsewhere.
She did not say where and could not tell WLBT how to get in touch with the company.
WLBT contacted the business email on the company’s 2020 annual report and was awaiting a response.
The Missouri Secretary of State’s office showed that ZoOceanarium set up shop in Cape Girardeau in 2017 for the purpose of “assisting with the development and operations of zoos and aquariums.”
Blaine said ZoOceanarium has worked on other projects in the United States but has often been a subcontractor on larger management contracts.
“So, they’re not as up front and visible as some larger institutions, but they have done work all over the world,” he said. "We’ve talked to many of their clients. The people in St. Louis are pleased with the work.
“We feel they are a reputable organization and feel good about it.”
According to its LinkedIn profile page, ZoOceanarium is classified as a “leisure, travel and tourism” industry that employs between 51 and 200 people.
It’s specialities include “project management, animal interaction program development, operational management consultancy, recruitment, professional staff training, animal programs development, animal training services, animal husbandry management, and show and educational program development,” its profile states.