Case Study:

Reid Park Zoo

THE CLIENT

The Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona engaged the Schultz & Williams team of Rick Biddle, Rick Barongi and Eileen Hillman to help draft a strategic business plan and define a new governance model. A beloved community treasure that has entertained and educated millions of visitors since its opening in1965, the Reid Park Zoo has played host to countless family outings, birthday parties and class trips, generating more than a half-century’s worth of fantastic memories. Scores of children and adults have learned about critical conservation issues through up-close and personal experiences with the animals and keepers.

With a mission “to encourage commitment to the conservation of biological diversity and to provide educational and fun experiences for visitors of all ages,” Reid Park Zoo provides a naturalistic home to hundreds of animals on a beautiful 24-acre campus. Reid Park Zoo is an important educational asset for Tucson kids and schools. In fact, more than 35,000 school children visit each year and participate in hands-on educational activities, field trips and behind-the-scenes tours.

In 2016, Reid Park Zoo broke ground on a new, state-of-the-art Animal Health Center. Opened in early 2018, this facility not only provides world-class animal care services, but also enhances the partnership between Reid Park and the University of Arizona with educational programs and research opportunities.

With last year’s passage of a sales tax initiative, beginning in July 2018, the Zoo will receive dedicated funding of up to $10M annually for the next 10 years through an expanded partnership with the City of Tucson. This will allow Reid Park Zoo to seize the opportunity to chart its own future: to ensure its financial stability, maintain the highest standards in animal care and management, provide for ongoing facility improvements, enhance visitor amenities and ensure an engaging and memorable experience for all visitors. Through strong leadership, a bold vision and strategic thinking, Reid Park Zoo continues to demonstrate its commitment to its mission and to serve as a valuable asset to the City of Tucson.

Highlights

Positioned for Success

In anticipation of the passage of a sales tax initiative that would provide dedicated funding for its operations, Reid Park Zoo identified a critical opportunity to reassess its business model, align its leadership structure and ensure maximization of the pubic investment. The Zoo established a community stakeholder Task Force and engaged S&W to help assess the situation and define actions to position the Zoo for long-term success in terms of financial viability, animal care and management and guest experience.

The Challenge

Up until 2018, the City of Tucson served as the Owner/Landlord for the Reid Park Zoo with overall responsibility for managing Zoo operations, including the animal collections, food operations and retail. The City of Tucson provided an annual allocation to the Zoo to supplement admissions and retail, and the Reid Park Zoological Society raised the additional funding necessary through memberships, special events, rentals, campaigns, appeals and special programming.

As part of Tucson’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Zoo was feeling the impacts of years of tight municipal budgets, cuts in staffing, deferred maintenance and delayed capital improvements. Increased complexity with regulations, sustainability issues and budgets has made operating a Zoo through a City’s Parks and Recreation Department significantly more challenging over the years and, at more than 50 years old, the Zoo found itself at a critical juncture. Major improvements were required to meet modern zoo standards and improve the quality of life for the animals. Without these improvements, the Reid Park Zoo was in jeopardy of losing its national accreditation, long-term ability to house much-loved animals and financial sustainability.

THE PROCESS

S&W facilitated three task force meetings with the overall goal to develop a sustainable business model and leadership structure for the Reid Park Zoo and to facilitate the approval process for any recommended shifts in governance. S&W’s focus included helping to define strategic opportunities; establish baselines and benchmarks; consider various public-private partnership scenarios; address potential transition impacts; develop a communications strategy and key message points; and draft a governance model, sustainable business plan, employee transition plan and pro forma projections. The Task Force’s recommendation was thoughtfully considered and based on best practices of AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions and successful models within the Tucson community.

The Recommendation

After a careful assessment and analysis, S&W provided guidance as the Task Force made a recommendation for a complete shift in governance to a new, long-term, expanded partnership between the City of Tucson and the Reid Park Zoological Society through the execution of a Management/Operating Agreement (MOA). With the City remaining as owner and landlord and the Society responsible for all governance and staff, the Zoo is now positioned to achieve its bold vision, address its pressing needs (staffing, deferred maintenance and fundraising) and embark on a path of creating a premier AZA zoological park that is accessible for all Tucson residents and a choice destination for visitors to the region.

 

Experience Informing Action

Through our experience helping many zoological organizations across the country navigate governance and funding shifts, S&W was quick to identify a significant opportunity for the Reid Park Zoo to create a proactive and sustainable business plan that would leverage the public investment through the tax initiative while addressing issues around staffing, leadership structure, facilities and fundraising that impacted the Zoo’s ongoing sustainability.

The passage of the sales tax initiative in the fall of 2017 has dramatically altered the way in which the Zoo will receive funding and together with the MOA, is enabling Reid Park Zoo to:

  • maximize efficiencies
  • create a clear and sensible leadership structure
  • ensure responsible staffing levels
  • address critical physical plant and infrastructure issues
  • foster new partnerships
  • enact a bold new vision through capital projects over the next decade

This dedicated funding through the sales tax initiative provides free school field trips for all K-12 schools and ensures that Reid Park Zoo can remain affordable for families to visit and enjoy.

Additionally, the sales tax initiative has positioned Reid Park Zoo to leverage additional private sector resources as the region’s philanthropic community continues to embrace the Zoo’s bold vision with a new confidence. In this way, vital partnerships are being created, nurtured and grown, and over time will position the Zoo to realize its vision and establish long-term financial viability and operational excellence.

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