It’s been a long time coming, but Steve Jones believes the much talked-about and hoped-for relocation of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is going to happen soon. Recently, the project received a $1 million nudge from the Gulf Shores City Council.
But the longtime councilman wasn’t present when the City Council agreed to grant the money to the zoo foundation to help secure financing needed to relocate and construct a new zoo north of the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores. The 25-acre site is on County Road 6 east of Alabama 59 in Gulf Shores.
Jones, chairman of the board of the zoo foundation, recused himself from this particular agenda item on Jan. 29 and left the room. His colleagues passed it unanimously in his absence.
Jones said the zoo foundation began exploring the possibility of funding the new location through a bond issue years ago. The fruition of that work could come as early as March 3 when the zoo hosts “A Night on the Wild Side” fundraiser officials hope will be a celebration of the closing of the deal. The event will be held at Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores.
“We’re excited because as difficult as it’s been, we’re finally going to realize this mission and this dream of actually getting this project started and finished once and for all,” Jones said. “Call it a two-year process but now we’re down to the final 30 days, hopefully getting fully funded and beginning the project and get the project built from start to finish and open it in less than two years.”
Jones said it was a complicated process aimed at securing more than $26 million to fund purchasing more land, building the new zoo and setting up a new corporation to run a restaurant and other amenities at the site. Attorneys told the foundation operating businesses on the site to compete with private businesses could jeopardize the zoo’s nonprofit status, Jones said.
“The bonds are actually going to be sold on the open market,” he said. “They have a lot of stipulations, regulations and hoops for us to jump through with regard to what they expect us to do and it’s pretty onerous. There is a private investment company that finds projects like this and decides they are worth investing in. One investment group is purchasing this entire package. All of the revenues that the new project is going to generate are all pledged to the repayment of these bonds.”
Gulf Shores will present the $1 million in 2020 once construction is complete, Griffin said.
The $26.3 million bond issue will help refinance existing zoo debt and buy an additional 71-acre parcel next to the new 25-acre site, with about $16.5 million for the construction of the new zoo. Griffin also said a sale of the current zoo location is in the works.