Monday, April 13, 2009

No Free Zoos

Ray Hartmann has written an interesting article for St. Louis Magazine about why the Zoo Museum District ("ZMD") in St. Louis City and County should be expanded to adjoining counties, and why free admission to tourists ought to be eliminated.

He is clear in that free admission should continue for residents of the ZMD since, after all, we are the ones paying the taxes to support the system. However, Hartmann points out that over 50% of the region now lives outside of St. Louis City and County. Tens of millions of dollars would be raised by expanding the ZMD and charging admission to out of town tourists.

In the print edition of the article, there's a chart comparing prices for zoos across the country. A free admission zoo is nearly unheard of, and most zoos charge $15 or so per person for entry. I don't think an admission charge for our zoo would hurt tourism. But I like the idea of starting with a lower admission fee at first - say under $10. After folks get used to it, then slowly raise the fee, a little at a time. Raise it gradually, so that within 5-10 years, we're on par with national averages.

As far as residents of adjoining counties joining the ZMD, that's a different question entirely. Now, they enjoy the benefit for free. Some might consider the free use of the ZMD an incentive to move to an outlying county. So how do you convince people to start paying for something they already get for free? I suppose you do it by giving them a choice - charge them at the gate if their county does not join the ZMD.


Anonymous said...

This the cheap Lou region, most "want it for free" and won't go if it isn't. Even local bloggers are now suggesting that Metro riders should be allowed to travel free and MoDOT in designing the New 64 has made it virtually free as it fails to have tolls or other sustainable features. Others (untaxed) from IL, etc. often represent 50% of zoo visitors and the powers that be want the motherload of revenues from collecting parking fees (over $25,00 on weekends).

StL has designed itself and its policies to serve the auto dependent and "cheap" consumers... and that is it's future.

STL in FL said...

The idea of an admission to the Zoo has been around for a while. When it was mentioned most STL area residents thought it meant a dollar or two. The Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, MO is a nice zoo with lots of land but only one medium size building (reptile house) and a $7.00 adult admission. The Saint Louis Zoo is a $20 zoo, if you don't live in the ZMD.

The World's Fair has closed, A-B headquarters are in Belgium, and STL can't afford to treat the rest of the country to a great zoo much longer. It will take a Howard Baer, a Robert Hyland, a major civic leader to champion the cause. The Zoo's worth it.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Ray Hartmann a major civic leader?

Would the Post Dispatch promote this?

Brian Simpson said...

I thought it was the purpose of the Zoo Friends program (with it's list of both private citizens and corporate entities) to keep the Zoo free?

More public enterprises should rely on the "free" theme. If you added admission fees on top of parking/Metro transport, food, etc I doubt that you would really gain all that much. People only have so many dollars. If it takes too much more of them, they do something less.

Aaron said...

I wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything in this post.

STL in FL said...

The Zoo Friends group does a great job at raising capital funds for new exhibits and keeping interest in the Zoo. It doesn't provide operating funds, the big expense.

A realistic admission charge would decrease zoo attendance but fewer guests can reduce some operations costs. Depending on an admission charge would encourage the Zoo to have popular exhibits and emphasize animals on display. The Zoo could point out that the ZMD only provides less than half of their funds and they already rely on marketing. An admission charge could provide a better product. (There should be some arrangement for legitimate school groups.) Now, how we wean STL from the days of "forever free"?

Jenniferwhatnot said...

I think the zoo should be kept free. Forest Park is one of the things that makes St. Louis great - providing cultural and educational opportunities to all. $7 doesn't sound like much to you guys, but add in $7 for three kids and bus fare for three kids and that becomes an unafforable outing. As of right now, Forest Park is one of the very few places left in the City where a family can get out and spend a day together without having to take out a second mortgage. Why not work to keep it free?

Rick Bonasch said...

Hartmann's proposal is to keep the zoo free for all residents of the Zoo Museum District. So if you live in St. Louis City or County, you will still have free admission.

He also suggests giving residents of the ZMD a reasonable number of free passes each year for use by out of town guests.

Hartmann is proposing a charge for visitors from outside the ZMD. This would include residents of Jefferson County, all of Illinois, and folks in St. Charles County.

His proposal is to invite residents of our region to vote to join the ZMD. He thinks that's only fair. Then they have two options: join the ZMD and enjoy the benefits of all ZMD members, or vote against joining the ZMD and pay an admission charge to support the facilities.

It costs money to maintain and improve the zoos and museums in the ZMD. Why should residents of St. Charles, Jefferson, and Metro East Counties enjoy benefits without supporting the ZMD like residents of St. Louis City and County?

The tax on residents of the ZMD works out to about $70 per household per year.

Anonymous said...

How would someone know if a person lived inside or outside of the ZMD?

Would there be an ID card? What about groups of school kids?

STL in FL said...

Bingo. I've thought there could be a small business of locals using an ID card to get tourists in the Zoo for a gratuity.