Collier County has a question to answer: will it buy a $67 million piece of property for which taxpayers allotted just $40 million?
Last year, voters in Collier overwhelmingly approved a property tax referendum—generating up to 40 million dollars— to buy land under and around Caribbean Gardens, the zoo in Naples. But, the Fleishman family— which owns the land— wants 67 and a half million dollars. That’s a difference of more than 27 million.
Assuming Collier County can fill the gap and buy the land, the zoo would lease its portion and operate as a non-profit.
Caribbean Gardens is the only zoo in southwest Florida accredited by the American Zoo & Aquarium Association. It has to be accredited again next year. Director David Tetzlaff says further hold-ups with the land might affect that process.
"They want to know that they’re accrediting a zoo that’s still going to be there. So, it’s very important. So, by the time our paperwork has to be filed in a month, and by the time they inspect us in a few months, we’re hoping for at least some more positive answers to satisfy the inspectors when they come.”
Time is of the essence for another reason: property values climb
every month in Naples. And Tetzlaff says the Fleishmans are getting another appraisal for the land… that’s the 45 acres the zoo sits on and the 120 acres around it.
To make up the difference, the county might tap conservation funds, rely on grants, or re-sell some of the land for development.
The Naples Zoo awaits IRS approval to become a non-profit organization. It already has a board of directors in place.
Wednesday, 10 August 2005 01:00