Minnesota Zoo plans layoffs due to slump in attendance

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Fewer people are visiting the Minnesota Zoo these days, and that's one reason cited by zoo officials as they prepare to announce staff layoffs, the Star Tribune reports.

It's not yet clear how many people will be let go; that'll be determined once the zoo's budget is approved in October, according to the Star Tribune.

Attendance at the Apple Valley zoo was down about 4.5 percent over the summer, while at the same time, expenses for things like animal feed, energy and staff salaries went up. That added an additional $1 million in cost to the zoo's budget of $25 million, zoo spokeswoman Beth Burns said, according to KSTP.

She said the zoo trimmed costs this year by leaving vacant staff positions open and cutting the marketing budget, but it hasn't been enough to cover the gap.

The zoo's attendance reached record highs a few years ago, topping out at 1.3 million, when new exhibits were unveiled. Burns said the number of visitors for 2014 is expected to reach 1 million, according to the Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Zoo employs about 220 full time, part time, and intermittent staff, according to its website. That number grows to between 270 and 300 when temporary staff are hired in spring and summer.

Burns said the layoffs will affect all staff levels, including senior positions, according to KSTP. She said the news shouldn't come as a surprise, since zoo staff have been discussing theses budget issues for several months.

It was just a few years ago, in 2012, when the zoo announced a new "Master Plan" for its future, which included $50 million in construction over five years. Officials broke ground on one element of that plan earlier this summer, a nature-based outdoor play area, which is being built with private funds, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The state Legislature approved $12 million in this year's bonding bill to pay for other improvements at the zoo, the Pioneer Press notes.

About $3 million of that will be used to complete renovations to Discovery Bay, where Hawaiian monk seals are expected to be displayed next year.

Another $5 million in state funding will be used to continue renovations at the zoo's main building and an upgrade to the snow monkey exhibit. The rest of the bonding money will be used for other maintenance projects, according to the Pioneer Press.

According to a Travel + Leisure article in 2012, the Minnesota Zoo was the 17th most visited in the country with 1.3 million visitors in 2010, which was the high point of the zoo's attendance. The Como Zoo in St. Paul was No. 7, with 2.2 million. It's worth noting that the Como Zoo is free. The San Diego Zoo had the most visitors of any zoo in the country in 2010, with 3.2 million.

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