Last week, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs announced $500,000 loan for Zoo Knoxville. Last evening, Deputy Chief of Staff to Jacobs Chris Caldwell told the Knox County Commission it would likely be a 15 year pay back.

Mayor Indya Kincannon at her desk on day one

Mayor Indya Kincannon at her desk on day one

Yesterday, Monday March 30, 2020 Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced that she will be recommending $700,000 in emergency funding for Zoo Knoxville to help the zoo weather a budgetary shortfall.


The zoo, which garners 75 percent of its operating revenue from ticket sales and memberships, closed in mid-March in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Zoo Knoxville won’t reopen until public health officials say it’s safe for people to gather in large numbers.


Mayor Kincannon transferred an immediate $100,000 today (March 30, 2020). The funding was possible after the Mayor enacted a provision in the City’s charter that gives mayors flexibility to take legal and financial action during a declared State of Emergency.


Kincannon will ask City Council at its April 7 meeting to approve the initial appropriation and an additional $600,000 to the zoo in $200,000 monthly installments through June 30. Council would be voting on a budget amendment to appropriate the total of $700,000 in the current City budget.

Each year, the City helps fund a portion of Zoo Knoxville’s operating budget, and the amount is set in a long-term multi-year contract. In the current fiscal year, the zoo received $1.4 million from the City. In FY 2020-21, Zoo Knoxville is scheduled to receive $1.45 million from the City as specified in the contract.


The $700,000 in emergency funding this spring would bring Fiscal Year 2019-20 support for Zoo Knoxville operations to $2.1 million.


The zoo funding comes after Mayor Kincannon on Monday directed City staff to help facilitate community-wide collection of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for first responders and hospitals. More details here


Kincannon is also in the process of authorizing City funding to help protect individuals experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. The funds are part of the efforts by the City and several partner agencies to set up a quarantine space for people showing COVID-19 symptoms or who have tested positive. Specific details on this shelter will be released soon.


In addition, dozens of partners are coordinating through the Emergency Operations Center to make sure people who need it can connect with food resources. The best way to find out about how to connect with resources in neighborhoods is to call 2-1-1. 


Some examples: Knox County Schools now has more than 35 sites where school-aged children of any age or income can pick up meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee is partnering with Knox County Schools, City of Knoxville Parks and Recreation, and other organizations to provide school-age children meals for pick-up in 10 locations where transportation may be a challenge. Or, those age 60 or older in Knox County can contact with CAC here and Compassion Coalition maintains a comprehensive list of food pantries in the area.


“Protecting people rightfully comes first in an emergency, but the City can also help Zoo Knoxville in caring for its animals,” Kincannon said. “The zoo has been losing more than $20,000 a day in revenue since the pandemic forced it to close its doors. We appreciate that the non-profit Zoo Knoxville, like many businesses and schools, have made hard but necessary sacrifices to safeguard against the Coronavirus spread.”


Located next to Chilhowee Park in East Knoxville, Zoo Knoxville is the region’s top tourism attraction, drawing about 500,000 visitors a year.


In addition to support for zoo operations, the City also has supported Zoo Knoxville’s expansion of programs and new exhibits. Under former Mayor Madeline Rogero, the City provided $10 million in capital funding to the zoo.


“Zoo Knoxville is a valued partner and a beloved and unique educational asset,” Kincannon said. “The zoo’s growth is exciting, but there have been some growing pains, and the abrupt loss of ticket revenue this month has been crippling. We look forward to working with zoo staff in addressing immediate operational needs while balancing the challenges of a long-term build-out.”

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