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South Bend Common Council approves $6.5 million bond issue for Potawatomi Zoo improvements

Annacaroline Caruso / WVPE Public Radio

The South Bend Common Council unanimously approved a bond issue for improvements to the Potawatomi Zoo Monday night.

The ordinance authorizes the issue of up to $6.5 million in bonds to pay for capital projects as part of the zoo’s 30-year master plan.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it’s going to lions and tigers and bears, because it actually is,” City Controller Dan Parker said. “It’s going to the lion exhibit, the tiger exhibit and to help fund a bear exhibit.”

The bonds will be backed by the portion of revenue from the county hotel-motel tax earmarked for the zoo under state law. The proceeds will go to the Potawatomi Zoological Society.

Aaron Perri, executive director of South Bend Venues, Parks and Arts, said the current public-private partnership between the city and the Potawatomi Zoological Society dates back to 2014 and originally ran until 2020.

“It had two primary goals — one to enhance the quality of the zoo offerings and two to decrease the type of public taxpayer dollars that were going towards the zoo,” Perri said. “In 2020, we took a look at that, and those two things happened.

Under the old agreement, Perri said the zoo was costing the city about $1.5 million per year. Under the updated 2021 agreement — which extends for 20 years — the city expects that to drop by about half.

South Bend Venues, Parks and Arts and the Potawatomi Zoo are financial supporters of WVPE.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.