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The Buffalo Zoo board Thursday formally abandoned its controversial plan to relocate to a site on the Buffalo River and asked local governments to increase aid to bring its current home up to national standards.

"Today the Zoological Society must concede to the current reality," said Donna M. Gioia, the board's chairwoman. "The zoo will remain in Delaware Park for the foreseeable future."

"The society," she added, "is dedicated to providing its best at the Delaware Park location. In light of that, the society is already working to develop a business plan to operate the zoo at the present location."

The announcement was made at a news conference attended by County Executive Gorski, Mayor Masiello and top zoo officials.

Mrs. Gioia said the zoo will ask Erie County to increase its annual subsidy to $1.45 million from $1.2 million and to make a $475,000 appropriation for capital improvements.

"If city and county leaders are asking the society to commit to this location, then they must, in turn, let the society, and indeed the entire Western New York community, know what their commitment to the zoo will be," she said.

Gorski, who praised the zoo's decision to stay in the park, said the county will support the zoo as it readies itself for reaccreditation next year.

"I am very confident that there is going to be support of a measure to improve the zoo and move this zoo into the next millennium," the county executive said.

Masiello pledged to organize an effort to help the zoo make the necessary improvements to remain "a regional attraction."

"The real difficult actions will be how do we collectively bring resources together to provide additional investments for the animals, the zoo and this neighborhood," the mayor said.

The mayor added he would not support any expansion of the zoo beyond its current 23.5-acre site. A survey conducted by neighborhood opponents of the relocation plan did find significant support among elected officials should the zoo desire to annex eight acres between the facility and Amherst Street.

The announcement confirmed last week's story in The Buffalo News that the zoo board had abandoned its pursuit of a $160 million home after the idea failed to generate both political and financial support.

The proposal for a world-class zoo was made in June 1998. It was based on a report by a Philadelphia consulting firm that recommended the zoo build an 80-acre new facility rather than spend $24 million to repair the current zoo in Delaware Park.

The report was prompted by concerns at the zoo that its aging facility -- it has been at its current home for 124 years -- would face problems being reaccredited the next time around by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

Mrs. Gioia urged people in the neighborhood to now work toward improving the current facility.

"It is our hope that after this great debate, we will be supported in undertaking the physical improvements on this site that are needed to ensure a quality zoo that is a joy to families and humane for animals," she said.

Opponents have said they are willing to help but also have expressed concern the zoo may return again in the future with another plan to relocate.

Brian Brady, vice chairman of the zoo board, said the society will need considerable help to meet its goal of remaining accredited and said the city and county will have to help.

He also said the zoo will be preparing a new master plan to replace one done in 1976.

"It became clear during our last review in 1995 that continued accreditation was unlikely without a strong plan that addressed our aged facilities," he said.

"Our city and county partners must together play a significant role in our future, by assuring the zoo's financial stability and by helping us bring this facility to an acceptable condition."

Thomas E. Garlock, the president of the zoo and the official who championed the relocation plan at numerous public forums, praised the facility, its employees, volunteers and mission of safeguarding animals from around the world.

"The zoological society rejects the notion that Buffalo is a poor community in decline that is not capable of hosting a quality zoo that will participate with other communities in saving animal life," he said.

When the proposal for a new zoo was first announced more than a year ago, many community, government and business leaders greeted the ambitious plan enthusiastically.

Within weeks, however, strong neighborhood opposition surfaced both in the Parkside area near the zoo and in the Old First Ward area where the new facility would have been located. It also became apparent the zoo board had not lined up funding commitments before its announcement.

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