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Public opinion, behind-the-scenes maneuvering and internal discussions at the Buffalo Zoo suggest that relocation is in the wind for the century-old Buffalo institution -- probably to the Lake Erie waterfront.

Moreover, the present facility appears unlikely to be kept as a small satellite zoo -- as some have proposed -- because it would be far too expensive to operate.

The zoo expects to decide within a month whether to stay in its aging Delaware Park home or start over elsewhere, Executive Director Thomas E. Garlock said Tuesday.

But since late July, when it was disclosed that the cramped Parkside Avenue complex must be overhauled or replaced to meet modern zoo standards, the public has expressed overwhelming support for building a state-of-the-art facility on a larger site, Garlock told the Zoological Society board.

During a recent radio program on which he was a guest, Garlock noted by way of example, callers solidly favored moving despite the projected cost -- upward of $100 million. "Eight callers said, 'Let's do something remarkable in Buffalo,' " Garlock said. "Only one complained his taxes would go up."

Although funding sources will not be targeted until the zoo charts a course, taxpayers would foot most of the bill.

There apparently is little support, Garlock said, for either of two alternatives under study:

Basic renovation of the present 23-acre zoo at a cost of $24 million to $30 million.

A more extensive overhaul for $50 million to $55 million.

Even though it would take five to eight years to complete a new facility, the zoo is under pressure from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to start planning now, board President Donna Gioia reminded directors.

The association has warned that sanctions will be imposed in 2000 unless the 60-year-old Main Building, where some cat species and other animals are penned in small, antiquated cages, is rebuilt or replaced. "We have to move forward or we're not going to be accredited," Ms. Gioia remarked.

There are other signs the zoo is leaning toward starting fresh elsewhere:

At an American Zoo and Aquarium Association conference in Albuquerque, N.M., Garlock and Deputy Executive Director Frederick L. Paine solicited ideas from consultants on creating a new zoo.

Three potential waterfront sites have been discussed with city officials. A new zoo would require 40 to 45 acres.

Tentative plans have been made to form working groups of board and community members to develop the new zoo.

The zoo is preparing to seek bids from consultants.

Keeping the Delaware Park site as a satellite zoo once a new one is operating would be prohibitively expensive, Garlock told the board.

"The specter of two sites, with the Zoological Society supporting both, would be frightening," he said. "It would eat us alive."

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