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Buffalo Zoo officials next week are expected to take the first big step toward their goal of building a new zoo, perhaps on or near the downtown waterfront.

The Buffalo Zoological Society board will vote Tuesday morning on approving a feasibility study to relocate the zoo from its cramped facility on Parkside Avenue.

Zoo officials have scheduled a news conference Tuesday morning to make a "significant announcement," and board President Donna M. Gioia confirmed that that announcement will follow the board vote on a feasibility study.

"Our board is for it," she said today. "It's just that we haven't taken the vote."

No site has been pinpointed, but zoo officials seem enthusiastic about the possibility of a waterfront site.

"The city has been helping us look at some areas downtown, on or near the waterfront," Mrs. Gioia said. "I really do think that most of the board members would like to see us downtown."

Zoo officials would like to find a roughly 75-acre site that could be donated to the zoo. A new zoo would require about 45 acres, with 15 acres available for parking and another 15 for potential expansion.

Over the summer, zoo officials disclosed they had to overhaul or replace the cramped Parkside Avenue complex to meet modern zoo standards.

Three basic options then emerged: basic renovation, with a price tag of $24 million to $30 million; a more extensive overhaul, priced at $50 million to $55 million; and a completely new zoo, preferably on the waterfront, for upwards of $100 million.

Executive Director Thomas E. Garlock, who could not be reached today to comment, told the Zoological Society board last week that the public has expressed overwhelming support for a state-of-the-art facility on a larger site.

Garlock also said there appeared to be little support for either of the other two options, spending millions of dollars to renovate the existing zoo on its current 23-acre site.

Zoo officials have said it would take five to eight years to build a new facility, which presumably would be funded mostly by taxpayers and through a fund-raising campaign.

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association has warned local zoo officials that sanctions would be imposed in 2000, unless something is done to rebuild or replace the 60-year-old Main Building, where animals live in undersized, antiquated cages.

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