This may come as a shock, but people go to zoos to hobnob with each other, not the animals, claims L. Scott Schultz, the native son who has been hired to study the feasibility of moving the Buffalo Zoo to the waterfront.
"The zoo is a place where you make memories. People want most of all to be with other people in a social environment, to be outdoors, and then to see the animals," said the president of Schultz & Williams, a Philadelphia consulting firm that has helped many American zoos grow and prosper.
If the visit is entertaining enough to pull people in again and again, then the zoo becomes a destination -- and an engine of economic development -- Schultz believes. "You want the experience to be so memorable, so rich, that they can't stay away."
His view of zoos as basically democratic gathering places comes not simply from research, but also from his experience as a zoo administrator in Philadelphia and Buffalo -- he was development director here from 1976 to 1979, after a stint as a City Hall grant writer -- before he began consulting.
"I'll give you an example," said Schultz, who met here last week with other members of his team and zoo staff members to start the planning process.
"I was walking across the Philadelphia Zoo one day, and laughter was coming from the polar bear exhibit. I turned the corner, and there were three families -- one white, one black and one Amish. The parents were hanging back while the children were having a great time together, watching the bears swim.
"You had six adults and many kids, enjoying the same time and place. It's something they will remember all their lives."
Such insights will help shape the new Buffalo Zoo if, as expected, the consulting team finds the $90 million to $100 million project doable, and is hired to undertake the actual planning.
The Schultz group, which beat out a dozen others for the $97,100 contract, also includes CLRdesign Inc., Philadelphia architects and designers. The two firms have worked together on several zoo development projects.
Richard T. Biddle, Schultz and Williams vice president, heads the consultant team. Gary H. Lee of CLRdesign will be principal planner.
They received a raft of statistics to chew on from Thomas E. Garlock, zoo executive director. The data cover the local population, economy, tourism and the zoo itself.
Although support for moving the 132-year-old zoo from Delaware Park to a new location has gained momentum since the Buffalo Zoological Society board unveiled the proposal last summer, the consultants will take a cold, hard look at the community's ability to support such an expensive undertaking, Schultz said.
"Our job is to step back from all the enthusiasm and see what should be done, and can be done. Should the zoo stay where it is? Should it go somewhere else? If so, where?
"We have to be be as objective as we can, and use our experience in other places to make sure it's done right here."
Born in the Chautauqua County Village of Falconer, Schultz graduated in 1974 from the University of Buffalo, where he studied political science.
He was a legislative aide to Rep. Walter Fauntroy, D-D.C., before returning to Buffalo as an assistant to Mayor Stanley M. Makowski.
In 1976 his grant-writing skills earned him the development job at the zoo, which the city had turned over to the privately run Zoological Society three years earlier. His success in boosting membership and launching the zoo's capital campaign led him to an offer from the Philadelphia Zoo, where he was vice president for marketing and development from 1979 to 1987.
Although he has since had a hand in developing nearly two dozen zoos, the task ahead in Buffalo is one he particularly relishes.
"I get pretty excited about our clients, but this is special," he said. "It's Incredibly rewarding, personally and professionally, for me to be back."