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Although the Buffalo Zoo has struggled in the court of public opinion over its proposal to build a new facility on the Inner Harbor, the Zoological Society is gearing up to seek tax dollars for the huge project.

Society directors, meeting today, were expected to call on county, state and federal leaders to join Mayor Masiello in embracing the $160 million undertaking, zoo sources said.

"There is every indication that specific action will be taken to move toward a new zoo and aquarium," one source said. "Every level of government will be asked to support the proposal."

After consultants three months ago recommended building a state-of-the-art zoo and marine-life park on the Buffalo River near downtown, leaving behind the 132-year-old Delaware Park facility, zoo leaders said they would weigh public response before seeking money for the project.

Under the rough formula suggested by Schultz & Williams Inc. and CLRdesign Inc., the state would be the primary source of public dollars, at $85 million, followed by the federal and county governments at $25 million each, the Zoological Society at $21 million and the city at $4 million.

The Philadelphia consultants said a zoo and marine-life park on the Buffalo River, tied to existing Inner Harbor development, would draw more than 1 million visitors and pump $40 million per year into the local economy.

But reaction to the proposal for a new zoo has been decidedly mixed.

A recent Goldhaber Research Associates poll, sponsored by Business First, indicated that Western New York residents are equally divided on the question of whether to build anew or improve the existing facility. A straw vote conducted by the League of Women Voters during the Erie County Fair in August also reflected an even split.

The zoo has run into determined opposition from the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park, centered in Parkside and North Buffalo, and the Committee to Save the Old First Ward, based in the neighborhood where a new facility would be built.

Nevertheless, zoo leaders apparently think that the proposal has sufficient backing to proceed, and that support for the project is certain to grow as word circulates about potential benefits to the animals and the local economy of relocating, instead of spending millions to upgrade the deteriorating Delaware Park site.

They were encouraged Friday when Masiello gave the project a thumbs-up in a letter to 5,000 Parkside and North Buffalo residents.

The mayor said the new zoo would complement other waterfront developments, "generate needed revenues and jobs
for city residents and be a great benefit to the image and economy of the entire region."

Masiello said his support is contingent on the zoo's ability to fully fund the new zoo and help find "attractive, useful and productive" uses for the old one.

Meanwhile, a group that will consider ways to use the zoo site met in Nichols School on Monday night.

The 20 members of the Zoo Re-use Working Group formed committees that will focus on alternative uses for the zoo site and criteria for redeveloping it.

Parks Commissioner Daniel T. Durawa ruled out housing for the site and said any plan would have to benefit the public and the surrounding parkland.

The group received a list of more than 20 random ideas, ranging from converting the site into parkland, using it as a visitors' center and developing a park for children.

"It would be very useful to have a consultant's study," said Marge Miller of the Delaware Park Steering Committee and the Olmsted Conservatory.

News Staff Reporter Carl Allen contributed to this article.

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