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LEADERS READY TO SEEK FUNDS FOR NEW ZOO

The campaign to move the Buffalo Zoo to the Inner Harbor is shifting to the halls of government, where zoo leaders hope to scrape up about $139 million of the project's $160 million cost.

After voting Tuesday to carry the plan forward, Zoological Society directors set out to obtain funding for the proposed zoo and marine life park in the next federal, state, county and city budgets.

This budgetary full court press will be difficult to execute, conceded Brian P. Brady, vice chairman of the society board and head of its Master Planning Committee.

"It certainly can be done, but will it? That's tough to say," Brady said.

Zoo leaders feel they can make a compelling case for the project -- which consultants say would generate $40 million in economic activity annually -- when they knock on governmental doors.

The riverfront facility they envision represents a far more sensible investment of taxpayer dollars than the existing zoo in Delaware Park, which would cost $24 million simply to patch up and at least $64 million to renovate, Brady said.

"If we can't get government excited about a project that will have a $40 million annual impact on the city, we won't be able to excite them about doing more with this place," he said after the board meeting at the zoo.

Laying the groundwork for the new facility "will become even harder, but I see a wonderful accomplishment for nature and Western New York at its conclusion," added Donna M. Gioia, zoo board chairwoman.

Gov. Pataki, County Executive Gorski, members of Congress and state and local legislators will be told ground must be broken soon if the zoo is to retain its professional standing and continue to meet its animal conservation and educational mandates.

Brady, whose resolution seeking government support for the new zoo passed 25 to 0, with five abstentions, said the zoo's 123-year-old Delaware Park site, near his Parkside childhood home, would be difficult to leave behind.

"A lot of us love this institution. But it's time to move on to something that is going to serve us for the next 100 years," he said.

Brady and Thomas E. Garlock, zoo president, downplayed the apparent split in public opinion over the new zoo proposal, which was unveiled three months ago.

They believe two groups strongly opposed to the plan, the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park and the Committee to Save the Old First Ward -- the neighborhood where the new facility would be located -- represent a vocal but small minority.

"A silent majority supports this plan," Brady said, nodding to a dozen Old First Ward residents seated nearby in brightly colored T-shirts. The shirts pictured various zoo animals surrounded by the logo: "Buffalo Zoo 2003; Old First Ward."

Recalling a supporter who termed the proposed relocation "an opportunity to do something great for Western New York," Garlock said: "I'm confident the vast majority of people feel that way."

If the search for government assistance is successful, Garlock said, the zoo will immediately address two concerns frequently voiced by opponents: replacing Conway Park, the Louisiana Street playground that would be displaced by the new zoo and aquarium, and finding new uses for the 23.5-acre Delaware Park site.

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