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Thomas E. Garlock, who spearheaded the Buffalo Zoo's failed attempt to relocate to the Inner Harbor, is stepping down after 4 1/2 years as zoo president.

The 46-year-old Lockport native, who arrived in 1995 with a mandate from zoological society leaders to sharpen the institution's business operations, will leave Jan. 15, Chairman Donna M. Gioia announced Thursday.

Under his direction, the nation's third-oldest zoo "has undergone a great deal of positive change," Gioia said in a news release.

But as it now ponders its future in Delaware Park, after failing to win political or popular support for its proposal to build a $160 million state-of-the-art facility on the Buffalo River, Garlock "has concluded that this effort could benefit from a fresh perspective," Gioia said.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my tenure with the zoo, but I believe it's time for me to do something different," Garlock was quoted in the news release, adding that he is considering a number of job options.

Reached later by telephone, Gioia said a rumor circulating in recent days that Garlock was being forced out was untrue.

"He wasn't pushed," she said, indicating that the scrapping of the relocation plan after heavy criticism from the Parkside community might have influenced Garlock to quit.

"He took a lot of hard hits. It was tough on him," Gioia said.

Garlock, a former Assembly aide and bank executive, could not be reached to comment further.

News of his departure, which followed closed-door meetings between Garlock and a handful of board members, shook the zoo offices.

"I was flabbergasted," said a staff member, adding there had been no indication Garlock was on the way out.

In the months since the relocation proposal was shelved, Garlock remained outwardly upbeat, "but after a major disappointment like that, it's sort of hard to regroup with the same kind of enthusiasm," the staffer said.

Frederick L. Paine, vice president of zoo operations, will serve as interim president until Garlock's successor is found, Gioia said.

The board, which expects to begin the search soon, will "try to build on Tom's work and bring some new skills to the zoo," said Brian P. Brady, vice chairman.

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