We're glad Erie County legislators are thinking hard before agreeing to borrow $4 million, but the circumstances of the plan to expand the Buffalo Zoo are such that the decision counts as wise.
With only one no vote, legislators voted recently to borrow the money to cover the final costs of a $16 million South American rain forest exhibit complete with crocodiles, vampire bats and a two-story waterfall. The remaining $12 million is to be paid by the state and private donations, but $6.75 million in state matching funds and a $4 million donation by M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers could have been forfeited if the final $4 million weren't found. In addition, a delay could have added to construction costs.
Significantly, the project and the borrowing were supported by Anthony J. Baynes, chairman of the Erie County control board. County Executive Joel A. Giambra also backed the financing plan.
For several years, the Buffalo Zoo has been one of the county's few real bright spots, with many improvements pushing it forward. A tired, substandard facility that was threatened with loss of accreditation is now becoming one of the county's real jewels.
Other projects in the zoo's $75 million reconstruction program include renovation of the building that houses cats and primates and construction of a river otter/sea lion complex. Much of the credit belongs to zoo President Donna M. Fernandes.
Construction of the rain forest exhibit begins this fall and wraps up in March of 2008. An opening is planned three months later. When it is done, the zoo and the city will have taken another step away from a gloomy past and toward better days.