Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Zoo hikes admissions, again

Some fear rate increases will make visits too expensive

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Visitor Naomi Oldcotton says she's OK with the rate hike, which seems on par with other North American zoos.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Visitor Naomi Oldcotton says she's OK with the rate hike, which seems on par with other North American zoos. Photo Store

They told us it was coming, but there was no denying the sticker shock some families felt outside the Assiniboine Park Zoo Monday.

Some said the rate hikes will limit their zoo excursions in the future.

Not everyone felt that way. For mothers such as Naomi Oldcotton, packing up her two kids after a day at the zoo with their grandmother and her, an adult rate hike to $18.50 from $8.50 before April 1 is perfectly fine.

The family had just plunked down an annual family membership Monday -- $189, up from $115 -- and called it a good investment in their children's education.

"It seems on par with most zoos in North America," said Oldcotton.

Besides, admission-rate increases are an inevitable result of the zoo's much publicized renovations, she said after buckling her two kids, ages three and five, into their car seats.

Evidence of the new construction, including the highly anticipated four-hectare Journey to Churchill, was everywhere.

"Animals are expensive to keep," Oldcotton said. "The enclosures are going to be beautiful. It feels better to go to a place where the animals are going to be happy. "Happiness costs money. Usually."

That's pretty much how the zoo is pitching the rate increase, the second in the last month.

All the rates rose April 1. Monday, zoo officials let the second shoe drop, announcing another across-the-board rate increase as of July 3.

To look at the rate increases as simply dollars and cents is unfair, said Margaret Redmond, president and CEO of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.

"You're looking at it in a relative sense. The experience will more than live up to the price," she said. "We'll encourage people to come and judge for themselves."

The zoo changed dramatically as a result of redevelopment.

With the opening of the polar bear exhibit, the park is touting the zoo as one of the most unique and exciting in North America.

The $90-million exhibit will feature expansive new polar bear, arctic fox, muskox, snowy owl and seal habitats, as well as interactive interpretive components. The zoo's international polar bear conservation centre is one of a kind, drawing the praise of animal activists as far away at Argentina.

The zoo has also opened a new indoor polar playground, the seasonal Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden and Australian Walkabout exhibits.

A trip to the zoo can now last three to four hours.

Funding for the zoo has changed, too. Where once the zoo relied on tax dollars for 75 cents of every operating dollar, government money makes up just 35 cents these days, leaving admission rates and other charges to make up the biggest chunk of revenue.

In a nod to families that can't pay that much, Redmond said the admission-free Tuesdays are changing to $10 a day per person and programs that offer free rates and subsidies to schools and organized outings remain in place. Some 3,900 people saw the zoo for free last year.

For some parents and grandparents, the latest rate increase came as an unpleasant surprise.

"That's not nice," said Dinesh Gadhok. She and her husband, Nat Gadhok, were strolling by the zoo construction Monday and noted seniors might be able to afford to pay the new daily rate in July, but they may not bring their grandchildren.

Cindy Kehler was leaving the zoo after taking two of her six children out for the day to see the animals.

"Eighteen-fifty? Oh, my goodness. They're taking away the opportunity for all families to come to the zoo," Kehler said.

"That's a lot. That's expensive," said Shannon Cavey.

"I know that the (polar bear) exhibit is going to be something else," said her husband, Peter Cavey. "But a lot of people won't be able to do it as frequently."

Mark Aitkenhead was treating his daughter and granddaughter to the zoo Monday.

"It used to be a no-brainer. My mother had five kids and she used to bring us here all the time. There's no way she could have been able to afford it," Aitkenhead said.

The zoo will be closed from June 23 to July 2 to prepare for the opening date. The zoo will reopen July 3 at noon, with the unveiling of a new Roblin Boulevard entrance.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 10:13 AM CDT: Adds interactive graphic

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