Column: Zoo Atlanta gets one of its largest-ever individual donations

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 15, 2015

In an unexpected gesture of generosity, David and Cecilia Ratcliffe have made a $1 million gift to Zoo Atlanta capital campaign – one of the largest donations it has ever received from an individual donor.

Ratcliffe, retired CEO of Southern Co., is serving as one of the three co-chairs of the “A Grand New View for Zoo Atlanta: Elephants, Events and Expansion” campaign along with Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power, and Jim Hannan, CEO of Georgia-Pacific.

“When my wife and I looked at the project, it is one of the largest transitions in the zoo’s history,” Ratcliffe said about his gift. “It will change the zoo and its capabilities forever in a positive way. It will add greatly to the neighborhood, and we wanted to be part of it.”

Ratcliffe said the gift was even more significant “when you throw in the fact that we are saving our ability to display elephants, and we are adding to the event space to the zoo.”

The gift is part of the “Grand New View” campaign, which was launched in November 2014, when the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation awarded Zoo Atlanta a $20 million matching grant for the initiative.

In January 2015, Delta Air Lines, through the Delta Air Lines Foundation, contributed $1 million in Delta’s largest contribution ever to the Zoo. Both Delta and the Ratcliffes were able to take advantage of the Woodruff Foundation match, effectively making their gifts worth $2 million each, according to Raymond B. King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta.

In addition to the gifts from Delta and the Ratcliffes, Zoo Atlanta’s board has raised $1 million. The Zoo also has received another $800,000 in miscellaneous donations. That leaves another $16.2 million to raise to match the gift from the Woodruff Foundation.

“We’re elated about this tremendous show of support from our friends David and Cecelia Ratcliffe, both longtime friends of the Zoo who have already made a lasting impact on our organization,” King said. “David and Cecelia have shown a significant commitment to both the Zoo and to the community by demonstrating their willingness to be leaders of a campaign that will truly revolutionize the Zoo, now and in perpetuity.”

Ratcliffe said that he and his wife usually don’t make such large donations, but this opportunity is “historic” because of the ways it will improve the zoo and the community for “generations to come.”

The “Grand New View” campaign is part of a domino of events that will involve restoring and moving of the historic Cyclorama painting to the Atlanta History Center. As part of that move, the City of Atlanta is transferring the stewardship of the 1920s-era Cyclorama building to Zoo Atlanta, which will renovate the façade of the historic structure and transform the surrounding property.

Over the next four to five years, the building and its environs will be transformed to include a one-of-a-kind special event destination; a grand entry plaza; a parking solution; and a dramatic expansion of the Zoo’s African elephant habitat, which will more than triple in size by 2019.

Piedmont Park Conservancy

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation has made a $1 million gift to the Piedmont Park Conservancy to help the park with deferred maintenance, capital improvements as well as help it begin building its capital reserves.

Mark Banta, president and CEO, said the Woodruff gift was a continuation of the strong support the foundation has given the Conservancy since its inception. The foundation is the Conservancy’s top donor contributing a total of more than $18 million over the past 25 years.

The gift is particularly welcome at this time because the Conservancy has been shifting from a capital campaign model to an operating and maintenance model. Building its reserves is key so that if and when the economy experiences another downturn, the Conservancy will have the funds needed to continually maintain Atlanta’s signature park.

“You have to build those reserves so you don’t cause budget problems for your regular operations,” Banta said. “We want to have a repair reserve so we can maintain the park even when times are tough.”

Banta said it has a detailed plan for all the deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects that are needed. The Conservancy also hopes to be able to raise another $500,000 from other supporters to be able to complete those projects and build its reserves.

The projects are not flashy but necessary. They include a new chemical control system, new lights and water jets for the interactive fountain on the Promenade; fixing the roof at the Community Center at 12th Street and Piedmont; upgrading the visitor center; fixing air-conditioning systems and providing additional signage throughout the park.

Piedmont Park is holding its annual Landmark Lunch on May 15, where it launches its annual campaign.

Rotary outing

Instead of its usual golfing event, the Rotary Club of Atlanta on May 12 visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights for its annual outing.

Members were treated to a conversation between two veterans of Atlanta’s evolution from a segregated city to a beacon for integration in the South — civil rights leader C.T. Vivian and philanthropist Tom Glenn.

Vivian, who said he was invited to come to Atlanta by Martin Luther King Jr., saw that the city was special because it had four historically black colleges and universities. It was a city where blacks were beginning to have political power and influence, and where key members of the white business community were enlightened enough to welcome the change that was taking place.

Glenn, whose family foundation was the top private donor to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, spoke of the leaders who led the way – Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill and executives from The Coca-Cola Co. among others.

Glenn urged members of the Atlanta Rotary – as well as other key local institutions like Central Atlanta Progress and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta – to “formulate a joint resolution about the heritage of this town.” Glenn said that instead of saying we’re proud of our heritage, we should be “thankful of our legacy,” and that we should always remember the role that Atlanta has played and can continue to play in addressing the issues of civil and human rights.

Moderating the conversation was Doug Shipman, president and CEO of the Center, who recently announced he would be stepping down in June.

“The legacy (of the Center) was not to be just for the history books,” said Shipman, adding that the goal was to apply lessons from the past to current global and local issues. “The stories from our elders could be instructive to us today.”

Senior Connections

Senior Connections, a leading nonprofit provider of home and community-based care in metro Atlanta and Middle Georgia, will honor Juanita Baranco with its 2015 Community Connections Award on May 30.

Baranco, executive vice president and COO of Baranco Automotive Group, will receive the award at Senior Connections seventh annual “Senior Prom,” which will be held at the Thalia N. Carlos Hellenic Center on Clairmont Road.

The Community Connections Award, established in 2009, recognizes older adults who have been, and continue to be, outstanding business and community leaders, and who have given back significantly to the communities in which they live and work.

Past recipients have included former Decatur Mayor Elizabeth Wilson, former DeKalb County CEO Liane Levetan, Fidelity Bank Chairman Jim Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Arnie Silverman of Silverman Construction Program Management and last year’s honoree David Ratcliffe, retired chairman and CEO of Southern Co.

The Senior Prom is set to raise $500,000, and all proceeds will go toward Senior Connections’ various programs and operations to enable older adults to live independently. This black-tie optional “Celebrating Aging” event will include a reception, silent auction and dinner, followed by dancing.

“Juanita Baranco is a friend and supporter of Senior Connections, and we are delighted to be honoring her this year,” said Debra Furtado, CEO of Senior Connections. “Juanita embodies the Community Connections award as a long-time community leader. She has supported our organization knowing that what we do has such an impact on many lives – especially the lives of women, whether caregivers or program recipients.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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