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Vote clears path between Zoo Atlanta and federal tax credits

Maggie Lee
Zoo Atlanta

By Maggie Lee and Maria Saporta

The city-county authority that oversees Zoo Atlanta’s lease at Grant Park took a vote Thursday that puts an end to zoo management’s worries about possible delays to work on Savanna Hall.

The building that formerly held the Cyclorama painting will overlook a new and expanded natural habitat for elephants and giraffes, but Zoo Atlanta needed that vote from the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority to tap federal historic tax credits for the Savanna Hall building work.

By a unanimous vote of the AFCRA Executive and Finance Committee on Thursday, Zoo Atlanta will be able to go forward with a set of loans to bridge the time between construction at Savanna Hall and the arrival of tax credits and cash pledges for the work.

The zoo is managed by a private nonprofit. But the land under it is owned by the city, which has assigned its leasehold interest to AFCRA. AFCRA has some oversight over zoo operations, including a vote on major zoo contracts.

Zoo Atlanta President and CEO Raymond King on Thursday morning said in an email that the zoo is delighted.

“This will allow us to continue the exciting transformation of Zoo Atlanta and give the former Cyclorama building an amazing new chapter as a one-of-a kind special events facility overlooking our brand-new African Savanna,” King wrote.

The members of the Recreation Authority board discussed only a few items during their short Thursday meeting, including a need to figure out how exactly the zoo and the the authority might assign ownership of some Savanna Hall furnishings.

AFCRA Executive Director Kerry Stewart was all smiles after the meeting, but said only, “I’m glad it’s behind us.”

Zoo Atlanta was looking for a vote as far back as September, as the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.  In the meantime, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, zoo management came up for heavy criticism by Alvin Kendall, a consultant to AFCRA and a close advisor to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Kendall suggested the zoo improperly let some contracts, something the zoo has disputed.

Kendall was not present during the Thursday board committee meeting.

Meanwhile, King said the hall is set to open for public events in February.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with the recreation authority as we work collaboratively to make Zoo Atlanta the world-class zoo our community deserves,” King wrote.

Savanna Hall will be a four-level facility totaling 57,000 square feet – not including the terraces. The event space will be on the third and fourth floors with estimated seating for at least 625 people (750 standing).

The entire African Savanna project is set to cost about $55 million. About $48 million is from private donations and the rest is the value of the historic tax credits.

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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