Public parking on the Toledo Zoo's south side will be a little cheaper and a little less frustrating in a few years, but it comes at a hefty price for the zoo.
The Toledo Zoological Society recently purchased a two-acre, undeveloped site north of its Broadway parking lot for $450,000 - more than three times the assessment of the Lucas County auditor's office, which values the riverfront tract at $130,000.
But for zoo visitors, and even visitors to nearby Walbridge Park, the investment is worth the cost because it will more than double the parking in a city-owned parking lot on the zoo's Broadway side, said Bob Harden, the zoo's chief operating officer.
The zoo's larger parking lot, located off the Anthony Wayne Trail, has 1,360 spaces, but the Broadway parking lot has closer access to the south side of the zoo.
Still, a boat ramp access road, among other things, limits the current Broadway parking to 138 spaces. Additionally, zoo visitors, including those with zoo memberships, must pay to park.
"It's going to be something that [zoo visitors] can use as well as those coming to Walbridge Park," Mr. Harden said of the future parking lot. Walbridge Park "is a beautiful park, but you need parking for that, too."
Mr. Harden said officials with Toledo's development department have an "agreement, at least conceptually," that the city would improve infrastructure at the site and operate the parking lot once it is finished.
But Mayor Jack Ford disagreed. "If the zoo ... improves it and uses it for a [parking] lot, that's their business," he said. "We can't spend tax dollars to improve properties we don't own."
The additional two acres was purchased from restaurateur John Mancy, whose company purchased the land in 1983 for $143,000, according to auditor's records. Mr. Mancy did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Funds for the purchase came from a 1-mill capital levy approved in 1995. That same levy built exhibits for polar bears, wolves, and, this summer, animals from the African grasslands.
But a portion of the funds had been set aside for real estate acquisitions, partly with expanded parking in mind, Mr. Harden said. It may be several years, however, before the parking lot is developed, he said.
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