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“This is the next big thing”: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens planning huge changes, but needs City funding to do it
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“This is the next big thing”: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens planning huge changes, but needs City funding to do it

“This is the next big thing”: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens planning huge changes, but needs City funding to do it
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

“This is the next big thing”: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens planning huge changes, but needs City funding to do it

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens of the future is poised to be better for animals, visitors, and business overall, but it hinges on City funding to carry out the full vision.

WOKV previously told you Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed Capital Improvements Program includes $25 million in City borrowing over the next five years, to be matched by the Zoo with private funds. As the City Council Finance Committee prepares to explore that funding pitch, we’ve learned the $50 million total would go toward implementing the Zoo’s new Master Plan- which could take ten years or more- but would create a true destination, and model for the industry. 

“This will be a Zoo that just can’t be ignored. There won’t be a way to not recognize that this is one of the best zoos in the country, in what I think is one of the best communities in the country,” says JZG Executive Director Tony Vecchio. 

Master Plan development 

Vecchio says the Master Plan was completed about six months ago, around eight months of development. It reflects the growth they’ve seen in visitors, as well as the continued evolution in zoo culture overall. 

Over the last ten years, Vecchio says the Zoo has doubled its visitor count, which now reaches about one million people each year. He says the Zoo was not designed for that type of capacity, and they’re expecting the growth to continue, so a big part of this plan is expanding the Zoo’s footprint, but within the area they already have. The Zoo property is more than 120 acres, with only 90 developed. This new plan would develop all but a few acres of their existing site. 

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
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Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Master Plan

Photo Credit: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

The new exhibits would reflect an evolving culture around what Vecchio calls “wellness inspired design”. He says zoos started to get a better understanding of the physical and health needs of animals in the 1970s and 1980s, including their diets, the space they need, and more. In the 1990s and ever since, he says the focus has been on the mental wellbeing of an animal- providing enrichment and mental stimulation. Now, he says they’re looking at the emotional health, including how to make sure an animal really thrives in the zoo setting. 

“The better we make the Zoo for animals, the better it is for our visitors, and that’s just good for business,” he says. 

The Zoo doesn’t yet have a price tag for the entire development, because they’re still lining up the funding, but Vecchio says they believe it would exceed the proposed $50 million partnership with the City. The proposal is $5 million each of the next five years from the City, which the Zoo would have to match in private dollars annually. 

The City only makes up about 5% of the Zoo’s operating budget, according to Vecchio, but this capital investment has the potential to create more revenue for them in the future. 

“They’re investing in us in a way that will allow us to grow our capacity to generate more revenue. So, if we have a bigger, better Zoo, more people will come, we can make more money that will pay for our operations,” he says. 

Without the City dollars, he says this plan will not happen. 

“We can do something, because we have a lot of donors who love the Zoo and have supported us. We just built the African Forest exhibit we’ll be opening in the next couple of weeks. So we can continue to do things… not at this scale. This is a big- this is the next generation of our Zoo. This is the next big thing. And it will take the City and the community coming together to make this happen,” he says. 

He says the public-private partnership the Zoo has with the City is a model for the industry, and they want to ensure that stays strong. 

Traffic, parking, and Zoo entry 

A big focus in enhancing your experience would happen even before you make it through the front entrance. 

Vecchio says the traffic flow and parking on the Zoo property has been problematic. In fact, he says there are about 25 days each year that the parking lots reach capacity, and people wind up parking along Zoo Parkway, which could be dangerous. 

The Master Plan addresses this in its first phase, including expanding Zoo parking to more than one thousand spaces. 

When you’re ready to get in to the Zoo, you’ll find a new entrance, under the Master Plan. The entrance would essentially switch with where the education center is currently, which puts it in a more central location. Currently, the only way to explore the Zoo is to walk down a long path toward the end, detouring for exhibits along the way, and then coming back down that same path. Under the Master Plan, you would choose at the entrance whether you want to do the North Loop or the South Loop- or both. 


For families who only want to spend an hour or two at the Zoo, or who visit frequently- like the more than 20,000 Zoo members- this would mean the option to do one loop one day, and the other during their next visit, where the current design doesn’t have any clear way to avoid a full-day experience. 

The new entrance would also feature a restaurant, to expand on the food options currently offered by the small snack bar there now. A Zoo shop would remain at the entrance as well. 

Exhibits 

The Zoo entrance right now lacks a “first impression exhibit”- something that greets you right when you walk in. The Master Plan would change that in a big way. 

The new entrance is proposed to have a manatee exhibit, which would include below-water viewing. 

“That’s a species that says Florida better than anything else, and it also highlights our conservation and animal wellness mission as well,” Vecchio says. 

The Zoo currently has a Manatee Critical Care Center that takes in and rehabilitates injured manatees, but there are no consistent viewing opportunities with that for the public. This new exhibit could bring visitors a unique look at the animal, while also teaching about what they do at the Zoo and efforts to conserve manatees. 

Aside from that, Vecchio says- of all the exhibits- they really want to be able to hang their hat on one key area. 

“We want to be the Zoo that’s known for great cat exhibits- the big cats,” he says. 

Stephanie Brown
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Land of the Tiger at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

When they debuted the “Range of the Jaguar”, it was nationally acclaimed. The same happened with the “Land of the Tiger”. Next up are the lions, which would get a completely new exhibit under the Master Plan. Like the other big cats, this exhibit would be “wellness inspired”, by providing the lions more opportunities to stretch, explore, and interact with their food and keepers in different ways. 

The upgraded lion exhibit could also help bolster one of the Zoo’s revenue-generating areas- catering and event space. Currently, the Zoo’s event space does not have any special or unique view, but the Master Plan would have it directly overlooking the lion exhibit. 


“Wild Florida” would see a complete overhaul. Vecchio says this is one area in the Zoo right now that the staff had to piece together, so it suffices, but does not really showcase the animals. That would change, under the Master Plan. 

Some of the other exhibit space would test new ways to showcase the animals, by being built to accommodate different species. In the African Savanna area, Vecchio says they hope to build flex exhibit space that can sometimes show elephants and sometimes show giraffes. Not only does this lean in to the “wellness inspired design” by providing the animals fresh and changing exhibit spaces to explore, but it provides people a different experience visit-to-visit- and sometimes even hour-to-hour- because the keepers can rotate the animals through different exhibit spaces. 

While those changes largely deal with the animals the Zoo already has, there is also an expansion planned for the Asia area, including creating a new Orangutan Reserve- which is an animal the Zoo does not currently have. They may also bring in other large mammals for that expanded area, with interest especially high on a species of bear. 

The new African Forest exhibit is poised to open at the end of this month. This project serves as a transition, of sorts, between the Zoo’s last Master Plan and the new one that’s poised to begin, because it also features the wellness focus and enrichment opportunities for the animals. The gorillas have been out of sight for about a year, as part of the Great Apes area closure to get this project done, but Vecchio thinks visitors will be thrilled when they see the results. 

In all, Vecchio says they’re proposing overhauling, upgrading, or moving- or a combination- about half of their exhibits. 

Education 

The Zoo serves 100,000 school kids every year through field trips, camps, and other program, according to Vecchio. They want that to continue growing. 

The education campus would essentially swap its location with where the main entrance is now. They’re also looking to add a “Nature Play Zone” on the property, but outside of the main gate, as a supplement to the education programs. 

The Zone would give urban youth an opportunity to connect with nature, according to Vecchio. It would feature treehouses, a rock climb, canoeing, kayaking, repelling, and more. The area where the Zone would be constructed is currently woods, and they would keep that natural feel. 

Vecchio says their at-risk youth program specifically seizes on opportunities like this Zone, but also continues to thrive in the rest of the Zoo setting. They give these kids environmental education, including handling program animals, in an effort to spark an interest and passion. Vecchio says many of the youth then become mentors and educators themselves, not only in the programs, but also in their own communities. He believes it’s important to have that multi-generation cycle in place, so that at-risk youth can see people who were in their situations, thriving on a different path. 


The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is poised to get $25 million in capital funding to carry out their new Master Plan. I’m taking a closer look:

Posted by Stephanie Brown, News 104.5 WOKV on Thursday, August 2, 2018

Other attractions 

With the new two-loop design, Vecchio says they decided each loop should have a feature. 

The North Loop would feature a reconfigured train route. The Zoo took the feedback they were getting from visitors who felt parts of the train ride weren’t really showcasing the exhibits. The new, smaller loop would be more interactive with the exhibits and have a tunnel feature. The train itself is also slated for upgrades. 

They haven’t yet landed on what the South Loop’s attraction may be, but two of the options most talked about include a zip line or a Ferris wheel. 

The train will remain a paid feature and the South Loop exhibit would be as well. Some specialized areas and attractions would also require an additional fee, but Vecchio says they’ve otherwise listened to other visitor feedback and plan to keep the stingray exhibit free. 

The Master Plan also includes up to half a dozen “pocket gardens” added along the River in the South Loop, to truly showcase the “Gardens” element of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Vecchio says they landed on putting more garden space there, because if there is flooding from the River, that would have a less substantial impact on the gardens than on an exhibit- so they felt it was the wisest use of the area. 

That rework would also see an art gallery and café added. Vecchio says they’ve made a push to promote arts and culture, so this would give them space to showcase specifically wildlife-driven art, including many local artists, in a rotating exhibit space. 

Also in that area, Vecchio says they are looking to increase interactivity and educational experiences dealing with the St. Johns River. He says that’s an untapped resource for them right now, but a unique one that the Zoo should be doing more with, and among the plans is a “living shoreline” involving visible shoreline restoration. 

Another new feature would be a veterinary hospital that will be open to the public to see. Vecchio says this is yet another educational experience that was untapped, so they are now looking at how to maximize the exposure of what they do at the Zoo every day. 

Next steps 

The big priority right now for the Zoo is making their case to the City Council for why this proposed funding should be approved. 

“They’re not taking a chance, they’re making an investment,” he says. 

The Finance Committee will hear from the Zoo in the coming weeks, and will approve the final City budget and Capital Improvements Program before the start of the next fiscal year October 1st. 

If the Council signs on, then Vecchio says they get to work on fundraising the private funding to match the public dollars. 

“This is great for the City to really step in and support the Zoo at a major level. I think they’re doing it in a very smart way, in that it’s a match. So the money is there, if the community shows that they want the money to be there,” he says. 

They’ve had several recent successful fundraising campaigns, and Vecchio is confident they can do it again, because the donors understand the impact the Zoo has not only now, but in the future. 

“We will not just be a community Zoo, we will be a regional attraction,” he says. 

It’s too early to say if the Zoo would seek additional support past the five-year City pledge, with Vecchio expecting full implementation of the Master Plan to take around ten years, or longer.

WOKV continues to work through the budget and CIP proposed by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. Stay with us as we learn more from those spending plans.

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  • Sara Krauseneck was 3 years old the day her mother was found dead with an ax blade embedded in her skull. Now 41, Sara Krauseneck stood by her father’s side Friday as he walked into an upstate New York courtroom to face charges that he killed Cathleen Schlosser Krauseneck and left their then-toddler daughter to spend the day alone with her mother’s dead body. James Krauseneck Jr., 67, of Peoria, Arizona, is charged with second-degree murder in Cathleen Krauseneck’s Feb. 19, 1982, slaying. The 29-year-old wife and mother was found slain in the bedroom of the couple’s Brighton, New York, home. Cathleen Krauseneck’s sister, Annet Schlosser, told MSN via phone on Friday that the charges against her former brother-in-law were long-awaited by her family. “My family will see justice for Cathy, we hope,” Schlosser said. “We still have a way to go yet with the trial, but this is a huge step forward.” James Krauseneck pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Friday. He was released on $100,000 bail and was ordered to surrender his passport. “This is one of the worst outcomes of domestic violence that this agency has investigated,” Brighton Police Chief David Catholdi said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “And this was domestic violence.” >> Read more trending news Catholdi was surrounded by local, state and federal law enforcement officers, both active and retired, who worked on the 37-year-old homicide case. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of investigative hours went into this case over the last few decades,” Catholdi said. Ultimately, it was the assistance of renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden that led to the murder charge against James Krauseneck, who claimed he was at work when his wife was killed. Baden conducted a thorough review of the timeline of Cathleen Krauseneck’s death, the police chief said. “We believe in examining the timeline of events, speaking with witnesses and James’ timeline -- that he provided -- along with all other evidence, we will establish that James Krauseneck Jr. was home at the time of the murder,” Catholdi said. Baden, who briefly served as chief medical examiner for the City of New York in the late 1970s, chaired the forensic pathology panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which probed both the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the decades since then, he has testified in numerous high-profile cases -- often for the defense -- including the murder trials of former football great O.J. Simpson and record producer Phil Spector. Now a private forensic pathologist, Baden most recently spurred controversy for disputing the official claim that disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in his jail cell Aug. 10. Baden said multiple broken bones in Epstein’s neck pointed instead to manual strangulation. Jeremy Bell, a special agent with the FBI, said he hopes Friday’s charge against James Krauseneck brings some closure to the victim’s family, but also that it puts other suspected criminals on edge. “I hope it puts criminals everywhere on notice: Just because the years go by doesn’t mean you can stop looking over your shoulder,” Bell said. “We’re coming.” Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley thanked the Brighton officers in a Facebook statement for never giving up on solving the Krauseneck case.  “I want to thank the Brighton Police Department, who has worked with the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office since 1982, for never giving up on finding justice for Cathleen Krauseneck,” Doorley wrote. “We look forward to bringing this case through the criminal justice system and finally bringing justice to Cathleen, her friends and family.” A shocking crime  Catholdi said police officers responded to the Krauseneck home at 33 Del Rio Drive in Brighton around 5 p.m. Feb. 19, 1982, after a neighbor called 911. The officers were ultimately led into the master bedroom of the family’s home, where they found a grisly scene. Cathleen Krauseneck was dead, the victim of a single blow to the head with an ax. The blade of the wood-cutting tool, which was taken from the couple’s unlocked garage, was still embedded in her forehead. The handle of the ax had been wiped clean, testing would later show. “What followed was an extensive investigation that led Brighton police officers, Brighton investigators and Brighton chiefs of police across the United States to Mount Clemens, Michigan; Fort Collins, Colorado; Lynchburg, Virginia; Gig Harbor, Washington; and Houston, Texas,” Catholdi said. The Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester reported that James Krauseneck told police he found his wife dead when he came home from his job as an economist at Eastman Kodak Co. At the time, Cathleen Krauseneck’s estimated time of death could not be pinpointed to before or after 6:30 a.m., when James Krauseneck said he left for work. Krauseneck said his wife was asleep, but alive, when he left their home that morning, the Democrat & Chronicle reported. Investigators, who found a window broken from the outside, initially theorized that Cathleen Krauseneck was killed during a botched burglary, but nothing was reported stolen from the home. Along with the ax, a maul used for splitting wood was taken from the garage and, investigators theorized, was used to smash the window. Their investigation shifted, however, to the possibility of a domestic situation that turned deadly. The couple had been married since 1974, Catholdi said Tuesday. The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, reported that the couple attended high school together but began dating as students at Western Michigan University. According to Cathleen Krauseneck’s family, the couple lived in Colorado and Virginia before settling in their home in Brighton, the News Tribune reported. The victim’s family told the newspaper the couple began having problems in Brighton after James Krauseneck, then 30 years old, was accused at work of lying about having earned a doctorate. He also reportedly told administrators at Lynchburg College, where he was an assistant professor of economics, that he had a doctorate, the Democrat & Chronicle reported in 2016. Cathleen Krauseneck had confronted her husband about the alleged lies, her family told authorities. Neighbors and friends also indicated there may have been domestic abuse in the couple’s relationship, according to police officials. The Democrat & Chronicle reported in 2017, when the former Krauseneck home went on the market, that Cathleen Krauseneck was not the first resident of the house to die there. In 1977, five years before the killing, homeowners Dr. Anthony Schifino and his wife, Estelle, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The newspaper reported that the couple accidentally left their car running in the garage.  Authorities said James Krauseneck participated in a police interview the night his wife was found dead but failed to show up for a follow-up interview the next day. Investigators learned he had taken his daughter and moved to his Michigan hometown of Mount Clemens. Investigators went to Michigan to speak to James Krauseneck. The News Tribune reported that, although he agreed to have a child psychologist talk to his young daughter about what she may have witnessed, that appointment never took place. According to the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, New York, Sara Krauseneck initially told police she saw a “bad man” in the room with her mother and said the man had a hammer. She was not allowed to speak to authorities again, however.  James Krauseneck also stopped cooperating with police, as did his family, authorities said. “They’re all reluctant to offer information,” a Brighton detective told The Macomb Daily in a 1985 article, according to the News Tribune. “It’s like Cathleen was murdered, taken off the face of the Earth, and no one wants to help.” James Krauseneck later moved to Gig Harbor, just outside of Tacoma. Investigators from Brighton spoke to him there in April 2016, the News Tribune reported. He retained attorneys in both Washington and New York at that time. Two days after detectives left Washington, James Krauseneck and his wife -- his fourth at that point -- put their home up for sale, the newspaper reported. The couple moved to Arizona after he retired as vice-president from what his attorneys described in a statement as a Fortune 500 company. James Krauseneck’s wife, Sharon Krauseneck, was also in court with him Friday. Watch the entire Brighton Police Department news conference below.  ‘Not a proverbial smoking gun’  Retired Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson began taking a fresh look at the Krauseneck homicide case in 2015, Catholdi said Tuesday. Agents with the FBI’s Cold Case Working Group digitized the boxes of handwritten case notes and other evidence. “In 1982, there were not computers,” Henderson said Tuesday. “Our files, our paperwork was not digitized. One of the first things that the FBI did was to convert everything from handwritten paper to digital, searchable files.” Investigators had a theory, an “idea which way to go,” Henderson said. They met with Doorley, the district attorney, whose own investigators began looking into the case. “This path was over a number of years,” Henderson said. “When I heard that there was an arrest made, an indictment that was going to be unsealed on Friday, I knew that it would lead to the husband of the individual.” No one piece of evidence has led investigators to charge James Krauseneck, Catholdi said. “I understand people want a singular piece of evidence that can directly point to James Krauseneck Jr.,” Catholdi said. “This is not one of those cases.” The chief said the “totality of the circumstances,” along with the evidence and the timeline of events led to James Krauseneck’s arrest. FBI testing showed no DNA from anyone but James Krauseneck on any of the evidence gathered 37 years ago. “DNA, fingerprints, or the lack thereof, can speak volumes,” Catholdi said. “James lived at 33 Del Rio Drive, and one would suspect his DNA would be in his house. “It is telling no other physical evidence at the scene, to include DNA, points to anyone other than James Krauseneck Jr.” Catholdi said Baden’s timeline will be crucial to the case when it comes up for trial. “There’s not a proverbial smoking gun,” he said. “What really cinched the case was the fresh look at it.” James Krauseneck’s attorneys, Michael Wolford and William Easton, dispute there is any evidence linking their client to Cathleen Krauseneck’s murder. “Jim’s innocence was clear 37 years ago. It’s clear today,” the attorneys said in a written statement. “At the end of the case, I have no doubt Jim will be vindicated.” Wolford and Easton said James Krauseneck was cooperative with the investigation, “repeatedly giving statements to the police, consenting to the search of his home and his car.” Wolford, who represented Krauseneck at the time of the killing, said he placed “reasonable conditions” on further questioning once he realized his client was the target of the investigation. William Gargan, who heads the domestic violence unit for the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, countered the attorneys’ claims that their client cooperated with police. “I think the word ‘cooperation’ may have a different meaning for Mr. Wolford than it does for me and the Brighton Police Department,” Gargan said Tuesday. Gargan also disputed Wolford and Easton’s description of the prosecution, which they called “misguided” in their written statement. “I can tell you that there has been only one thing that DA Doorley, the Brighton Police Department and the town of Brighton have sought to do. And that is to seek the truth, wherever the facts, wherever the evidence may lead them,” Gargan said. ‘To have her die like that is so unfair’  Catholdi said Tuesday that following James Krauseneck’s arraignment, he, Henderson and other members of the investigative team called the victim’s family to tell them of the arrest. “They were grateful for our efforts and plan to attend the upcoming trial next year,” Catholdi said. Catholdi closed his comments with a statement that now-deceased Brighton Police Chief Eugene Shaw made to a newspaper in February 1983, days before the first anniversary of Cathleen Krauseneck’s death. “I’m not known to be a pessimist, so I’d say optimistically, hopefully, yes,” Shaw said when asked if the case would end in a successful prosecution. Catholdi expressed his own optimism about the outcome of a trial, which is tentatively slated for next summer. “Please know that the police across this region will never forget our victims,” Catholdi said. “These cases stay with us forever. “We know we are the only ones able to speak for victims. We will investigate cases like this as long as it takes, and we will use all of our investigative abilities to bring justice for victims and their families.” Henderson said Tuesday that the crime had a significant impact on the community, the Police Department and Shaw, who was never able to forget the unsolved case. “I know that the inability to bring this case forward really weighed heavily on Chief Shaw,” Henderson said. Henderson said he did not “reopen” the case in 2015 because it was never closed. Tips and prospective leads came in through the years and each was investigated, he said. In 2015, an FBI agent approached investigators about the FBI’s Cold Case Working Group, offering its services on any unsolved cases the department might have, Henderson said. Henderson said the department decided to start from “ground zero” on the case, working in conjunction with the FBI group. The retired chief said he met with the Schlosser family in 2015 at their home in Michigan. “I talked about the commitment that the town of Brighton was going to make to a fresh look at this case,” Henderson said. He and Brighton police Detective Mark Liberatore, the lead investigator on the case, sat across the dining room table from Cathleen Krauseneck’s parents, Robert and Theresa Schlosser. Theresa Schlosser has since died but Robert Schlosser, now 92, has lived to see an arrest made in his daughter’s killing.  “I assured them that we would be looking at this case, that we would commit every resource that we had in 2015 and 2016 … and that justice would be served for their daughter Cathleen,” Henderson said. Annet Schlosser watched the news conference Tuesday from her home in Warren, Michigan. She told the Press & Sun-Bulletin that her family initially thought James Krauseneck incapable of killing her older sister. His lack of cooperation with investigators made them think twice. “Why would a man ... not try to seek justice for his wife?” Schlosser said. “That never made sense to us. “It’s been 37 years. I would say that it was at least 20 years ago that we started to think he did it.” Schlosser told the newspaper James Krauseneck turned her niece against the Schlosser family, whose members have gone years without seeing Sara Krauseneck -- or her two children.  “They’re no longer part of our life, and that’s devastating to us,” she said. In 2016, Schlosser described her sister for the Democrat & Chronicle as her best friend, despite a 10-year age difference. “She was the most genuine, intelligent, loving person,” Schlosser said. “There isn’t a bad word that you can think about when describing my sister, and to have her die like that is so unfair.”
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