A board member for the Friends of the Zoo told City Council members Tuesday the group would take over complete control of the Chattanooga Zoo, but it first would like a $1.7 million city loan made into a one-time appropriation.
"We will take care of one of the city's best assets," said Robin Derryberry, board member and president of Derryberry Public Relations.
Friends of the Zoo and the city are negotiating an agreement between the two bodies for the takeover by the nonprofit group. But Derryberry told council members Tuesday they fear taking the zoo with the $1.7 million debt hanging over their heads.
Derryberry said stipulations in the current contract say the city automatically could take the zoo over if the Friends of the Zoo misses payments. City officials said the Friends of the Zoo has paid $300,000 so far on its debt, but because of the economy has missed some payments.
Daisy Madison, the city's chief financial officer, said Mayor Ron Littlefield signed off on allowing the payments to be deferred.
"The administration had no intention of crippling the zoo's ability to operate," she said.
Derryberry told the council that there were several alternatives on getting a contract pushed forward they could sign off on. Forgiving the debt is one, she said.
City officials also said there is the possibility that wording could be changed within the contract itself so Friends of the Zoo would not be held liable.
Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said he thought the two bodies would be better served coming together separately.
"I think this is an inappropriate place to negotiate a lease," he said.
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