The Chattanooga City Council approved money for the Chattanooga Zoo expansion during Tuesday night's council meeting, as part of the city's five-year plan for capital improvements.
The total amount allocated in the city's budget for the zoo's new Africa exhibit is about $1 million over five years. This year, the city council approved $250,000 for the 2018 fiscal year. The total cost for the zoo's expansion is $10 million, and the zoo plans to raise the rest of that funding.
The expansion will create new jobs at the zoo and increase the zoo's educational capabilities through expanding classroom spaces. The exhibit will bring lions and giraffes, as well as a number of other species to Chattanooga.
But some are opposed to the expansion, taking to social media to voice their concerns with bringing more exotic animals to Chattanooga. One group, Chattanooga Opposed to Zoo Expansion, started a petition on Change.org to ask the City Council not to fund the expansion. The group's goal was to have 1,000 signatures before Tuesday night's council vote. As of Wednesday evening, the petition was 145 signatures shy of that goal.
Joel Willis, a Chattanooga resident, was present at Tuesday night's council meeting. His concerns were for the relocation of Powerhouse Gym that is currently located in Warner Park, the same area as the zoo.
"I know what a gym can do for someone's mental health and for a community," he said. "Especially for the seniors along McCallie that can walk there or take a bus there."
Willis said not everyone can afford a gym membership, but they can go to Powerhouse Gym for a dollar per day.
"The value of that for a place, especially near Lincoln Park and Citico, is immeasurable," he said. "And the value to our seniors — whose No. 1 problem is loneliness — who are going to lose a sense of community. I think we really need to take that into account versus capturing some more animals to put them in a cage."
Enora Moss, communications coordinator for the Department of Youth and Family Development, said the gym will continue regular operations until the zoo begins expansion efforts and it's time to relocate.
"We're excited that the zoo is expanding and, of course, we want to see Chattanooga grow economically," she said. "The biggest thing is that, right now, nothing is changing. We're not moving anything until we have a complete plan. Powerhouse is not shutting down."
Moss said community members will be notified of the relocation as soon as a concrete plan is in place.
The city's five-year capital improvement plan includes just over $473 million in funds for several capital projects — projects that cost over $25,000 and will last for more than one year. That money is divided over the course of five years, and each year the council votes to approve that year's budget. This year, $127 million was approved overall.
"This year's Capital Budget invests in important long-term projects that improve the delivery of services to citizens ..." Marissa Bell, a city spokeswoman, said in an email. "It also supports the long-range well-being of Chattanooga by funding significant infrastructure projects ..."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.