Lease secures location for zoo
Date: 11/3/2010Nov. 3, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD -- Comic legend W. C. Fields is said to have warned performers never to work with either children or animals. That advice also applies for elected officials who competed for attention with a llama and a baby spider monkey during the ceremonial signing of the new lease between the city and the Forest Park Zoological Society on Oct. 27.
The lease assures for the next 25 years, the Zoo in Forest Park will have a home in the city's premiere park.
Mayor Domenic Sarno, members of the Park Commission and board members for the Forest Park Zoological Society gathered under a tent in the center of the zoo for the signing, along with students from the nearby Sumner Avenue School.
The president of the board of the society, Scott Foster,, explained the process to draw up a new lease started almost two years ago. Although many people were involved in the effort, which required a Home Rule Petition to be approved by the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick, Foster acknowledged the assistance of Sarno, Executive Director of Parks, Facilities and Recreational Management Patrick J. Sullivan, and State Rep. Brian Ashe drafting the new lease.
For Ashe, who is serving his first term in the House, this was his first sponsored bill. He recounted how he grew up near the park and how much Forest Park and the zoo meant to him.
"For my first bill in the House, I couldn't ask for a better bill," he said.
Ronald Eckman, the vice president of the zoological society, explained the zoo was not an attraction just for the residents of Springfield, but for the Pioneer Valley. He noted that more than 100,000 visit the zoo annually.
Eckman explained to Reminder Publications that a current lease in place was necessary to insure funding from the private sources on which the zoo relies. A lease shows stability, he added.
Under the lease agreement, the society will pay a rental fee of $1 a year and the city will employ John Lewis as the zoo's director.