Will Fowler's fame boost Chehaw? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Will Fowler's fame boost Chehaw?

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May 18, 2004

Albany - Wild Kingdom's Jim Fowler wants to take over the Chehaw zoo. "We need something there that is outstanding and unique that can turn the spotlight on Chehaw and Albany," said Fowler. The Albany native and animal expert says he can improve the zoo and save the city more than a million dollars a year.

Tuesday, Fowler asked Albany commissioners to lease him the zoo for a dollar a year. He would revamp the animal exhibits and maybe add a safari adventure ride. But Chehaw Park Authority members are upset Fowler didn't talk to them first about his plans.

"It's time for Chehaw Park to probably end the subsidies that the City has been handing out to it," said Fowler. He wants the city to lease the zoo to his non-profit agency the Fowler Center for Wildlife Education. "What we sell is adventure and education."

Fowler says adding new animal attractions and designing a drive-through safari would bring more visitors and money to the park. "I recommend that we don't turn it into a wildlife adventure like what's in Valdosta. I recommend we don't charge a lot of money. But, I do say we need something that's outstanding and unique."

Fowler's plans for the zoo came as a big surprise to Chehaw Park Authority members. Chairman Phil Franklin says Fowler talked with them about adding a drive-through safari, but then they never heard back from him. "We would love to have him associated with the park, " said Franklin. But in my opinion, it's not in our best interest to allow a private group to lease the park."

Franklin says the Authority is already seeking $3,000,000 in state funds so the park doesn't have to rely on city subsidies each year. The Authority, like Fowler, also has big plans for the park. "We have new facilities we're building every day. A lemur exhibit is about to open. We're also building a new eagle exhibit under construction now. The eagles would be able to fly freely," said Franklin.

The Authority wants attendance and revenues to fly too and realize Jim Fowler could help draw crowds and investors. They just hope the Albany native, with a big name, can tame his plans into their already evolving ecosystem.

Posted at 5:40PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com