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Government watchdog concerned public didn't get input on children's zoo closure

The children's zoo was designed for interactive experiences, which are a concern during the pandemic

ST. LOUIS — Looking around the zoo, you'll see everyone wearing masks, just one way COVID-19 has changed their operations. But at the end of October, another change: Leaders recently announced they'll be closing the Emerson Children's Zoo. And not everyone is happy with the way that decision was made.

RELATED: Saint Louis Zoo to close children’s zoo permanently

"After all, the taxpayers provide nearly $50 million a year to the zoo so they should have some say in how the zoo is operated," Tom Sullivan said.

Sullivan, a county resident, is concerned taxpayers didn't have a voice in the change at the taxpayer-funded attraction, whose records show the zoo got closer to $40m in taxpayer money last year after the 2018 Prop Z tax increase went into effect.

"At the time there was no discussion or talk about closing the children's zoo and I think that might've had an effect on the vote if there had been," he said.

RELATED: Prop Z passes, will raise taxes to help the Saint Louis Zoo

Billy Brennan, a spokesman for the zoo, said the decision was based on health and safety concerns, adding the 51-year-old attraction hasn't been operating as designed during the pandemic since so much of the experience was about bringing animals and guests together with staff with volunteers.

"Our decision to close the children's zoo was a tough one, however, it was the smart one to do," Brennan said.

Brennan said the zoo was hit financially during their 80-day closure because people weren't making on-site purchases, and there's also the concern about what the future of philanthropy looks like too. 

As they prepare to close the children's zoo, they're already preparing a temporary replacement with animatronic dinosaurs. As for any permanent replacement, Brennan said they will take public input on that.

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