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Toronto Zoo seeking $5M loan from city for interactive light show

A new interactive light exhibit may be coming to the Toronto Zoo next winter, but only if it can persuade city council to approve a $5 million loan.

Zoo officials say the money would pay for the installation and raise awareness that the Scarborough facility is open year-round, according to a two-page proposal that will be considered at this week’s executive committee meeting. The light show, known as the “LuminaExperience,” would consist of interactive displays created by Montreal-based Moment Factory.

The zoo’s hope is the off-season attraction — a 45 to 60 minute walking tour through the zoo will run from October to March — will draw in a new demographic. CEO Dolf DeJong says he believes the light show could drive hundreds of thousands of visits over the next three years.

“This is an important initiative because what it does is highlight our mission,” DeJong told CBC Toronto.

“It highlights connecting people to the natural world and does it in a way that we believe people are going to be really excited about and come out and see.”

The money needed to create this multimedia exhibit isn’t included in the zoo’s $53 million operating budget for 2019, which was just approved by city council.

It’s unclear if the executive committee will support te project.

Mayor John Tory’s office said Tory is asking the city’s finance department to analyze the project ahead of the executive committee meeting.

“Mayor Tory recognizes that winter can present attendance challenges for Toronto attractions including the zoo,” Tory’s office said in an email statement.

“He understands that the zoo, like many other attractions around the city, is making a special effort to find innovative ways to use its public spaces year round and attract more visitors.”

Time travel, with lights

According to the city report, the light show will tell a story unique to the zoo, focusing on promoting conservation awareness.

“The guests are led through the experience as they travel forward in time,” the report says, adding the multimedia exhibit is designed to inspire guests to “improve how we share the earth with creatures.”

Moment Factory has created Lumina exhibits in Quebec and B.C., and also as well as around the world, in Japan and Singapore.

Attendance and revenue down in recent years

The Toronto Zoo has seen it’s attendance and revenue numbers decline in recent years. In 2018, it reported $5.7 million less than it budgeted and attendance numbers were also down by around 179,000 people. The zoo cited ‘poor weather’ as a contributing factor.

But DeJong does not anticipate weather will negatively impact this exhibit, because it will run during the off-season, allowing for more flexibility in case of severe weather.

“We want this to be something that’s accessible to people from all walks of life and gets them out to the zoo if they haven’t been in a while,” he said, adding tickets are expected to cost $15 per child and $25 for adults.

“Our goal is to bring people out to the zoo, to connect them to nature” he said, “We think we’ll see some people who haven’t visited the zoo in a long time.”

City council will make the final decision about the $5 million loan on March 27.

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