Zoo may dump youth ticket price

The cost to get into the San Francisco Zoo could increase by $4 for most patrons starting in September — and could nearly triple for teens who live in The City.

The zoo faces a $1.5 million revenue shortfall in the coming budget year, and is banking on a hike in ticket prices, along with more donations, to help cover ongoing operating costs.

If Recreation and Park commissioners approve the proposed fees Thursday, residents would pay up to $13 to get in the door, while nonresident tickets would cost up to $15.

In addition, Tanya Peterson, interim director of the San Francisco Zoo, has proposed doing away with a “youth” category for patrons ages 12 to 17 and charging anyone 13 and older the full adult fee. San Francisco youths currently pay $4.50 for admission.

“I’m concerned about removing the youth admission price,” Jim Lazarus, vice chair of the Recreation and Park Commission, told The Examiner. “Of all the changes, I think that’s the most problematic.”

The San Francisco Zoo took a number of financial hits — including a 10-day closure of the park and a drop in donor support — after one of its tigers escaped Dec. 25 and fatally mauled a teenager, according to zoo officials.

The zoo spent $1.7 million of its bond money to improve the tiger’s enclosure. In addition, its expenses for the 2007-08 budget year totaled $20.3 million while it brought in $18.8 million, including $4,173,000 from customers coming in the gates, according to spokeswoman Gwendolyn Tornatore.

“[We] require an admission fee increase to generate sufficient revenues to support the staffing, maintenance and cost of living increase to maintain a safe facility for the animals in our care, the visitors and staff,” Peterson said in a summary of the zoo’s 2008-09 budget, which also goes to the commission Thursday.

Zoo officials would not say how much additional revenue the new prices would bring in. The zoo last boosted ticket costs in March 2005.

Kari Fairchild, a Marin resident and zoo member who visits regularly with her 10-year-old son, said they would keep coming even if they had to pay full price.

“It’s a big jump, but when we go, it’s a whole-day event. It’s special,” Fairchild said. “If we lived in San Francisco and visited all the time, it might deter us.”

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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