Commissioners Delay Vote on Fate of Miami's Jungle Island

Commissioners want to evaluate plan to save historic park

By Willard Shepard and Brian Hamacher
|  Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012  |  Updated 7:58 PM EDT
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Miami Commissioners on Tuesday delayed a vote on whether to save cash-strapped Jungle Island. The historic park on Watson Island which is home to rare primates and exotic birds may be in danger of going out of business due to a $25 million government loan that it can't afford to pay back. Jungle Island photographer Christian Cruz told NBC 6 he was concerned about losing his job.

Miami Commissioners on Tuesday delayed a vote on whether to save cash-strapped Jungle Island. The historic park on Watson Island which is home to rare primates and exotic birds may be in danger of going out of business due to a $25 million government loan that it can't afford to pay back. Jungle Island photographer Christian Cruz told NBC 6 he was concerned about losing his job.

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Jungle Island in Jeopardy

Jungle Island may be in danger of closing down. Commissioner Frank Carollo and Brian May from Jungle Island speak exclusively to NBC 6 on the issue.
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Miami Commissioners on Tuesday delayed a vote on whether to save cash-strapped Jungle Island.

The historic park on Watson Island which is home to rare primates and exotic birds may be in danger of going out of business due to a $25 million government loan that it can't afford to pay back.

The park got the loan guaranteed by the city and county to build the attraction, and so far the City of Miami has been forced to make $13 million in loan payments. The park still owes another $15 million on the HUD loan.

Jungle Island does make money, generating about $1 million a month in revenue, but owners say they can't afford to make any more payments.

Over 600 people are employed at the park and several of them attended Tuesday's commission meeting.

"I am very concerned about my job and our jobs, it's tough to find a job now," Jungle Island photographer Christian Cruz said. "Also, it's great for tourists who get a chance to come here and we hope they can reach an agreement. We are here to be supportive."

Commissioners on Tuesday said they want to save those jobs will have to evaluate a plan that is being presented by Jungle Island for a new lease.

The plan would involve a hotel and redevelopment, but even if the city approves it later, a state board would have to give its okay as well as voters.

"The park would be developed into a destination by incorporating a family oriented theme hotel into the park and a couple of more attractions into the jungle we have now," Jungle Island spokesman Brian May said. "In return for that we would basically pay off the HUD loan."

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said the current deal was one-sided and a bad marriage, and said she didn't want it to wind up like another historic Miami spot.

"We are not really talking about the future of this property," she said. "I don't want this to be another Miami Marine Stadium, that concerns me."

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