Miami's Jungle Island in Jeopardy

Mountain of debt could put historic park out of business

By Steve Litz
|  Wednesday, Jun 13, 2012  |  Updated 7:38 AM EDT
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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.

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's Jungle Island, one of South Florida's most unique animal attractions, is in serious debt and its future is in jeopardy, officials told NBC 6 Tuesday.

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.

"I think it's reality and it's not been a secret," spokesman Brian May said of the park going out of business. "Jungle Island has been telling the city and the county since February of 2011 that they would not be able to continue forward and make the payments on the HUD loan."

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.

Orangutans at Jungle Island Use iPads to Communicate

Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo said he's eager to hear a remedy.

"I have not looked at any of the proposals as of yet, however I can tell you that with this commissioner's vote, we will not continue to be making bad financial decisions," Carollo said.

Jungle Island isn't doing anything wrong and it has received payment deferrals from the city because of the attraction's lousy financial situation.

May said the park wants to present a plan for coming up with the money.

"All we're asking the city and the county is look, let us bring forward a plan that will pay off your debt going forward, allow you to participate in the project's profits going forward, and all we're asking is let the people of the City of Miami decide," May said.

Any proposed development on waterfront city-owned land requires a referendum, so voters in Miami may decide what the future holds for Jungle Island.

Jungle island has crafted a new lease agreement they say would keep them financially afloat. City officials will consider it at a special meeting later this month.

 

Easter Sunday at Jungle Island

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