Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26: Jungle Island Needs To Untangle Its Financial Mess Before It Gets a Dime More

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A beloved tourist attraction for parrots has been gradually turning into the home of the white elephant.

Once upon a time, this story was simply supposed to be about more meeting and banquet space.

That was the argument Bern Levine made almost two decades ago about why Parrot Jungle needed to move away from its legendary Pinecrest site. A majority of Miami voters bought the argument in 1995, when they approved Parrot Jungle's relocation to Watson Island.

Parrot Jungle grew, with plenty of banquet space - but also with lots of animals beyond parrots and other birds, and changed its name to Jungle Island in 2007. And the admission price skyrocketed.

What hasn't grown is the attendance level. Its average number of visitors hasn't ever approached the 725,000 Levine once projected - even before the economy collapsed in 2008.

But still, Levine wants more from the city of Miami - more money and a hotel. Oh, yes, and the relocation of the city's Japanese Garden, which was created on Watson Island in 1961 as a gift to Miami from the founder of Japan's Ricoh Corporation and which has already been restored at least twice, after municipal neglect and hurricanes.

Aside from the plan's many faults, Levine's got lousy timing. Miami's still recovering, both from the economic crisis and the public debacle of providing much of the financing for the Miami Marlins' ballpark.

And Levine's spent a lot of time cashing in on the goodwill of South Floridians who have fond memories of the attraction Franz Scherr opened in 1936.

Now it's time for Levine to give back that investment. Jungle Island doesn't deserve one more dime from the city - or to continue to grow - until its money management and administration improve. The city of Miami should say "no" until then.

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