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Gering receives Discovery Center proposal
July 29, 2010 Jerry Purvis   

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A very preliminary proposal for operating the Riverside Discovery Center was presented to the Gering Recreation Committee last week.

Gering Mayor Susan Wiedeman cautioned that many of the proposal items could change as the city council starts looking at it. “We just have a preliminary proposal and we haven’t signed anything,” she said. “I really can’t comment on it yet as we’re just in the beginning stages of looking at the proposal.”

One item did jump out in the “Zoo Support and Operation Agreement.” Under the funding section, it states Gering “has agreed to provide $50,000 per fiscal year of the city for a period of 10 years following the date of the agreement.” The document further states “the center shall have the right to request additional funds from the city during any fiscal year,” although the city is not obligated to approve those.

“It might be a very nice project, but it’s something Gering just can’t afford,” said city council member Jill McFarland. “I’m very much against spending money from Gering to support a facility in Scottsbluff.”

McFarland said the city did make a donation to the Riverside Zoo for its major expansion several years ago. But since then, there has been no financial support.

Before the Riverside Discovery Center was proposed, funding for the Riverside Zoo was a budget item for the City of Scottsbluff. “Every year, we heard about the difficulty in funding that activity, but there are always options for how to streamline the operation,” McFarland said. “There are things they could do to make it viable financially.”

The Riverside Discovery Center proposal was drafted, in part, to move away from relying on city funding, with its yearly budget battles. The center was formed as a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. The proposed building project would expand the current zoo administrative building to include a gift shop, lobby, classrooms and a theater. Two new buildings would join the main center: a children’s museum called Children’s University, and a new building to house the collection of animal mounts currently on display at Wildlife World in Gering.

“The council was approached about the Riverside Discovery Center some time ago and we were shown a design for the buildings,” McFarland said. “They told us there would probably be a request for money in the future.”

She said the upcoming budget, currently being developed by the city, leaves the tax asking at last year’s level. Support for the center would have to be done through an additional revenue source or something in the budget would have to be eliminated.

“We’d be spending a half million dollars over the next 10 years for this unless some other revenue source materializes,” McFarland said. “The economy isn’t going to change right away. We’re not going to get some amazing influx in user fees or utility revenues or sales tax. I can’t envision an increase anywhere for several years.”

McFarland said the Recreation Committee had discussed several projects the city needed if funding was available. Some included a new swimming pool and expansion of the baseball facilities. The Riverside Discovery Center proposal came up at the end of the meeting.

The proposal would need to be reviewed by numerous city officials and council members before any decision could even be made.
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