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Dave Olson, Published January 21 2013

Fargo asked to partner with Red River Zoo, sign company in marketing push

FARGO – The Red River Zoo asked the city of Fargo on Monday to participate in a collaborative effort a zoo official said could be critical to the establishment’s future.

The plan was pitched to city commissioners by several organizers, including former Mayor Bruce Furness and the zoo’s executive director, Lisa Tate.

According to Tate, the plan could work something like this:

Newman Outdoor Advertising would provide the zoo with space on four billboards between April and August each year for 25 years.

The value of the advertising was estimated at $320,000 in today’s dollars.

Newman Outdoor Advertising would also provide the zoo with improved signage on the zoo’s grounds, including exhibit displays.

The value of those improvements was estimated at $8,000.

In return for the donated services, Newman Outdoor Advertising is looking to lease city property and set up sign structures at a number of locations around Fargo.

The company would pay the city $1,000 annually for each site, or provide the city with four 30-day posters per year per structure, whichever the city preferred.

The zoo, which opened in 1999, relies on admission revenue and philanthropic gifts to operate and its budget allows very little for advertising, Tate told city commissioners Monday.

She said the zoo’s long-term survival depends on enhancing its visibility, and to that end the zoo approached Newman Outdoor Advertising to explore a partnership.

She said the zoo knows advertising is effective because 64 percent of the zoo’s visitors are tourists and 23 percent of those tourists say they stopped because they saw the zoo’s highway signs.

Tate said the zoo experienced a record 80,000 visitors this fiscal year.

Newman Outdoor Advertising is interested in 11 city properties, according to a letter Tate sent the city, though it was unclear at Monday’s commission meeting how many sites the sign company would require for it to proceed with its donation to the zoo.

“It’s a big donation, perhaps the donation would be somewhat smaller if there were no sign locations available,” Russ Newman, a member of the family that owns the sign company, told commissioners.

City officials said some of the locations Newman Outdoor Advertising is interested in may not be suitable for signs under city code.

Commissioners voted to have the proposal sent to the city’s finance committee for review.

Commissioner Brad Wimmer said there was likely common ground to build some type of agreement upon.

“I would like to find that common ground,” he added.

Old McDonald’s

In other business Monday, commissioners voted to have the city’s financial consultant review a request for a tax break from a developer who plans to tear down a former McDonald’s restaurant on north Broadway and erect in its place a 24-unit apartment building.

Mark West, who made the request, stated in a letter to the city that the plan is to remove the existing buildings and parking lot at 3202 N. Broadway in order to build an apartment complex with underground parking and off-street parking.

The apartment building would have six one-bedroom apartments, 12 two-bedroom apartments and six three-bedroom units.

The building would have three stories above ground and an underground parking garage.

The project is seeking a total of $179,000 in tax breaks via tax-increment financing to cover things such as demolition, sidewalks and infrastructure and the difference of $54,700 between the assessed land value and the purchase price.

Also Monday, commissioners approved giving a one-time payment of $10,000 to River Keepers to help defray the cost of hiring two part-time workers, whose job it will be to clean up trash and work to control an invasive shrub called buckthorn.

The work aims to maintain improvements made to the river corridor last summer between Main Avenue and Oak Grove Park.

In addition to removing 80,000 pounds of brush and a ton of trash, the program resulted in a drop in the number of transient camps near the Red River, officials said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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