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Jungle Island Puts Expansion Plans On Hold

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Jungle Island Logo (Source: http://www.jungleisland.com)

Jungle Island Logo (Source: http://www.jungleisland.com)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After telling the city for months that a major expansion was what they needed to get back in the black, Jungle Island has done an about-face.

“Jungle Island has made the decision to put its expansion plans on hold and reconsider our options for the future at this time,” said spokeswoman Ashley Serrate in a statement. “We plan to continue to meet obligations and will continue to be one of the icons for the City of Miami and Miami-Dade county.”

Jungle Island has been in negotiations with the city after realizing they were short on a $2 million federal loan payment due in August. If they fail to make the payment, Miami and Miami-Dade County are on the hook for up to $40 million in federal, city and county loans.

The Watson Island park thought they had a workable solution when they found a private investor who is willing to help with the loan payment. Unfortunately, there was a catch. The investor was only willing to help if Miami extended the park’s lease for another 50 years and allowed it to expand

City officials had expressed concern about giving Jungle Island a better financial deal or expanding the property it controlled while it was having trouble paying bills with the income generated by the property it already manages. Some commissioners felt they were being strong armed into a deal that would preserve the attraction at the expense of taxpayers.

Jungle Island’s neighbors at the adjacent Miami Yacht Club were surprised by the announcement at commission.

“Stunned is probably a better word.  Because jungle island is right next door to us and you think it would be pretty simple for them to involve us earlier on.” yacht club member Rick Tobin said.

“I’ve been in the club six years and it’s changed my life,” member Roy Summersett told CBS4 News as he sat at a club table overlooking the bay.

When Summersett heard the news he leaned over to his daughter and smiled. “That’s good news, right!” he told her.  She smiled back with a sense of relief.  And while many at the Yacht Club are celebrating Jungle Islands decision most believe this is likely not over.  “Whatever they do, they are going to get a fight.”  Summersett said.

When Summersett heard the news he leaned over to his daughter and smiled. “That’s good news, right!” he told her.  She smiled back with a sense of relief.

And while many at the Yacht Club are celebrating Jungle Islands decision most believe this is likely not over.

“Whatever they do, they are going to get a fight.”  Summersett said.

Since Jungle Island opened its new doors on Watson Island nine years ago thousands have posed with parrots, alligators and other wonderfully wild creatures. The company blamed a sour economy and port tunnel project for poor park attendance.

The attraction has struggled over the years, taking loans and deferring rent payments to get by.

Park owner Bern Levine told CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald that one of the ways they could get back on their financial feet was to expand so they can attract a hotelier, restaurants and retailers to the property. He’d also like the city and county to forgive nearly $26 million in debts and instead work out a profit-sharing arrangement.

Jungle Island began as Parrot Jungle back in 1936 and became known for its colorful array of exotic birds. In those days, the attraction was located Pinecrest. After the move to Watson Island, the park was renamed in 2007.

In order to move to the larger, more centrally located location, Jungle Island secured a $25 million loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both the city and the county agreed to serve as guarantors. The park was able to defer payments on the HUD loan until this year. It also got the city to agree to amend their 60 lease so that rent payments could also be deferred.

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