MIAMI (CBS4) – In an effort to ‘set the record straight’, Jungle Island took out a full page ad in the Miami Herald to answer questions about their fiscal feasibility.
In the ad, park owner Bern Levine, writes that they’ve worked with both the city and county to pay off millions of dollars in debt. He adds that they have paid over $11 million towards their mortgage.
More importantly, Levine writes that they’ve created jobs in the community. When they moved from Pinecrest to Watson Island their employee roll expanded from about 35 to more than 600 employees.
Levine also addressed certain critical remarks made about him in the paper.
“In response to the baseless insinuation by some within a recent Miami Herald article that I am personally funneling money out of the project, I would like to offer a few accurate facts to convey that this is far from the truth,” writes Levine. “To begin with, my partner and I have personally invested $21.8 million into the park, which is verified by independent auditors. Because I am often working in the park with animals, I am required to take a salary so I can be covered by worker’s compensation. My annual salary for my regular seven day work week amounts to just $10,000 per year.”
Just last week Jungle Island announced that they were putting their push for expansion on hold after they could not reach a deal with the city.
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.
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.