County retains national zoo expert for Henry Vilas Zoo

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- A national consultant with more than 40 years of experience in the zoo and aquarium field was retained by Dane County to advise the Zoo during its fundraising transition period.

Mike Gill has worked on dozens of zoo and aquarium projects, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Milwaukee County Zoo, and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Michael T. Gill Visitor Services Consultant, LLC will work with Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo to facilitate a request for proposal process to secure a potential fundraising partner.

“We look forward to having Mike Gill come back to the Henry Vilas Zoo and provide his expertise during this transition period,” said Joseph Darcangelo, Deputy Director of the Zoo. “This framework the team develops will help guide us when we establish a relationship with a future fundraising partner.”

According to Dane County officials, the Zoological Society that’s currently in place has been encouraged to participate in that process and the county hopes the Society will consider this as part of ongoing dialogue about what the future may hold.

The Henry Vilas Zoological Society has worked with the zoo and raised money for it since 1914. Recently , negotiations between the non-profit and the County has come to an impasse. A contract is set to expire March 31.

According to county officials, Gill will help choose a team of outside experts to advise the zoo on national best practices for the most effective partnerships between zoos and groups that support them.

Gill previously worked with the Henry Vilas Zoo in the early 2000s to provide operational review of food and gift operations with recommendations for short and long-term improvements

The county will review structures and relationships of comparable zoos and their support organizations, and identification of publicly-owned zoos that are comparable to the Henry Vilas Zoo.

A review of the corporate organizational structure and financial success of support organizations at comparable zoos will be done, along with analysis of the channels of financial support between comparable zoos and their respective support organizations.

The next time the county will review a proposal from the Society will be after the team of outside professionals has issued their recommendations, and a report has been issued. County officials say this will be done as part of a public, competitive process.

Additionally, the zoo announced Monday that as an expression of gratitude to the community’s continuing support, carousel rides through the entire month of April will be free.