By Jack Fink

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DALLAS (CBS11) – It’s now up to the Dallas City Council to decide whether to turn over management of Fair Park from the city to a private, non-profit group.

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But in 2009, with far less controversy, the council voted to hand over control of the Dallas Zoo to the Dallas Zoological Society, a non-profit group.

The city still owns the facility.

Tom Leppert was mayor at the time and remembers the council voted unanimously.  He credits the new management for establishing new exhibits at the zoo including Giants of the Savannah, and attracting record crowds.

For the first time last year, one million people visited the Dallas Zoo.

“There’s no way you’d be in the same position if those changes hadn’t been made,” said Leppert.  “Those changes were the genesis to the improvements we’ve seen financially and as a zoo.”

The zoo’s federal tax forms show the facility has gone from losing nearly $1.4 million in fiscal year 2010 to making more than $364,000 in fiscal year 2013.

Leppert says one key is the non-profit group operating the zoo can more easily raise money than when the city managed it.

“Clearly, the financing is important. You’ve get to raise funding with better messaging and people feel more comfortable because they can direct the money where they want it to go,” said Leppert.

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The former mayor also says the zoo has also attracted higher-caliber employees under its new management.

“There are people I’ve spoken to, world class hires, and they wouldn’t have come if it were still city controlled.”

Leppert says when the city relinquished control of the zoo, council members, community leaders, and zoo employees were all in agreement.

He says that needs to happen at Fair Park.

The former mayor says Fair Park would improve under management of a non-profit just as the zoo has.

He calls Fair Park under-utilized and under-optimized.

Francisco and Samantha Hoyos of Plano have come to the zoo for years, and now that they have an 18 month old son, they come more often. “He’s getting more attentive to the animals, to everything around him. We like him to see nature.”

The Hoyos family say they welcome the improvements at the zoo. “I feel like the animals here can roam now and I get to interact with them now.”

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