Prices will soon increase to $20 for those twelve and older, $14 for children over three, and free for younger kids. Andrew Rowan, senior director of external relations for the zoo, says it last petitioned city council for a ticket-price increase four years ago, and it usually asks for price increases every three years.
"There were other things going on around the city the last couple of years," Rowan says, including the 2016 re-authorization effort for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and last year's GO Bond initiative. "We didn't want to cloud the message with price increases for those years. We thought it'd be prudent to wait."
A January 2017 audit by the City and County of Denver found that the zoo's manager, the Denver Zoological Foundation, and the city had not been complying with certain financial arrangements laid out in the Cooperative Agreement between the foundation and the city, which owns the zoo. (It falls under the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation.) According to the audit, the foundation was not reimbursing the city for costs associated with Career Service Authority employees — essentially HR employees — working at the zoo.
"Furthermore, we found that the City is appropriating monies for the purposes of Zoo utility payments into a City controlled special revenue fund, but is utilizing the money for CSA employees’ payroll and benefits expenses, a practice that is inconsistent with the Agreement," the report concluded. "We also found that the Foundation did not regularly submit its budget documentation in the past to DPR’s Executive Director as required by the Agreement."
Rowan says the additional $1 million in revenue a year will increase the zoo's bottom line of about $42 million by nearly 4 percent and will go mostly toward maintenance; those costs have increased 100 percent since 2014. Some will also go to deferred maintenance projects — like replacing HVAC systems — that the zoo has put off. Some of the $20 million voters approved for the zoo during last year's GO Bond initiative will go toward maintenance costs, as well. "It's a lot of stuff you don't see. It's not very sexy," Rowan says.
"The zoo is a city within a city," he adds. "We're not immune to the rising costs of goods and services, just like residents around the city aren't. We're a 121-year-old facility. Some of our infrastructure is 121 years old, some of it is 48 hours old."
Through its scholarship program, the zoo provides between $220,000 and $250,000 a year in admission fees to cover the cost of zoo visits for those who couldn't otherwise afford them. And this month the zoo will join other cultural institutions in Denver, including the Children's Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, in providing dollar admission to SNAP card holders.
How do the Denver Zoo's ticket prices stack up with those of other zoos around the country? Keep reading to find out (we've ranked the zoos from most to least affordable).