By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) – The Denver Zoo is getting ready to open and all it needs now is permission. The city received a variance request from the zoo on Thursday. Zoo officials hope to open before the safer-at-home order ends on May 27.

(credit: CBS)

“I think it’s important to feel like people are giving it an oversight and a look and both the city and the state will do that. When they feel we are ready and in a position to open, we’ll open,” said Bert Vescolani, President and CEO of the Denver Zoo.

When CBS4 spoke with Vescolani at the beginning of May, the zoo was making plans to open in a limited capacity. On Thursday, the work was almost complete.

From social distancing signage to hand sanitizing stations, if the zoo was given permission to open tomorrow, Vescolani says they’d be ready. The most noticeable difference for guests will likely be the bails of hay directing one-way traffic along with fewer people.

(credit: CBS)

“So we’ve set up a one directional flow so we don’t have cross traffic, we have a cap on attendance. All the tickets will be time tickets and they’ll all be done online so you won’t have big queues of people waiting to get in,” said Vescolani.

Guests will also have to get used to the health questionnaires and temperature checks, but for the most part Vescolani believes the community is ready.

“Our community has been reaching out to us in so many ways saying please open, let’s get open,” Vescolani said.

Once open, the zoo will be at half capacity, which Vescolani says amounts to around 4,000 people spread out over 80 acres. The biggest problem right now is the zoo isn’t even at half capacity.

“There’s no people and that people part is what we thrive on,” said Vescolani.

Every day without guests means hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

(credit: CBS)

“Conservation and education and animal care work all comes from that visitation and that’s a big portion of our revenues every year — the largest portion of our revenue. So, every day that we’re not open, every day that we miss that audience and that public, that reduces our ability to do the work that we do,” said Vescolani.

While he’s proud the zoo has figured out a way to safely let guests back, the lack of a firm opening date is stressful.

“We’ve been able to drag it out for a little bit … if we’re not able to open in June, things get really tough and we feel confident that that will be coming soon and we should be able to open but we’re concerned about that for sure,” said Vescolani.

The city did not give a timeline for the variance approval, but if it is approved it will go to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment for final review.

The Denver Zoo continues to push for donations to support the more than 3,000 animals who call it home. For more information, visit denverzoo.org/support/donate/.

Jamie Leary

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