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Proposals sought for Monkey Island

November 3, 2017 GMT

MICHIGAN CITY — The Michigan City Park Board is discussing possible renovations to the historic Monkey Island.

These changes, which include restoring the structure to a more attractive state and eliminating any safety hazards, were discussed Wednesday during the board’s regular meeting.

Park and Recreation Superintendent Jeremy Kienitz said he would like to start researching proposals for an assessment to the structure, which was installed in 1933, because he, like many others, see it as a historical aspect of Washington Park Zoo. Additionally, he said Monkey Island has been on the list of Works Progress Administration buildings in Michigan City that needs to be restored.

“I think having Monkey Island in the zoo is something we should look into. If it’s determined down the road that this can not be restored, then we will have that conversation, but at least we will have the assessment to give us a direction to move forward,” he said. “I think it’s very important to understand what type of damage has been done and the extent of it, what it would take to restore that exhibit and if it’s something we’re going to be able to do.”

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He added that the renovation could also bring in more visitors and boost revenue for the city over time.

“Monkey Island is a very important and historical landmark within the zoo and I think that if we could somehow restore it in the next one to two years and if funding is available, I think economically it would be a huge attraction for those who visit,” he said.

Park and Recreation Board President Chris Chatfield agreed that renovating Monkey Island could bring in more visitors, however, Chatfield said the city needs to focus on what we can do with the structure at this time.

“What we need to talk about is how it is today and what we need to do with the existing platform that it’s on, what we can do to create a more attractive attraction and what we can do at an inexpensive cost,” he said.

Chatfield also discussed the safety hazards that Monkey Island could potentially cause if it is not fixed.

“The thing that we’re concerned about here in this situation is that there’s some specific facilities underneath Monkey Island that have deteriorated and they’re close to not being able to be repaired. From an engineering standpoint we need to understand the mechanics and the structure itself,” he said.

Park and Recreation Board attorney Nelson Pichardo also brought up that if something is not done with the structure, it could cause liability issues for employees.

“The public doesn’t go down there, but employees go down there and that could be seen as a safety issue,” Pichardo said. “Having an engineer go down there, check it out and seeing what needs to be done is very important not just for the exhibit itself but from the liability standpoint for employees and everyone else.”

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The board members also discussed the possibility of changing the exhibit or purchasing something new to take its place for the time being, however, Kienitz said he still finds it important to renovate the structure.

“My vision and the zoo’s vision would be to restore it and bring it back to what it was originally designed for,” he said. “We are putting ourselves on the map and becoming a place where people want to go as a family and Monkey Island is an attraction that we would like to see grow and expand in the future.”

According to Chatfield, Kienitz does not need permission from the Park and Recreation Board to proceed with seeking out proposals, so it was advised at the meeting that he does so going forward.