Aviary group gets initial OK

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WALLA WALLA — City Council agreed, in part, to a new plan to save the Pioneer Park Aviary that would not cost the city any additional money.

All Council members were present at Wednesday’s meeting and voted unanimously to allow volunteer aviary supporters to develop several fundraising programs that could one day become the sole source of income for the facility.

“What we are asking is for you to believe in us again. Give us the opportunity to fund this privately,” Friends of Pioneer Park Aviary member Craig Keister said.

The city’s current closure plan for the aviary involves setting aside $15,000 to operate the facility during the first three months of next year, while the birds are relocated. City officials also allocated an additional $10,000 for tearing down the structure.

What Keister and other aviary supporters asked the city was to, instead, use the $15,000 to fund the aviary for the first three months while volunteers begin raising funds, again.

It was a similar situation to the previous budget approved in December 2010, in which city officials agreed keep the aviary open as long as aviary supporters could raise two years of funding (approximately $110,000) by the end of 2011.

By the end of last year, Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary had raised about $80,000, and by early summer of this had raised about $115,000, which included money donated through the utility round-up program.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, aviary supporters said they could raise the money again through permanent fundraisers and add an additional $100,000 to go toward rebuilding the facility.

The majority of Council members, however, were reluctant to commit to a fledgling plan that called for raising well over $200,000 through volunteers.

“This is an ambitious program you are undertaking … for a group to have to continually raise this kind of money in perpetuity is a big undertaking on your part,” Council member Barbara Clark said.

Group members said they would use a number of sponsorship programs and donation opportunities to establish a permanent funding source.

In the end, the Council agreed to the concept, but asked aviary supporters to return to the Dec. 19 Council meeting with a set of fundraising benchmarks that group would agree to achieve if they are to save the aviary.

Aviary supporters also asked city officials to move forward with plans to rebuild the aviary and repair damage from previous storms.

Keister noted that even if the city continued with the design phase, it would still take several months before any real work could be completed. And he added that by that time volunteers will have been able to show the city they can raise the money.

“Instead of asking you for money, what we have now again is a proposal to take over the funding of the aviary … I think we have a track record and the community has a track record,” Keister said.

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