Bello proposes $121 million expansion of Seneca Park Zoo

Seneca Park Zoo will undergo a $121 million expansion in the coming years, completing what Monroe County Executive Director Adam Bello has promised will be the largest indoor fair in the tropics in the United States.

The announcement — which showcased a new rainforest exhibit and an aquarium — came during a Bello County state speech delivered Thursday night at Monroe Community College.

“Our eyes are on the future. It’s time to reimagine Monroe,” Bello said.

Bellow touched on workforce training and retention, infrastructure investments, and the arts. Talk about a “future full of opportunity.” Borrowing a phrase from former Rochester mayor, Thomas Richards, he said it was “time to focus…and finish.”

Here are five notes from his speech:

Zoo expansion: The previously announced Trail Side Café is set to open in the coming weeks. Design of the new front entrance complex and conference center will begin in the coming weeks.

The expansion that Bello is talking about will add a 220,000-gallon aquarium with at least two species of sharks. For comparison, the zoo’s reef tank currently holds about 560 gallons. The new indoor and outdoor habitats will house lemurs and orangutans as well as bear cats, Chinese alligators, cloudy leopards, Komodo dragons, and the flying island fox, a unique species of bat.

Governor Cathy Hochhol announced $42.5 million in government funding for the project in March.

Vocational training: Bello said the county should lead in workforce development. Noting the previously announced $2.5 million earmarked for these efforts, he said the first grant — about $400,000 — would help a nonprofit organization called YAMTEP provide manufacturing skills training for young people.

Bello is also proposing a new $35 million Applied Technology Education Center on the MCC campus, to relocate operations from an old facility on West Henrietta Road.

There is a shortage of skilled workers. Precision instrumentation, HVAC, auto technician and growing fields such as solar energy, Bellow said. “The expected investment in infrastructure by the government and (the private sector) is going to require skilled labor to build our future. So let’s actually train them, and let’s keep them here.”

Retention of workers: Bello proposes a pilot program to improve the province’s retention of college graduates. Less than 35% of those who earn four-year degrees from local colleges stay there after graduation. He said the RETAIN program will pay a $2,000 “bonus” to graduates in high-demand fields who have been in Monroe County for at least a year.

Citing staff shortages within the county government, he also pledged to increase county employee salaries by 2%, as well as incentives to keep some of them every three months, totaling up to $3,000.

Public Safety: Bello reiterated the proposal he announced earlier today to commit $8.5 million over five years, hire 11 additional deputy sheriffs, and target gun smuggling and gun violence. Bellow said the spending will support investigations, patrols, track down illegal gun networks, and help Rochester police respond to the shootings.

Arts: Bello said a program called JumpstARTS, launched during the pandemic to help art groups, has provided $900,000 in emergency relief to 64 organizations. But he has committed to moving forward, saying that next month the province will open the application for an additional $500,000 fund available to qualify small and medium-sized art groups for ongoing operational support.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you tonight that the state of Monroe County is strong,” Bellow said, as well as her recovery. “We have unlimited possibilities.”

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