Denver Zoo announces new president and CEO amid rocky transitions, upcoming renovations

2018-08-10 | Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, Calif.)

Aug. 10--The Denver Zoo has a new captain at the helm, announcing Bert Vescolani as president and CEO on Friday after a rocky period of public controversies, funding shortfalls and record attendance.

Vescolani, who starts in mid-September, comes from the Saint Louis Science Center, where he served as president and CEO for seven years, according to a news release from the Denver Zoo.

"Bert was chosen to lead Denver Zoo because of his depth and breadth of experience in both animal care and executive leadership, and for his tremendous energy and enthusiasm," said Chair of the Denver Zoological Foundation Sherri Koelbel, who led the nationwide search effort.

"We have full confidence that he will uphold our position as a world-class cultural and conservation organization, and provide strong, steady leadership through this exciting and pivotal period for the Zoo."

Vescolani replaces Denny O'Malley, who has served as interim president and CEO since June 2017. O'Malley, past Denver Zoological Foundation board chairman and president and CEO of Craig Hospital, hopped aboard after his predecessor Shannon Block abruptly quit following a string of controversies that included abandoning a plan to convert animal waste into energy and fighting over providing information to the city's auditor.

While presiding over the Saint Louis Science Center, Vescolani led the largest exhibit expansion in the center's 30-year history, the zoo said. The newcomer also served six years as director of the John Ball Zoological Gardens in Michigan and previously worked for more than 14 years in various roles at Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium.

"It's a tremendous honor to join the Denver Zoo team and have the opportunity to contribute to an institution that is so well respected for its commitment to animal welfare, conservation, education and guest experience," said Vescolani. "I look forward to helping Denver Zoo reach its significant potential by fulfilling the long-term master plan, improving the campus and guest experience, and building on educational and conservation programs."

The revised master plan Vescolani is referencing includes a $20 million animal hospital, parking innovations to address the zoo's growing popularity and updates and new features added to buildings and exhibits throughout the attraction.

To cover operational costs that have climbed 28 percent over the past four years, the zoo recently received city approval for an admission hike projected to raise $1.5 million in the next year. The extra $2 to $3 per visitor could boost the zoo's $41.5 million annual budget by 3.7 percent.

"We are deeply grateful to Denny for the contributions he made to Denver Zoo during his 14 months of transitional leadership," said Koelbel. "Thanks to him the Zoo is in a tremendous position within the community and industry, and poised for future success."