By Tanya Sierra, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
CHULA VISTA — Well on its way to becoming a nonprofit venture, the Chula Vista Nature Center recently took in another $250,000 donation to help it become a stand-alone operation.
The South Bay zoo and aquarium, which has been an attraction in Chula Vista for 21 years, was on the brink of closing earlier this year when the City Council was making massive cutbacks to balance its budget. At the time, city officials suggested closing it down because the $1 million annual cost to run it was too expensive. Since then, the City Council voted to turn the center into a nonprofit, which allows for fundraising.
This week, Mayor Cheryl Cox, who has taken on the nature center as a pet cause, accepted the donation from the International Community Foundation of National City, which is channeling the donations. Sempra Energy Foundation donated $125,000 and an anonymous donor gave the rest, totaling $250,000. About $589,000 has been raised for the nature center since December, Cox said.
“The support has been extraordinary,” she said. “The nature center is leaving the nest and flying on its own two wings.” Several visitors marveled at the center's bird exhibit during the check presentation. A great horned owl made an appearance and craned its neck in both directions at onlookers.“The support has been extraordinary,” she said. “The nature center is leaving the nest and flying on its own two wings.”
Several visitors marveled at the center's bird exhibit during the check presentation. A great horned owl made an appearance and craned its neck in both directions at onlookers. The nature center curator, Charles Gailband, told children how important predators and prey are to the ecology.
So far, the Friends of the Chula Vista Nature Center, the nonprofit that will operate the zoo, has hired a fundraising consultant and a development director. Next, it will hire a full-time executive director.
The nature center should have its full nonprofit status by January. The ecological reserve displays plants and wildlife found in the bay and local wetlands. It features sea turtles, sharks, fish and land animals, including bald and golden eagles. The center draws about 60,000 visitors a year.
“It's just too important to have it any other way,” Cox said.