Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District
The Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District or ZMD is a cultural tax district in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, Missouri. The district has five subdistricts, these being the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum, and Missouri Botanical Garden. Of these, all but the Botanical Gardens are located in or near Forest Park. The subsidies provided by the district ensures that the institutions are public non-profits with free admission for all, with the exception of the Botanical Gardens, which charges a nominal admission fee.
In the early 1960s, the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Zoo were both publicly funded by a tax in St. Louis City. Zoo chairman Howard Baer and his successor, Circuit Judge Thomas F. McGuire, worked with their supporters to secure the statute to establish the district. H.B. 23 authorized a 1969 vote in St. Louis City and County, where voters approved the creation of the tax district to fund the Zoo and Art Museum at a rate of 8 cents for every $100 assessed. The Science Center, which had previously received no tax benefit, was added at a rate of 4 cents for every $100 assessed.
Earl Wipfler was selected as the first Executive Director of the district in 1972, and he guided the initial creation of the district's budgeting and accounting procedures. The Missouri Supreme Court approved them. Wipfler served as Executive Director until 1990.
The Missouri Botanical Garden was added as the district's fourth subdistrict in 1983, and the History Museum in 1988.
From an initial annual revenue of $3.9 million in 1972, the district grew to $72 million in 2008. In the past few years, around 85% of these funds have come from the county with the city providing only about 15%. Though the tax is the same in both places, the disparity in income and population accounts for the difference in money generated.
The eight-member governing board is composed of four appointments from St. Louis City, chosen by the mayor, and four from St. Louis County, chosen by the county executive. The terms last four years, and two positions open up on January 1 each year, one for the city and one for the county.
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Through the government subsidy, all five subdistricts are able to operate without charging admission. Some people have questioned whether tourists and residents of areas outside St. Louis City and St. Louis County should continue to be allowed free admission, and that it might be just to charge them, as they contribute nothing to the regional attractions. The exception to this is the Missouri Botanical Garden, which charges admission to non-residents of St. Louis City and County at double the rate of residents. Institutional and political efforts to persuade neighboring Jefferson, St. Charles and other counties to pass tax levies to join the district (and contribute to operations of the regional attractions) have not been successful. The issue of equity has come up intermittently throughout the district's history.
The MZMD is one of the earliest, largest, and most successful cultural districts of its kind. Other cities have created similar programs and tax districts based on the St. Louis model.