August 19, 2014

Southwest

Attractions: It's a Jungle in There

Nostalgia is working at Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

Art Levy | 6/15/2011

Chris Lavick
"It's important to keep the nostalgic nature of the place," says Sarasota Jungle Gardens general manager Chris Lavick. [Photo: Mark Wemple]
Dorothy Tinney's family has owned the 11-acre Sarasota Jungle Gardens since 1939. Last year, Sarasota County offered to buy the site or secure a conservation easement, but the family ultimately decided to keep the roadside attraction just the way it is.

"We didn't want to change the business model," says Chris Lavick, the park's general manager and Tinney's son. "We felt that there were some strings attached to doing a conservation easement, and we really don't want to change who we are or what the gardens are. It's important to keep the nostalgic nature of the place."

Now, it's up to Lavick to make the nostalgia work, both as a family business and an Old Florida roadside attraction.

Lavick, a 46-year-old commercial pilot who previously ran an air freight business in Wisconsin, moved to Sarasota three years ago to help his mother and sisters run the business.

He says the challenge is staying current while appearing not to be.

Animal shows, for example, stress conservation and education but aren't above presenting the occasional unicycle-riding cockatoo. The park has an educational outreach program and offered to take in wildlife affected by last year's Gulf oil spill.

Lavick says the themes of the bird, reptile and mammal shows change frequently, as do the curriculums of the various zoo camps the park hosts for children.

As a result, Lavick says, attendance, which typically ranges from 200 to 700 visitors a day, is up this year. He says the park, which employs 23, also controls costs by soliciting donations whenever it can. In the gift shop, a sign lists items the park needs, such as a new pressure cleaner. Park employees visit home improvement stores and ask for donations of scrap lumber. A nearby Sweetbay Supermarket donates expired meats and produce for the animals to eat. Lavick says Sweetbay's donations alone cut the park's animal food bill 80%.

"When you look at some of this stuff, you want to take it home yourself," he says. "The lettuce looks good. There's no holes or brown on it. The tomatoes are crisp. The meat, oh my god, filet mignon! These alligators eat quite well."

Tags: Dining & Travel, Southwest

Digital Access

DIRECT DIGITAL ACCESS
Add digital to your current subscription, purchase a single ditgital issue, or start a new subscription to Florida Trend.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
An overview of the features and articles in this month's issue of Florida Trend.

ACCESS THIS ISSUE »

Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

Balloon sculpture at Museum of Fine Arts will blow you away
Balloon sculpture at Museum of Fine Arts will blow you away

If you've ever been impressed by a balloon animal, prepare to be blown away by a new art exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg made up entirely of balloons.

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

Should the Feds stop sending so much surplus military weapons and armored trucks to local police?

  • Yes, enough already
  • No, every force should be prepared for the worst

See Results

Ballot Box
Subscribe