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"We have a new plan:" why a Bonita Springs landmark will stay put, for now.

Dominga Murray, Fox 4's Community Correspondent for Bonita Springs, found out how the city and the zoo known as Everglades Wonder Gardens reached a new 10-year contract.
Posted at 12:09 AM, Apr 04, 2024

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — If you've got any history in Bonita Springs, you probably know something about the Everglades Wonder Gardens.

Heck, it's been a part of life in Bonita Springs since 1936, a community staple that is one of many Old Florida experiences lingering around the state, as sources of quaint and precious tropical memories for so many generations.

And now it's official: the old Gardens are not going anywhere. Here's why.

Because of this importance to residents, the City of Bonita Springs initially granted the Everglades Wonder Gardens a $3.5 million loan to help with running the facility.

But the Wonder Gardens struggled to make good.

Councilman Jesse Purdon told Bonita Springs Community Correspondent Dominga Murray that the Wonder Gardens site was facing foreclosure in 2018, when the city stepped in. Bonita Springs set up an operating agreement, and purchased the land and the building. The $3.5 million loan stopped the zoo from filing for bankruptcy at the time.

"That led us to the point that about a year and a half ago I pulled the contract," Purdon said.

Then came new leadership at the Wonder Gardens. Meet President and CEO Neil Anderson.

"We have a new plan, that we shared with the council members," he said.

During the next 10 years the Gardens will pay $3 million back to the city in addition to paying $50,000 in rent annually.

"Now they can raise money because they know they'll be here for the next 10 years. People are going to stop wondering, is the Wonder Gardens closing, what's going on over there, are the city and the wonder gardens at odds... all that's over now," he said.

All council members but one agreed to finalize the agreement on Wednesday night for the next decade of experiences.