The City of Winnipeg is backing up a $17 million loan to complete the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo.

The last-minute request was made by the Assibiboine Park Conservancy after other funding sources didn't materalize.

The conservancy needs the money to finish the $70-million zoo exhibit.

Mayor Sam Katz said the city is stepping in because the conservancy has nowhere else to go.

"Is this something that we were frothing at the mouth to do? No. But either you come up with a way to resolve the guarantee issue, or Journey to Churchill would not become a reality," he said.

mi-polar-bear

The interactive zoo exhibit, announced earlier this year, is scheduled to open in October 2013 and will serve as a centre of excellence on Arctic research.

The city is not providing a loan, but it is acting as a guarantor. Should the conservancy fail to pay back its loans, the city will be on the hook.

Wednesday's decision was made by the executive policy committee but must still be approved by council.

This is the second time in just over a month that the city has backed a major loan.

In October, council approved a $10 million loan guarantee to a private developer for the Fort Rouge Rail Yards project, a 900-unit housing complex in the Lord Roberts neighbourhood.

Centre of excellence

The interactive zoo exhibit, announced earlier this year, is scheduled to open in October 2013 and will serve as a centre of excellence on Arctic research.

It will include a Polar Bear Conservation Centre for academic research on the Arctic environment and polar bear conservation, public education programs, and a polar bear rescue and relocation network for orphaned or injured animals.

It will also include underwater and above-ground viewing opportunities of bears and seals through a clear wall.

Other elements in the exhibit include an aurora borealis 360-degree theatre, motorized polar bear tundra tours, a rooftop Tundra Garden, a new restaurant, gift shop and children's play area.