Cochrane considers closing polar bear habitat in the face of $300K losses

The future of Cochrane's polar bear habitat is uncertain, as town council considers whether or not it will continue to subsidize the tourist attraction.

Habitat costs Cochrane taxpayers between $300,000 and $400,000 every year

Talks have broken off with a group that was interested in taking over the financially troubled polar bear habitat from the Town of Cochrane. (Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat)

Cochrane might be getting out of the polar bear business.

Town council voted this week to temporarily close the polar bear habitat that's been the northern Ontario town's main tourist attraction since 2004, and review whether it should ever re-open.

"We need to hear from our residents," Mayor Denis Clement said in a release. 

"It's their burden as taxpayers that council is concerned about. Of equal concern is the bears themselves. Whatever decision we make must ensure their continued health and welfare."

A presentation to Cochrane town council this week shows that when the idea of having a regional tourist attraction first came up in 1990s, it was expected that annual revenues for the polar bear habitat would run around $300,000, with operating expenses at around $278,000 for a small annual profit.

Over the last few years, revenues have ranged between $300,000 and $541,000, but expenses have ballooned to about $800,000 per year.

This has meant Cochrane taxpayers footed the bill for between $300,000 and $444,000 every year. It amounts to what the town says is an extra 5 per cent on the average property tax bill.

Now 15-years old, the 70-acre facility is also in need of a "significant capital investment" to stay open, according to the report. 

Cochrane council has voted to hire a consultant to host a public meeting the week of November 18.

The plan is that a report would then be prepared and presented to town council in early December, for a final decision on the future of the polar bear habitat.