The Zoo Museum District was created when St. Louis County and City citizens voted to establish a new governmental entity in the spring of 1971. At that time, a state law authorized an election for a City-County district to provide tax support to three then financially-struggling cultural institutions: the Museum of Science and Natural History, then located in Oak Knoll Park in Clayton, and the Saint Louis Zoo and Art Museum, located in Forest Park.
Voters in both the County and City said “YES” and the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District began operations in 1972. The Zoo Museum District initially supported three organizations. Voters allowed the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Missouri History Museum to enter the District in 1983 and 1987. In 1983 citizens voted to increase the maximum authorized property tax rates for the Science Center, Zoo and Art Museum. Voters rejected a proposed tax rate increase for the Science Center in 1989 and declined to authorize rate increases for the Botanical Garden in 1989 and 1993. Zoo Museum District issues have not appeared on election ballots since 1993.
In 1972 the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District selected Earl Wifler as its first Executive Director. He guided the District in establishing appropriate budgeting and accounting procedures. The Missouri Supreme Court later approved these standards and they continue to form the basis for the District’s current operations. Upon Mr. Wifler’s retirement in 1992, Olney F. Otto became the District’s second chief executive. Under Mr. Otto’s direction, the District maintained its financial integrity as it entered the high- tech age. Olney Otto served the District until his death in 2002. J. Patrick Dougherty joined the District in 2002 and is its current Executive Director.