Grieb to be named president of Baltimore Zoo today

Birkel will continue as executive director

April 10, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Zoo, which is in the middle of an ambitious fund-raising campaign for an overhaul of the 125-year-old institution, is to name attorney Elizabeth "Billie" Grieb as president today.

The position is new and will put Grieb in charge of financial management of the zoo. Executive Director Roger Birkel, who has been managing the zoo, will report to Grieb. He said he welcomed the help so he can focus on planning, animal care and the recently begun zoo renovation.

Grieb has been a lawyer with Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe LLP for 25 years. She has served on the zoo's board of trustees for six years, the past three as president, and is expected to start full time at the zoo May 1.

"We're on to a huge project to implement Roger's vision," said Grieb, 51, explaining the board's decision to bring on another full-time executive. "I love the zoo, and it's so important to the city and it's so much fun. ... I'm learning a lot. Did you know giraffes have 12-inch tongues?"

The 167-acre zoo campus at Druid Hill Park is the nation's third oldest. It has been struggling with outdated infrastructure and stagnant attendance. Officials announced last June the fund-raising campaign for massive renovations, which are to begin this summer and are expected to take between five years and 10 years to complete.

The cost of the project is $60 million. The state has pledged $27 million, and the city has offered $9 million. The zoo has donations of $11 million, under half of the $24 million it needs to raise privately.

The improvements are supposed to make the 2,000 animals more comfortable in more natural habitats and attract more visitors. The changes should help boost attendance at the city-owned zoo by at least two-thirds, to more than 1 million visitors a year, officials say.

"No. 1 is giving the animals a good home," Birkel said. "But we want it to be a personal experience for our visitors. We want you to get up close to the animals and hope that it will inspire you to become a protector of the natural world. We get away from it in our everyday lives."

Birkel said he and Grieb share a common vision for the zoo and that their skills are complementary.

Birkel, who began his career as a zookeeper in St. Louis and came to Baltimore in 1995, has expertise in animals and programming. Grieb, who made partner at Piper Marbury in 1984 and is one of the longest serving women there, has learned about finances as a corporate and securities attorney.

The co-leadership arrangement is not unusual, said James Abruzzo, head of the nonprofit practice at DHR International, a consulting firm. DHR helped bring in Birkel from the St. Louis Zoo.

"The zoo world is very complicated. ... In the classic arrangement, there is a zoo organization responsible for the program side and a zoo society responsible for things like fund-raising," he said. "And, like at the Baltimore Zoo, sometimes there is one organization with two leaders."

Abruzzo said the Baltimore Zoo's arrangement is ideal because Grieb already knows Birkel, the zoo board and the fund-raising community. "And that's a great move because in Baltimore there is a great competition for capital going on and a very small pool of good fund-raisers."

Frank Burch, co-chairman of Piper Marbury, said the firm would continue to be a visible supporter of the zoo, although he was sorry to lose Grieb, "one of our top lawyers for a long time."

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