Lee Richardson Zoo’s African Lion exhibit soon will be named after the person who “ran the biggest cat house in Garden City” for nearly 30 years.

During Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to dedicate the zoo’s lion habitat in memory of the late Robert Becker, per the request of Garden City resident Tom Dial.

Dial was not present at Tuesday’s meeting due to illness, but Zoo directtor Kristi Newland spoke on his behalf.

Newland said Becker, who was killed in an accident Oct. 7 while riding his motorcycle, was a dedicated employee to the zoo for 29 years. He retired in 2002.

“Even after he he left us in 2002 officially, he continued to be dedicated to the zoo and the city until he passed on in October,” Newland said about Becker, who died at age 67.

Becker visited the zoo almost daily and came to all the staff holiday potlucks after his retirement.

“'Bubba’ is what he was known as at the zoo, and whenever anybody would ask him what he did at the zoo, he would tell them he ran the biggest cat house in Garden City,” Newland said, which evoked laughter from those who attended the meeting. “The request was that we name it Bubba’s Cat House and dedicate it to the memory of Robert Becker.

According to Garden City police, Becker was southbound in the 2400 block of Fleming Street on his 2009 Kawasaki motorcycle in the early evening of Oct. 7, when he was struck from behind by a 2002 Jeep Liberty driven by Bashir Omar, 31, of Garden City. According to a police affidavit, Omar was driving at an estimated speed of 45 mph in a 30 mph zone. The impact caused Becker to crash, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. It has since been revealed in court that Omar was allegedly intoxicated by a combination of drugs and alcohol at the time of the incident, and he now faces a second-degree murder charge.

Becker was a lifetime resident of Finney County, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and was involved in his church, the American Legion, the Patriot Guard and other civic organizations.

There are a number of other dedications around the zoo honoring individuals' service, recognized by a plaque or sign on a specific building or room, like the Tom Irwin Maintenance Shop and the Claude Owens Giraffe Building.

A plaque will be placed at the at the northwest corner of the lion habitat recognizing Becker's service to the zoo, the city of Garden City and the community. The plaque would be similar in size and color to the one from the Garden City Friends Of The Zoo that was set when the habitat area was developed. It will be 20-by-10-inch in size and will be mounted low to the ground.

The plaque will read:

"Bubba's Cat House"

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Becker


For 29 years of service to Lee Richardson Zoo

and the City of Garden City, and

innumerable years of service to the community.

Newland said Dial would raise the funds necessary for the plaque, which is estimated to cost $750, within the community and then the zoo will cover the expenses to mount and install the plaque for nominal fees that are covered within the operating budget. It is estimated that it would cost less than $100 for the mounting and installation.

In other business Tuesday:

• Commissioners approved an ordinance authorizing the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds for the Meadowlark Dairy Nutrition, LLC plant.

At their Oct. 17 meeting, commissioners approved a resolution for an ad valorem property tax exemption for property acquired with the proceeds going toward the industrial revenue bonds for the dairy plant. The cost benefit analysis showed that the project qualifies for a 70 percent exemption.

The city’s bond counsel, Mary Carson, has been working with Meadowlark on the matter and prepared the ordinance.

The ordinance authorizes a trust indenture between the city and the trustee bank, a lease agreement between the city and Meadowlark, a site sublease agreement between Meadowlark and the city, a bond purchase agreement and a payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

• Commissioners also approved a resolution authorizing the execution of the Buckeye Wind Farm Project agreement between the city and the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency.

Members of the KMEA were given the opportunity to enter into a 25-year fixed price power purchase agreement negotiated by KMEA with the Buckeye Wind Project that is located near Hays. The project went into commercial operation in December 2015 and consists of 112 wind turbines producing approximately 200 MW of energy.

The annual cost for this resource is $622,000 and will actually cost Garden City $47,000 more in 2018 for purchased power, primarily due to transmission constraints between the wind farm and the city, according to meeting documents. It is anticipated that this issue will be resolved in 2019. Beginning in 2019, it is conservatively projected to save Garden City about $141,000 annually over current contractual arrangements.

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com.