Zoo Expansion May Cost $100M

August 2, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — John Ball Zoo Society President Mitch Watt told members of the Kent County Finance Committee today that John Ball Park is the right place for John Ball Zoo and that the zoo would be able to generate enough revenue to cover its operational costs.

Watt also said the society has a plan to expand the zoo by adding new some exhibits and keeping the best of the current ones. The price tag for the expansion project was set at $75 million to $100 million, an effort that would be done in a number of phases.

“It’s a great plan that is going to take us well into the next century,” said Watt, also managing principal for URS Corp.

How much the first construction phase would cost and who would pay for it likely won’t be known until the zoo society completes a fundraising feasibility study. It’s also likely that the first phase will result in a new grizzly bear exhibit being built at the front of the zoo, a project that would also include a new entrance and a community plaza. If the funding for the stage is secured fairly soon, the project could be completed in 2007.

“We really want to create a sense of exploration and wonder,” said Brenda Stringer, executive director of the society.

Stringer added the society hopes to make the zoo the first LEED-certified one in the country. The society has been working on its expansion plans for a year and enlisted help from consultant Jones and Jones.

“It’s a whole new zoo, with amazing animals like polar bears, interactive exhibits, all in a fun, safe environment,” said Zoo Director Bert Vescolani. “The new zoo will make both nature and wildlife accessible to our entire community.”

Kent County owns the zoo and supports its annual operations with $435,000, revenue that comes from the lodging excise tax.      

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