Officials to launch effort to raise $20 million for facility improvements
Phoenix Zoo officials are bucking the ailing economy, launching a $20 million capital campaign aimed at overhauling the aging facility.
The plan, to be formally announced Wednesday, aims to make the 125-acre site more comfortable for its animals and more exciting for visitors.
At the top of the list: $5 million for an expanded enclosure for the orangutans, substituting their concrete bunker-style home with a two-story dwelling, nearly triple the size, with enhanced vegetation and an observation tower.
And $3.2 million is earmarked to create an entry oasis and native-wildlife exhibit from the moment visitors set foot off the parking lot. The plan will encompass the existing bridge that leads to the entrance.
"We want people to have very intimate experience, " said Bert Castro, the zoo president since February. "We need the type of exhibits that get people excited."
Planners look to excite visitors with exhibits such as a new tiger display.
"Have you ever felt a tiger's breath on you?" asked Ed Fox, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Arizona Public Service Co., and a co-chair of the campaign. "We're going to build an experience where you can be 3 inches from a tiger."
Fox said this was the most comprehensive program in the history of the zoo.
"It became clear to (zoo) board members, there needed to be a future vision, " he said.
Officials say they have already raised $6 million from private donors.
Apart from the $20 million capital campaign, the zoo is asking the city to help pay for a new water and sewer infrastructure. Without it, Fox said, the zoo can't expand.
The zoo is requesting $6 million over three years in Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative funding. The initiative is expected to generate $30 million a year. The Phoenix City Council is to vote on the issue by December.
The zoo, which has 1.5 million visitors a year, is "at a critical crossroads, " Castro said. "We're struggling to meet the demands of the city, " he said.
Randy Wisthoff, director of the Kansas City (Mo.) Zoo, has been involved with his organization's own $50 million capital campaign.
After opening the first exhibit, attendance grew by 8 percent, he said.
"If you're going to be a major-league city, then big-time amenities like a zoo are a piece of that puzzle, " he said.