Mayor Chris Beutler, the Lincoln Children's Zoo and Lincoln Parks and Recreation today announced that they have reached consensus on updated plans for the Zoo expansion based on public feedback. The updated plan consolidates all of the Zoo's expansion north of "A" Street, adjacent to its current site.
A previous plan called for the main Zoo parking area to be south of "A" Street. Public input on that plan raised safety concerns about families crossing "A" Street and a parking drive crossing the Rock Island Trail. Since June, when the Zoo announced its $16 million expansion project, the City and Zoo officials have sought feedback from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Pedestrian Bicycle Advisory Committee, Urban Design Committee, neighbors and other groups.
"I want to thank all the project stakeholders for working together on a solution," Beutler said. "This is another classic Lincoln partnership, with the private and nonprofit sectors coming together behind a vision. The Zoo worked with the City to make important changes to support that vision and community feedback made it an even better plan."
City Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Johnson said the community feedback has resulted in a plan that improves the safety and experience for Zoo visitors, avoids impacts to the Rock Island Trail, and continues to preserve the public gardens and Cascade Fountain on the Antelope Park Triangle (bounded by Capital Parkway and "A" and 27th streets). He said locating the parking closer to the Zoo also reduces the use of the surrounding neighborhoods for parking. He said parking will be screened from the adjoining streets with heavily landscaped green space.
"This improved plan will ensure the Lincoln Children's Zoo will continue to be an iconic destination, attracting visitors from across the State while continuing to provide hands-on, interactive experiences for children and families," said Zoo Director John Chapo.
As part of the new proposal, the Parks and Recreation offices at 2740 "A" Street must be relocated. The City will ask the Public Building Commission Tuesday to allow the unused third floor of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) building at 32nd and "O" streets to be finished for the Parks and Recreation offices.
"I am excited about the new opportunity to have Health and Parks and Recreation staff co-located," said Judy Halstead, Health Director of the LLCHD. "It will enhance the great partnership we already have for programs that support healthy living."
The expansion includes the restoration of the Ager building to its original use as part of the Zoo, new animal attractions, and exhibits and activity areas that will be open all year. The project also includes outdoor event space, expanded educational opportunities, and a new education and conservation center that will include new space for the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) Science Focus Program known as the "Zoo School."
LPS Board President Don Mayhew said the agreement on a new plan will prepare the Zoo School for future growth. "The Zoo School and the District's other focus programs are really making a difference for our kids," he said. "The new plan will give the Zoo School a permanent building with more space and more opportunities for hands on learning."
"The economic benefits will be enormous for Lincoln," said Jeff Maul of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The Zoo is already the third most visited arts and cultural attraction in the state, resulting in an impact of $8.7 million to our community each year. With the expansion, the Zoo will be open all year with room for new exhibits and event space. We think it will draw an additional 30,000 visits each year, a huge boost to our local economy."
About $10 to $12 million of the $16-million project will come from private donors. Additional funding will come from increased zoo revenues and the County Visitor Improvement Fund. LPS will provide funding for the Zoo School enhancements. The cost of the Parks and Recreation office move will be included in the project budget.
Chapo said the project will likely begin next spring and will require two years of construction. "Reaching an agreement on the Zoo's expansion allows us to move forward with project designs and exploration of new exhibits," Chapo said. "Early next year, we hope to unveil new attractions that will make us bigger and better while keeping the Zoo's small intimate feel." Additional plans related to the Zoo expansion are expected to go to the City Council this fall.
Zoo Expansion Rendering (1.1 MB).