St. Louis Zoo to unveil major expansion plan

Thursday, September 26, 2013 | 3:41 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Zoo is considering a major expansion that might include adding a high-end hotel, an indoor attraction such as an aquarium, a research center and many new animal exhibits.

Zoo officials planned to unveil preliminary plans later Thursday for the zoo's expansion into the former Forest Park Hospital site, which the zoo bought last year. The plans are simply a framework of possibilities and no funding or specific details are final.

Other possibilities included in the plan are a nine-acre savanna in the current south parking lot, increased parking, and a gondola that would stretch above U.S. Highway 40 and ferry passengers on overhead cables from the new south campus to the main zoo. The current children's zoo could also grow.

The additions would be built in stages over 20 to 30 years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Officials said they would pursue federal grants, state tax credits, private donations and possibly even a local property tax increase to pay for the growth.

"I don't think we've ever planned this far out before," said the zoo commission's chairman, former St. Louis mayor Jim Conway. "We felt it was the only recourse."

Conway and other local and national zoo leaders call the proposed expansion a major milestone, second only to the establishment of the Zoo-Museum District. The special taxing district provides the zoo $20 million a year in St. Louis City and County property taxes.

"A number of zoos, St. Louis toward the top, have really exploded in terms of popularity and attendance," said Satch Krantz, president of South Carolina's Riverbanks Zoo and Garden and two-time board chair of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. "We now see ourselves making decisions that I call 'outside the fence.'"

St. Louis Zoo leaders have been working on the plan for nearly a year, after the $6 million purchase in October 2012 of the 14-acre hospital site south of the highway.

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