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Monday, 16 January 2012 09:59

John Ball Zoo seeks more patronage with new additions

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John Ball Zoo seeks more patronage with new additions Courtesy image
GRAND RAPIDS — Thanks to several private donations, John Ball Zoo has undertaken a series of projects planned to last through 2014.

The total cost for the additions is set at $12.5 million with a lead $5 million contribution from the Bill and Bea Idema Foundation.

The parts of the project currently under construction are expected to be completed and opened by May.

Brenda Stringer, executive director of the John Ball Zoological Society, said the new additions are expected to increase patronage as well as expand the functional and learning facilities at the zoo.

The build in progress adds 11 acres to the finished zoo grounds and expands exhibits up an adjacent hill. Winding up that hill on a 900-foot track will be Michigan’s first funicular. Common in mountainous areas of Europe and South America, a funicular is essentially a passenger tram intended for traversing steep inclines.

Stringer said the funicular would add a unique experience and allow all of the park’s guests to access the top of the hill. The tramcars will also be self-motorized, making them more “green” than traditional cable-operated systems.

“The funicular was important in providing an additional way to get up the hill,” Stringer said. “We might not have expanded up the hill until we had something like that in place.”

On top of the hill will sit a 4,790-square-foot “Tree House” intended for zoo special events and corporate rental space. Progressive AE architect Bryan Koehn said the idea was to make the design feel like an extension of the woods that surround it.

From the top of hill, Koehn said the site provides a view of Grand Rapids as well as a new vantage for viewing several of the zoo’s exhibits.

“We wanted to create a building that was very sustainable and reflective of (John Ball Zoo’s) brand, something that is reflective of being a good community partner and a learning institution,” Koehn said.

He said the project utilizes several Forest Stewardship Council-approved woods and incorporates high-transparency aesthetics with large windows and an open floor plan.

When MiBiz talked to Bill Ogden, on-site general superintendent for Owen-Ames-Kimball Co., crews were just starting to lay foundations for the funicular. Ogden said moving around the steep hill can be difficult, and that’s adding some challenges to preserving the safety of the work areas.

“The hill is so steep, and there is lots of loose the earth,” he said. “There are places where there is almost a 10-foot change in elevation.”

He said the crew is still trying to protect as many trees as they can, but as the snow starts to fly, conditions are likely to worsen.

All difficulties aside, moving up the hill was always a part of the zoo’s master plan for expansion.

Stringer explained that the zoo is like a campus and the projects all fill a need the zoo had, including being able to update exhibits and add new ones. In 2013, the zoo plans to add a new grizzly bear exhibit, followed by a new tiger exhibit in 2014.

Stringer said the zoo is a source of community pride and generates roughly $30 million in economic impact to the area each year. With the new buildings, Stringer estimates that patronage could increase 10 to 18 percent, though she stressed the figures are still uncertain.

However, Stringer believes the additional revenue from a new gift shop, funicular rides and rental events will allow the zoo to add animals and continue its growth. She also expects to add at least three full-time jobs as well as seasonal work.

Read 2503 times Last modified on Monday, 13 August 2012 13:36