Asheboro - The North Carolina Zoo said it needs $50 million of state funding to launch extensive renovation projects, which include the demolition of the aging African pavilion, maintenance work and exhibit improvement and expansion.
Zoo director Dr. David Jones and public relations specialist Rod Hackney said no state funding is likely until the proposal can be presented to the legislature in its short session next year, but Jones presented the plan to the NC Zoological Park Council and NC Zoo Society Board of Directors last week.
Hackney said the next step is to sit down with executives at the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources in Raleigh and review a list of needs. He said the department then would help the zoo develop a bill that could be introduced to North Carolina legislature's short session next year.
Jones and Hackney said the projects are estimated to take between five to 10 years to complete and would involve a state bond and capital campaign. They explained a $30 million demolition of the aging African Pavilion, built upon the zoo's opening in 1979, would be the first project underway once the zoo receives funding. The building is no longer is up to code, and most of the animals already have been moved out.
About $7 million of the $50 million needed would be allocated toward the expansion and improvement of exhibits.
Hackney said new exhibits could replace the African Pavilion, and the creation of an Asian exhibit is a likely possibility. He said one of the most frequent questions he receives is why there aren't any tigers at the zoo. Hackney said, "The challenge many zoos face is the 'what's new' syndrome," indicating visitors want to see what they have not seen before. Hackney suggested a temporary South Africa exhibit could be built, possibly to replace the expiring temporary dinosaur exhibit. A new entertainment area overlooking the African Plains also is a possibility.
In addition to creating new exhibits, Hackney and Jones said a majority of the funding would go toward improving existing exhibits, like the flamingo area and the gorilla haven. Within four years, Hackney said the zoo's two male baby gorillas will have to be moved to different quarters, away from the males who inhabit the current space. He said it would be ideal to enlarge the exhibit and create a divider.
The other $13 million of the $50 million proposal would go toward overall zoo maintenance, which Hackney said has been critically needed but delayed due to lack of state funding. He said people typically do not tend to donate to maintenance projects, like tramway re-pavement, sewer line updating and bathroom construction. So, he said, the zoo depends predominantly on state funding for those projects.
The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro receives about 700,000 visitors per year. It is the only zoo in the state and is open every day of the year except Dec. 25.