The Sedgwick County Zoo could in 25 years be unrecognizable from the zoo visitors know today.
A new master plan unveiled Wednesday lays out a vision for the zoo's future, including expanded exhibits, a concert venue, an aquarium and an African savanna-themed hotel and resort.
The plan aims to take the zoo, now nearing its 50th birthday, to "the next level."
Phase 1 of the master plan would renovate the zoo’s entrance to accommodate more visitors; build a new electric train to take visitors through the zoo; and renovate its outdated Amur leopard habitat to allow for more breeding options for the critically endangered animal. Last year the zoo took in weeks-old cub whose mother had not been able to care for it.
In later phases the zoo wants to expand its Amphibians and Reptiles building to include large marine mammals, build a community events center and concert venue, and expand its orangutan space.
An underlying goal of the plan, the zoo says, is to teach the public how the zoo cares for animals, and educate visitors about conservation efforts.
“The guiding model throughout the plan will be to do better for all the resident animals," Jeff Ettling, the zoo's executive director, said at a news conference Wednesday. "It would exemplify what we did for elephants just a few years ago.”
The Sedgwick County Zoo was established 47 years ago, and today brings in about $43 million to the Wichita area. It is the top tourist attraction in Kansas.
The zoo says a total cost for the plan hasn't been determined, but Ettling says it will be paid for through traditional fundraising, as well as through some of the additions that generate revenue, such as the electric train and a new stingray touch tank.
The zoo expects more concrete plans for Phase 1, including cost, will be announced early next year, with work complete by the zoo's 50th birthday in 2021.