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Sedgwick County Zoo Begins $10 Million Entry Complex Project

The Sedgwick County Zoo will soon demolish its original main entrance building to make way for a new updated entry plaza.

Construction fences block the entrance area and new signs are posted to direct visitors to a temporary entrance and exit north of the zoo’s Cargill Learning Center.

The $10 million entry and administration complex will be the first major project in the zoo’s updated master plan.

“Seeing Phase 1 kick off today is very exciting not only for me but for the entire zoo staff,” says Jeff Ettling, the zoo’s executive director. “The new entry will be really reflective of what the zoo is today.”

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW

The zoo opened in 1971 and has grown to include habitats for 3,000 animals of nearly 400 species. The zoo, located in west Wichita, is the top tourist attraction in Kansas. The zoo sits on more than 200 acres, but only about half of the land has been developed.

Ettling says the expanded entry area will put a new face on the 48-year-old zoo.

“The original entrance was built for about 100,000 people. We’re drawing over a half million people guests here to the zoo now so it really doesn’t meet our needs on particularly really busy days,” Ettling says.

The zoo also moved the gift shop and some offices to a temporary location. Visitors will now enter the zoo where the Asian Barn once stood. The barn was the zoo’s second oldest building when it was demolished in September.

Ettling says the barn outlived its usefulness, and the animals were relocated to another habitat while the temporary entrance is in use.

The zoo invited visitors and staff to write messages and draw pictures on the back wall of the main entrance building recently. The demolition of the building is set to begin after the holidays.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW

The zoo also plans to expand the Amur leopard habitat to allow for more breeding options for the critically endangered animal and for integrating new species like the snow leopard.

“So we’re starting with the entry complex and then we hope that the expanded leopard habitat will open around the same time as the entry complex in May of 2021,” says Jennica King, the zoo’s marketing and public relations manager.

The new entry complex and updated habitat are expected to completed in time for the zoo’s 50th birthday.

The zoo’s 25-year master plan released last year calls for a concert venue, an aquarium and an African savanna-themed hotel and resort.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.