- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

A sweeping renovation plan for the National Zoo estimated to cost about $1 billion, which includes installing an aerial tram, has won final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission.

The Smithsonian Institution’s long-range master plan for the nation’s second-oldest zoo features a three-station aerial tram, similar to a ski lift, that would run the length of the zoo’s 163 acres. The tram would make it easier for visitors to traverse the steep terrain.

“Our goal is to be the world’s finest zoo,” said Director John Berry, adding that the plan’s approval marked “the first step in launching a 20-year renewal” of the place.

The plan also calls for a parking garage, an overhaul of zoo infrastructure, seven new animal exhibits, and new plazas and visitor amenities.

The National Capital Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved the plan, estimated to cost between $900 million and $1.1 billion.

The approval clears the way for it to be implemented, a zoo spokeswoman said, although individual aspects will need separate permission. The projects also are heavily dependent on private donations.

The 119-year-old National Zoo is widely considered out of date. Much of its infrastructure is at least half-century old. Parking is scarce and exhibits and amenities are too tightly clustered.

The commission staff agreed, stating in a report that the “overall visitor experience does not meet the expectations of the ‘national’ name or the Smithsonian standards.”

The approved master plan increases exhibit space from 35 to 47 acres by reclaiming surface parking lots. With the construction of the proposed midpoint garage, the number of parking spaces would increase from 868 to 1,285.

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