- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Little Rock Zoo has unveiled its latest master plan, which calls for up to $50 million in improvements that would add an aquarium and interactive exhibits to the current facility in midtown.

The plan announced Tuesday calls for the Little Rock Zoo to remain within its current 36.8 acres but would add new exhibits on undeveloped land. Under the plan, the zoo’s current tropical birdhouse would be transformed into an aquarium that would double as a rental venue and auditorium. The building would have two large wall tanks - one saltwater and one freshwater - and classroom space that could be used for special programming.

“It becomes a venue by night, a cool space in the summer, a warm spot in the winter and is very close to the front entry,” said architect Craig Rhodes, whose firm developed the plan. “It’s a great learning piece for the community, but these things are also spectacular to watch and to enjoy.”

The Little Rock Board of Directors didn’t take any action Tuesday but most shared their support of the proposal. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1myFi53 ), the total cost to implement the plan is between $40 million and $50 million.

“Believe it or not, I don’t think $50 million is outrageous for what you are getting. I thought the price would be astronomically higher to have this water feature in here. So if y’all get my sharks and my jellyfish, I’m on board,” Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Director Doris Wright said.

The city has not determined how to pay for the plan, but could request a property tax increase for it.

Other proposals in the master plan include a new otter and fish exhibit, along with an ocean section that features sea lions and a splash pad.

The zoo now attracts about 300,000 visitors a year, but officials hope to increase that number to a half-million.

“Everyone is always asking how we get more tourists to the city - the zoo is the big answer. There’s a direct return on the investment to the city. I wish people would wake up to that,” zoo spokeswoman Susan Altrui said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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