Monday, May 12, 2003

Indianapolis Zoo plans improvements

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - A new gorilla exhibit and additions to the dolphin pavilion are among the improvements planned at the Indianapolis Zoo.

"It's our goal to become the best in the country," Mike Crowther, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, said of the $90 million project. "We'll never become the biggest, but I believe we can become one of the best in the country."

Crowther said a study is under way as to whether the zoo would be able to raise the money needed for the project. Results of that survey are expected this summer.

Crowther said the dolphin pavilion would add unique underwater viewing areas that put people closer to the mammals. It would cost $3 million to $10 million and could open as early as 2005.

The new primate exhibit would bring an undetermined number of gorillas to the zoo, possibly up to three troops. It could potentially cost $50 million, with an opening years away.

Crowther said the location of a possible ape exhibit has not been chosen. Squeezed by White River, Washington Street and a nearby neighborhood and businesses, the zoo has no room for additional growth.

But Crowther said it may be possible to extend parking offsite, then expand exhibit areas into parking lots, or reconfigure some facilities to gain some space.

The bill for the dolphin and ape projects might rival the entire cost of the zoo - about $64 million - when it was built in 1988.

The remainder of the $90 million would be used to renovate and improve existing facilities and create an endowment, said Crowther, who is in his first year as zoo chief.

The question is whether the zoo can raise that much money.

The task will be made more difficult by the sagging economy and the fact that the zoo is one of the few major ones in the country without significant tax support.

The zoo, a nonprofit entity, benefited from a slight rise in individual and corporate contributions the past two years. But it also is coming off a miserable weather year that saw revenue from admissions, memberships and sales drop nearly 10 percent.

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