The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) today announced the intention of the Polk Family Fund to grant 10 million US dollars towards the development of The Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center. The grant will be the largest donation in the history of the Detroit Zoo. The Penguin Conservation Center has been in the planning and design phase for two years and represents the largest project the Detroit Zoo has ever undertaken.
One of the most dramatic features of the 21 million US dollars, 24,000-square-foot facility will be a penguin “deep dive” with views above and below water as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. That feature, deeper and larger than the pool at the Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life, will allow visitors to see penguins deep-water dive — something that cannot be seen anywhere else, even in nature.
“We are thrilled to be able to move forward with our plans for an amazing place for penguins that is centered on conservation and will be an extraordinary and unique experience for our guests,” Kagan said. Construction of the facility — on a 0.8-hectare site near the Zoo’s entrance — will commence in March next year and it is expected to open in late 2015, but Kagan said the zoo still needs to raise 8 million US dollars to reach the 21 million total.
The Penguin Conservation Center will be home to 80 penguins of four species: rockhopper, macaroni and king — which currently reside in the Detroit Zoo’s original Penguinarium (the first facility in North America designed specifically for penguins ) — as well as gentoo, a species which will be new to the Zoo. The habitat will ensure an optimal environment for the penguins’ welfare and encourage wild behaviour, from diving and porpoising to nesting and rearing young.
“The Detroit Zoo has a reputation for creating world-class facilities that provide the best environment for animal conservation and welfare and an educational and exciting experience for visitors. Our family is honoured to support this exciting and important conservation centre,” said Stephen R. Polk, former chairman, president and CEO of the R. L. Polk Company and vice chair of the DZS board, who travelled with Kagan to Antarctica in early 2013.
Inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expeditions as well as the epic crossings of Drake’s Passage, the facility will feature 4-D effects such as arctic blasts, rough waves and snow, and include other physical elements such as ice crevasses. The building’s exterior is a dramatic design evoking a tabular iceberg.
“The design of this unique facility has been informed and inspired by the harsh and visceral ice world of Antarctica. The end result will be an extraordinary and authentic polar experience,” said world-renowned polar ecologist and penguin expert Dr. Bill Fraser, who served as a design consultant on the project.
The entry plaza will include a water feature that will be a splash area in the summer and a skating rink in winter.
The Penguin Conservation Center was designed by Jones & Jones, architects of Disney’s Animal Kingdom as well as the Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life and National Amphibian Conservation Center, and by Albert Kahn Associates, architects of the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.
More than 100 design, engineering and construction jobs will be created and sustained for the estimated two-year construction period, and the facility will add several full-time employees to the DZS staff. With an associated annual increase of 100,000 visitors, the new attraction is expected to have an economic impact of more than 3 million US dollars per year.
Unfortunately, besides the good news there’s still the Detroit City bankruptcy that Zoo’s management has to worry about:
While the City owns the land and assets, our animals fundamentally have no commercial value in the modern era of zoos. So, the primary asset is really the land. The facility has obviously been developed as a zoo and would require major expense for other use. In a sense, the Zoo is priceless to the animals that live here and the community that comes here. As anything else, the cost of closing, clearing and building something else would not likely be financially feasible.
You’ll recall we went through great uncertainty seven years ago when we transitioned governance and management from the City to the DZS. It ultimately resulted in strong regional cooperation and community investment.
While the City continues on this challenging journey, we will continue to do what we do best — Celebrating and Saving Wildlife while providing the community with great experiences and new memories. We have obligations to all we serve and we intend to continue to meet those obligations.(Detroit Zoo website notice)