2.18.15: Finance Committee approves new master plan for zoo
The John Ball Zoo is proposing a new long-term plan that features an estimated $50 million in upgrades including an education building, a permanent indoor-outdoor stingray exhibit, a revamped children’s area and a new entryway where black bears would pass over visitors on a sky bridge.
The plan initially called for doubling the number of parking spaces, adding more than 300 in the park and nearly 100 more for employees within the zoo. But to add that many parking spots, some green space would get paved.
John Ball Area Neighbors voted unanimously to “vigorously oppose” the zoo plan, although leaders of the group said Tuesday they are encouraged by a revised plan that replaces a proposed 371-space lot with the more nebulous tag of “future additional parking.”
“We are concerned about preserving our park,” said Margo Johnson, John Ball Area Neighbors president. “It’s more about green space and keeping the integrity of what John Ball donated.”
Johnson questioned whether there’s a need for more parking given the community’s growing promotion of other forms of transportation. The proposed Laker Line bus route would run right by the zoo, for example. And Grand Rapids is pursuing a commuter lot on Lake Michigan Drive NW, about two-and-a-half miles west of the zoo.
But if the zoo is going to spend millions on remodeling and expansion, it may need to draw more people from outside the area to generate enough revenue, said County Commissioner Harold Mast, R-Kentwood.
“You have to attract more people,” he said. “Those people are going to come with cars.”
With approval of the master plan, the zoo then would seek funding from donors for specific improvements, said Kevin O’Neill, the zoo’s chief executive officer. A millage proposal also could be coming to voters, but “that’s not happening this year,” he said.