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Minnesota Zoo seeks $25 million for infrastructure, exhibit updates

In an effort to offer visitors new perspectives and experiences, while also updating some of its aging facilities, the Minnesota Zoo is seeking $25 million in state funding.

Sponsored by Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount), HF2328 would appropriate that amount for two large projects and several smaller initiatives.  

Minnesota Zoo Director John Frawley briefed the House Capital Investment Division Thursday on those plans and explained that although many people consider the zoo to be relatively new, it’s actually now 40 years old.

“It kind of needs a little rebuild right now,” Frawley said. “It’s a little tired.”

The most expensive project is what the zoo is calling the “Minnesota Treetop Trail.” The plan calls for repurposing the zoo’s dormant monorail line to create a 1.3-mile elevated walkway that would loop through a variety of animal habitats, such as oak forests and wetlands, and allow visitors to see the animals from a different perspective. Officials say it would also provide unique learning opportunities that could include outdoor classrooms.

The total cost of the trail is estimated to be $22 million, but the zoo is asking for $11 million in state funds that would be matched by $11 million in private funding. Frawley said the zoo has just received a $6 million private donation for the project.

A second project called “Creatures Beneath the Canopy” would cost $4 million and require reopening a nocturnal exhibit that’s been closed for the last 10 years. Zoo officials say visitors would be immersed in the experience of traveling from the ocean floor to a treetop canopy.

Of the remaining $10 million:

  • $5 million would help update the zoo’s animal hospital, which was built in 1975, with new infrastructure and technologies;
  • $2.5 million would improve transportation and accessibility at the zoo on roads, paths and viewing areas; and
  • $2.5 million would provide asset preservation with repair to animal exhibit areas, outdated infrastructure systems and deteriorating bridges, trails and roads.

“As you’ve heard from me in the past, there are no blockbusters, it’s nothing new we’re asking for,” Frawley said. “It’s just time we fixed and continue to fix some things that aren’t working at the zoo.”

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