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Buffalo Zoo deserves funding for newest projects

May 17, 2012

The Buffalo Zoo has been taking steps to add to what is already a gleaming attraction in downtown Buffalo. According to the Buffalo News, the Zoo is preparing to seriously invest in a pair of projects.

From the news:

Construction is slated to begin in July on the first phase of the project, a $4 million plan to turn a 1940s barn near the zoo’s parking lot into a new entrance plaza. The zoo hopes to complete that portion of the project by April 2013.

Whether construction on the second phase of the project — a $14 million plan to build a new arctic habitat with expanded polar bear exhibits — will begin in June 2013 will depend on the zoo’s ability to raise the rest of the money for the project.

Creating a new entrance plaza is long overdue for the Zoo (rhyming is fun). The current entrance is far too small and cramped. Without many in-depth details, I would imagine that the new plaza will have a far greater spread and provide more of a grand entryway.

An overhead layout of the proposed Arctic Edge project. (Courtesy: Niagara Greenway)

I’m fearful that the plaza entrance won’t even get off the ground, however. The News detailed that a barn from the 1940s will be part of the project. I can only imagine the uproar in the preservation community if this barn is to be razed to make way for such a project. After all, progress is not as important as preserving every brick laid prior to 1960. Of course, the barn is part of the adaptive re-use of the project as seen in the project proposal. I have to say it is quite understated, but interestingly attractive at the same time.

The more important of the two projects detailed by the News is the new arctic environment that would include an expanded polar bear exhibit. However, it would seem there are some hurdles left to clear in terms of funding. What is more concerning is the fact that the Zoo could lose their two polar bears if the construction of the new exhibit doesn’t get off the ground.

In the grand scheme of things, losing a pair of polar bears wouldn’t be the worst thing that has ever happened to the city. However, it would be par for the course with the way this city operates with development projects.

It is imperative that the necessary funding is given to the Zoo for this project. Cities like Buffalo have much larger and impressive zoos. However, the Buffalo Zoo has begun to take steps to remedy the situation. Despite being landlocked, the addition of Otter Creek, Sea Lion Cove and the M&T Bank Rainforest has brought modern exhibits to North America’s second-oldest urban zoo.

Even if the project sounds like a Gatorade flavor (Arctic Edge), it needs to get the necessary funding. The Zoo needs to remain a viable attraction; I don’t think it could do so with an unfinished construction project and two missing polar bears.  If two major attractions are moved and never returned, it will just make our city that much more embarrassing.

The project itself is tremendous. The space provided to the bears alone is impressive and the additional habitat space is quite similar to how the rainforest is laid out. The Zoo’s future page (link below) details a number of other plans that show an impressive direction for one of Buffalo’s greatest assets.

Obviously this is a major undertaking. According to the story, the Zoo needs $6 million to finish the funding for the project. Where that money is going to come from is a mystery, but the County Legislature could certainly get the ball rolling by allocating more funds to the project.

What is exciting about this proposed plan is the continued dedication to improving the Zoo. There are some fantastic areas the Zoo currently boasts. There are also some serious deficiencies throughout the complex. Obviously the Zoo has begun to take steps to remedy this scenario. Now they just need the proper support to ensure the necessary steps can be taken.

Ultimately there should be action taken to expand the Zoo further into Delaware Park. I know that will enrage some, but expansion is probably necessary to allow the Zoo to stay competitive. Some of the proposed projects they have in mind are very interesting. I can only imagine how great the Zoo would be with even more space to build additional state-of-the-art enclosures. Perhaps down the line we will see a Zoo with expanded grazing habitats for the giraffes and elephants (turns out a similar project is already in the works) and expanded living space for the big cats as well. But that would all be well down the line.

For now, the next step is an obvious one. The necessary support just needs to be provided.

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