Framework Plan for Zoo Expansion Site

A major animal-focused attraction, expanded animal habitats, a gondola and bridge over Interstate 64 and a Zoo-themed restaurant and hotel are only some of the recommendations in a detailed, final Expansion Framework Plan the Saint Louis Zoo unveiled on September 26, 2013. See the executive summary and full plan documents.

This 20- to 30-year plan sets the stage both for organizational and physical changes on the Zoo's existing 93-acre campus and for development of the Zoo's recently purchased 13.5-acre former Forest Park Hospital site at 6150 Oakland Ave. in the City of St. Louis.

Background

On September 26, the Zoological Park Sub-District Commission, the Zoo's governing authority, approved this plan, which is intended to be a dynamic, living document—a starting point for long-term growth. It will guide decision-making for years to come and was developed with the help of dozens of experts, community leaders and citizens who attended public workshops to offer suggestions.

"We are excited about this plan because not only will expansion of the Zoo's footprint enhance the Zoo visitor's experience, it will also significantly improve the site to the benefit of nearby communities, the city and region," said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo.

The site was purchased in October 2012 from Medline Industries, Inc. Payment for the site came from donor funds provided by the Saint Louis Zoo Association—a private, nonprofit organization whose volunteer board is made up of business and community leaders, working with the Zoo to provide leadership for fundraising and other activities at the Zoo.

Plan Recommendations

Unlike the existing Zoo campus in Forest Park, the expansion site is next to a residential neighborhood and retail corridor.

Plan recommendations include:

  • Using the expansion site to create a new entrance to the Zoo, anchored by a major attraction—an orientation point for visitors that would serve as a welcome center and be a hub of activity providing a unique experience and iconic architecture.

  • Moving parking facilities — from the existing campus and congested Forest Park roads to surface lots and a structured parking facility at the expansion site (This facility would capitalize on existing topography and provide both above-ground and underground spaces.)

  • Linking the expansion site to the existing Zoo campus with an iconic bridge, a gondola, wheeled trolleys or trams.

  • Placing not only parking but Zoo administrative/service/distribution operations at the expansion site, allowing room on the existing campus for new animal habitats and expansion of the Zoo's veterinary hospital.
  • Developing Zoo-themed retail, dining and lodging (an animal-themed hotel, for example).

  • Enhancing public space (creating a dog park, farmers' market or an outdoor event area)

These framework plan recommendations will serve as a baseline for analysis, discussion and consideration as the Zoo develops a master plan for its future, looking both at its existing campus and the new site. This strategic planning process is set to begin this fall.

"The expansion site will also help the Zoo continue to advance its mission to conserve animals and their habitats through animal management, research, recreation and educational programs that encourage the support and enrich the experience of the public," Dr. Bonner added.

Site Changes

Following the abatement and demolition of the site, which was completed in July 2014, the Zoo renovated and opened a six-story garage, the only building that remained from the original structures.

In July, the Zoo began landscaping the site. This phase will include the planting of new trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses at islands and street edges. The use of native Missouri plants is expected to reduce the environmental impact of maintenance, while providing more shade to parking areas.

Recognizing the regional need to address the decline of pollinator populations, the site will include two distinct pollinator gardens: an experimental ‘test’ garden with rows of single species plants that can be used for quantitative data collection and an interpretive garden with a mixture of plants to attract a variety of bees, birds, and butterflies.

Site development will also include a number of benches and trash receptacles, walking paths with access to pollinator garden areas and improved landscaping around the bus stops at Oakland and Hampton Avenues.

The majority of the former hospital site will be planted with buffalo grass, a plant originally found in Missouri grasslands. Once established, buffalo grass forms deep roots that keep the plants healthy through droughts, allowing it to survive without irrigation. This grass grows only 6”-9” high and should not require regular mowing, helping to reduce the noise and pollution caused by traditional turf maintenance.