Plan for Roger Williams Park Zoo includes Rainforest, new animals

Phase one also includes a new twice as large Education Center.

Seventy-one percent of Rhode Island voters approved the $15 million bond improvements for Roger Williams Park Zoo last fall.

The Board of Trustees was already working on the 20-year, three-phase master plan.

Ground will be broken next spring on the first project of phase one, a $10 million dollar Amazon Rainforest Exhibit, with completion expected by spring 2017.

The exhibit will feature birds, primates, small cats, and "a lot of neat animals you won't see anywhere else."

"We're really hoping to display some of these really incredibly dynamic species," Jeremy Goodman, the executive director of the zoo, told NBC 10 News.

Phase one also includes a new twice as large Education Center, as well as a Reptile Exhibit, featuring large komodo dragons, and other species from around the world, such as eight to 10-foot Amazonian fish in tanks.

Each phase will cost nearly $25 million, which is more than accounted for with bond money.

"We really envision that between private donations and foundations and corporate sponsorship, as well as general public support, as well as increased attendance and the revenues that are generated from that, we are confident we'll be able to do it," Goodman said.

Right now, annual attendance at Roger Williams Park Zoo is about 650,000. The target at the end of phase one is one million people a year.

Amy Parks of Warwick is a zoo member, and was visiting with family and friends on Thursday. She's excited about the new plan.

"The more the better here," Parks said. "Everyone who comes to Rhode Island - they think of Roger Williams Zoo, so let's just make it bigger and better."

According to Goodman, phase one will be finished in 2022. It's just in time for the 150th anniversary of Roger Williams Park, which is one of the oldest zoos in the nation.

Phases two and three will take place over the next 14 years. They include a new grand welcoming entrance, expanded parking, tigers and grizzly bears.

The zoo is aware of the growing concern about keeping animals in captivity.

"Our animals come from other zoos," Goodman said. "They're bred specifically in captivity. We take great care of them. We're trying to get people up close to the animals, so that they can really appreciate them and see them up close. And once they do that, then hopefully they start caring."

This zoo is not only a draw locally, but around the world, too. It's another piece of the tourism puzzle, as it generates more revenue, while enlightening generations to come.

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