Nashville Zoo officials announced plans for a major expansion project Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor Karl Dean and Metro Council members, along with the zoo’s president Rick Schwartz and zoo board members, were in attendance for the announcement.
The expansion will include several projects and upgrades, including a new entry plaza, new exhibits featuring Andean bears and spider monkeys and a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital.
Infrastructure improvements such as expanded parking, roads and walkways will also be added.
Zoo spokesman Jim Bartoo said the expansion plans are in addition to a campaign launched in 2012 to raise $130 million for a 40-acre African exhibit.
“The city’s support is a great head start into that program,” said Schwartz.
Last month, Metro officials allocated $10 million to the zoo for the expansion project, which hinges on a dollar-for-dollar match from the zoo with private donations. The first of the four phases of the project will cost the zoo around $43 million.
The zoo currently leases 188 acres of its land from Metro Parks and Recreation and only uses 82 acres. Under the newly expansion plan, a good portion of the acreage will be developed over several years.
“We’re growing at an average rate of about 5% a year in attendance, which far out paces the national average for zoos that sees less than one,” said Bartoo.
Since opening it’s doors in 1997, the Zoo attendance has grown by 1000%, with guest volume expected to reach 1.3 million visitors by 2020.
Zoo guests like Ryan Naylor and his family who frequent the zoo pretty often said the expansion announcement is welcome news.
“The whole Nashville metro areas booming so it only natural that the zoo should grow too,” said Naylor.
The Nashville Zoo attracts more than 776,000 visitors each year and is considered one of the top things to do in Nashville.
The zoo is open every day expect Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s day.