For more than a quarter of a century, a little slice of the Outback has been nestled within the city where kangaroos and dingoes found a home.
Now, that space is getting a facelift – hopefully with the public’s help.
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo officials announced a $7 million capital campaign Tuesday that will help pay for the first of three phases of renovations for the Australian Adventure, which opened in 1987.
These renovations will ultimately include adding a home for stingrays, new reptiles, a cool oasis where kids can play in the water, an ice cream shop and eatery.
Zoo officials said $5 million has already been raised through donations and endowments. They are now looking for the public’s help.
Anyone can now buy tiles on which they can have their names or their family’s names engraved. These tiles will then be placed along the entryway of the exhibit.
“The zoo is a Fort Wayne treasure,” said Chuck Surack, a past president of the Fort Wayne Zoological Society.
Surack said the zoo accounts for $22 million annually in economic impact and is a centerpiece of the city’s tourism.
In 1988, a year after opening at a price of $2.5 million, the Australian Adventure was named one of the nation’s best Australian exhibits by the organization that accredits the zoo.
Since the exhibit’s opening, 10 million people have walked through it, zoo officials said.
Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change.
“Time flies and standards change,” said Jim Anderson, the executive director of the zoo. “We’re kind of reimagining the Australian Adventure.”
What is now a building for nocturnal creatures is expected to become the stingray exhibit, Anderson said, while kids will be able to play in shallow water and build dams in “Crocodile Creek.”
The creek, of course, will be sans real crocodiles.
The current campaign will cover the first phase of the projects, which includes redoing the entryway and some other remodels, officials said.
The entryway is expected to be ready come Saturday, when the zoo opens to the public for the season.
This project is the second-largest in zoo history. Only the African Journey, which opened in 2009, cost more, at $9.6 million.
The zoo has always been funded through donations and operates with no tax funding, according to zoo officials.