Tampa Zoo plans $125 million expansion with link to Hillsborough River

Come one day to ZooTampa in Lowry Park: lions, jaguars, sea lions and many other manatees. Plus a direct link to the Hillsborough River, across which visitors may one day arrive at the zoo by water taxi.

These are among the highlights of a new, 20-year, $125 million expansion project that zoo leaders are developing with Tampa officials and that the zoo plans to present to city leaders soon.

The project would include expanded African and Asian habitats and a new South American habitat on the grounds of the park maintenance facilities, nestled in Lowry Park across North Boulevard.

“Our plans will revitalize this area, but we’ve made a conscious effort not to encroach on the park’s green space itself,” ZooTampa CEO and President Joe Couceiro said. “We will improve public access to the land that is currently occupied by the maintenance facility. It’s still a work in progress with the city, regarding the details surrounding this relocation. But that’s where the expansion is going to happen.

This rendering shows a water taxi arrival area proposed by Tampa’s Lowry Park, as part of a planned 20-year, $125 million expansion of ZooTampa to Lowry Park. [ ZooTampa at Lowry Park ]

The long-term project will begin with two developments already underway: an expanded interactive stingray exhibit set to open next year and an expanded manatee rehabilitation and care center set to open by 2026.

Related: ZooTampa to reopen stingray habitat where 12 stingrays died last year

After that, the zoo will open an exhibit dedicated to South American wildlife, including jaguars, sea lions and giant river otters.

“Due to our temperate climate, we are one of the few zoos in the country that can really house these species native to South America without bringing them indoors,” Couceiro said.

This rendering shows a proposed habitat for South American sea lions at ZooTampa in Lowry Park.
This rendering shows a proposed habitat for South American sea lions at ZooTampa in Lowry Park. [ ZooTampa at Lowry Park ]

Guests will be able to enter ZooTampa from the South American side via a new entrance along Lowry Park, which would have shops, restaurants and a publicly accessible entertainment area. A flyover across North Boulevard would connect the east side of Lowry Park to the rest of ZooTampa.

Eventually, the zoo will expand its African zone by adding lions, a habitat for gorillas and creating a new multi-species space for elephants, giraffes and white rhinos as well as its Asian habitats for orangutans and tigers. A possible experience that Couceiro highlighted: the possibility of camping overnight in “cabin-type facilities” near the lion enclosure, “a unique and distinct offer that other zoos, as far as I know, do not have. not offer”.

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This rendering shows a proposed redeveloped African habitat at ZooTampa.
This rendering shows a proposed redeveloped African habitat at ZooTampa. [ ZooTampa at Lowry Park ]

The zoo, like Lowry Park, sits on city-owned land and would need a partnership with the city for expansion. Couceiro said zoo officials have been discussing the project with development officials for a year and a half. Zoo officials had planned to present an expansion proposal at Thursday’s city council meeting, but Couceiro said they would seek one-on-one meetings with members instead.

“ZooTampa is a community treasure, and we look forward to reviewing the portions of the proposed expansion that require City of Tampa approval,” said Tampa Administrator for Economic Development and Opportunity Nicole Travis. , in a press release.

The zoo plans to seek public and private funding for the project, Couceiro said. The zoo is largely self-funded, he said, and will also use money from its own coffers.

“We have a long way to go, but we believe that over the next 20 years, $125 million is achievable,” he said. “It’s something I think we can live with, as far as return on investment goes.”

A proposed habitat for the river otter in South America.
A proposed habitat for the river otter in South America. [ ZooTampa at Lowry Park ]

The announcement comes just four months after another Tampa wildlife institution, the Florida Aquarium, announced its own major expansion, a $40 million project that will include new habitats for sea lions, puffins and African penguins.

Related: Florida Aquarium plans $40 million expansion with puffin and sea lion habitats

“We are not really in competition; we complement each other,” Couceiro said. “We already have some things they have. We have penguins, they have penguins. We have stingrays, they have streaks. I don’t think the fact that we can have duplicate species affects us in any way.

Aquarium expansion is expected to run through 2025. With a 20-year timeline, ZooTampa’s expansion will continue through 2042, when many of today’s young guests may return with their own children.

“Yes, it’s a long horizon, but we have steps we’ve planned to make sure we don’t rest on our laurels or look too far into the future,” Couceiro said. “We want to make sure that we provide an experience that currently delivers the kind of value that Tampa residents and visitors are looking for and can enjoy.”

Another rendering of the proposed African habitat.
Another rendering of the proposed African habitat. [ ZooTampa at Lowry Park ]

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