Kansas City Zoo provides first look at $75 million new aquarium as it appeals to donors

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The Kansas City Zoo already broke ground on construction on its new 60,000-square-foot aquarium, with plans to have the addition completed by mid-2023. But as of Monday, the zoo was looking to raise about $5.5 million to complete the project.

In November 2020, Kansas City parks officials gave the zoo the green light to move forward with plans to build a $75 million aquarium, a project that has been in the works since 2014.

The aquarium, which is being constructed near the Helzberg Penguin Plaza, will be open year-round. Admission to the aquarium will be included in the general zoo admission.

A rendering shows the exterior of the new aquarium at the Kansas City Zoo.
A rendering shows the exterior of the new aquarium at the Kansas City Zoo.

A public fundraising campaign for the new aquarium kicked off Monday.

“We want to make sure that every child in Kansas City can experience the ocean and realizes the importance of conserving it, even here in the middle of the country,” the zoo’s executive director and CEO, Randy Wisthoff, said in a news release Monday.

The project is the largest in the zoo’s 112 year history, officials said.

The aquarium will span 600,000 gallons of water, and is expected to include about 30 exhibits including sharks, octopuses, sea turtles and rescued sea otters, the zoo announced.

The aquarium is being funded by the Zoological District of Jackson and Clay Counties, and through private donations, officials said Monday.

In 2018, the Kansas City Council voted to contribute $7 million in funding for the project.

However, Wisthoff said in 2020, the city never found the money in its budget to contribute. Instead, $45 million for the aquarium will come from the existing zoo-district sales tax, while $30 million will come from private funding.

“We are making an investment in the future, ensuring the amenities of a world-class Zoo are available for everyone to learn from and enjoy,” said Hayley Hanson, Friends of the Zoo board chair, in the release.

The Kansas City area has seen several large aquariums proposed and discarded over the years, including one overlooking the Missouri River, the West Bottoms and as part of the stalled Mission Gateway project in Johnson County. The only one that was realized is the Sea Life aquarium, which opened in Crown Center in 2012.

A study by the zoo estimated that the new addition could increase visitors to the zoo by about 300,000 people a year. Currently, the zoo sees about a million guests annually.

The Star’s Katie Bernard contributed.

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