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Without City Investment, The Kansas City Zoo's Aquarium Project Could Be Dead

The chairman of the Kansas City Zoo board says without a $7 million investment from the city a proposed aquarium project might die.
Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
The chairman of the Kansas City Zoo board says without a $7 million investment from the city a proposed aquarium project might die.

The chairman of the Kansas City Zoo Board says a $75 million proposed aquarium project might be dead if the city can't come up with $7 million.

“I’m concerned that it does not happen without that investment, without that partnership,” Todd LaSala said Thursday after appearing before City Council's Finance and Governance Committee.

The zoo has $22 million in private pledges to help pay for the 65,000 square foot aquarium. In addition, money will be used from the Zoo District's sales tax.

The zoo hoped the city would use $7 million from a recent general obligation (GO) bond issue to pay for the project. LaSala said some donors want to know that the city will invest in a building that it will own. “They really want to know that the city is going to invest in its own asset as well. It’s a fair thing for them to ask.”

But there seems to be little appetite on the council to use GO bonds for the zoo project. The committee approved a resolution from Councilman Kevin McManusthat directs the city manager to take 60 days to explore different ways to raise the $7 million. The full council will vote Thursday.

Councilman Scott Wagner asked about raising ticket prices. “It does beg the question as to whether there was a consideration of simply raising the cost of admission to help build the aquarium," he asked Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff.

Wisthoff said the zoo is committed to not raising the admission price, noting increased ticket prices are not a good way to raise capital funds.

While the council seems disinclined to use bond money, there is support for the zoo and the aquarium project.“The folks from the zoo have been just dogged in pursuing this project,” McManus said.

LaSala said the aquarium would generate $44 million in economic activity for the city and create 100 jobs. Wisthoff said a world-class aquarium would bring another 400,000 visitors a year to the zoo, 80,000 of them from out-of-town.

The aquarium could also open the door to other major projects. The polar bears lead to the penguins and the penguins, Wisthoff hopes, will lead to sea creatures. “Each project kind of builds to something even bigger,” he told the council committee.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia where he covered organized crime, politics and political corruption he moved on to TV news management jobs in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Sam came home in 2013 and covered health care and education at KCPT. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son and is pretty good in the kitchen.