Sedgwick County Zoo plan would feature waterpark resort

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Photo: Amy Hawley, Sedgwick County Zoo Volunteer Coordinator Photo: Amy Hawley, Sedgwick County Zoo Volunteer Coordinator
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

A hotel, electric train, and even an oceanic aquarium— it’s a plan 47 years in the making.

“Now it’s our turn to step up and be a determined group of people in this community,” said Kevin Arnel, President of the Zoological Society Board of Trustees.

Tuesday afternoon, the Sedgwick County Zoo unveiled its 25-year master plan to expand the zoo into an even larger attraction.

“The other things, depending on the momentum that we see generated, could happen sooner rather than later,” Sedgwick County Zoo Executive Director, Jeff Ettling said.

Right now, the zoo is the largest tourist attraction in the state, bringing in an estimated $43 million in economic impact to Wichita. But some main features to the zoo haven’t been updated since its opening in 1971, including the front entrance.

“With the new entry, it will be built out here in front. So, we’ll be able to keep the existing one open during construction,” Ettling said.

A brand-new entry complex and visitor center is one of the first updates the zoo hopes to make. Along with an expanded leopard habitat and an electric train to take you behind the scenes at the zoo.

Currently the zoo sits on about 250 acres but only 150 of that has been developed. With this new expansion they would be able to move into that other 100 acres.

Later phases are expected to include a new African Savanna, with a lodge hotel and waterpark. And a community events center and aquarium.

Currently, majority of the zoo’s visitors come from within 100 miles.

“What this plan is going to do is it’s going to attract more visitors because they’re going to have more things that can happen,” Sedgwick County Commission Chairman, David Dennis said.

The zoo said it’s too early to determine the costs of the plan but we should hear more about phase one early next year.

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Previous story written by the Wichita Business Journal-

Want to stay at a waterpark resort overlooking an African savanna at the Sedgwick County Zoo?

According to a 25-year master plan rolled out by the zoo on Wednesday, that's a possibility.

In a news release, zoo leadership mentioned the final report by analyst James Chung, which showed that Wichita has lagged behind other similarly sized cities in middle America in areas such as quality of life and talent retention.

"Wichita has a great deal of momentum right now and the zoo is excited to be a part of that," said Jeff Ettling, the zoo’s executive director, in the release. "As a community, we’ve been challenged to think big. This master plan is our answer to that challenge."

Along with the resort/hotel/waterpark addition, the zoo also listed the following improvements as part of the plan:

  • A new entry complex and visitor center.
  • Expanded Amur leopard habitat.
  • An electric train viewing experience.
  • A community events center that could host weddings and other gatherings.
  • A "stingray touch" experience.
  • An expanded aquarium that would feature "large oceanic species."
  • An animal carousel.
  • A new concert stage and plaza area.
  • A larger orangutan space.
  • Aerial rides as an option for zoo-goers to see attractions.

The plan was developed through a partnership between the zoo, a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm called Zoo Advisors and GLMV Architecture. A price estimate for the plan has not been calculated, according to the zoo.

The first phase of the plan is set to include the entry complex improvments, Amur leopard habitat expansion and the electric train. More is expected to be announced about those first three projects early in 2019.

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