This week marked the St. Louis Zoo’s public kick-off of its planned expansion. The zoo sits on nearly 100 acres within Forest Park in the City of St. Louis. The purchase of the 13.5 acre former Forest Park Hospital immediately across I-64 provides the zoo with a rare opportunity. The site is also a significant challenge, as it is not contiguous with the existing zoo and sits within the city’s residential Dogtown neighborhood. Recognizing the potential impact of the project on the neighborhood, park and city, the zoo has sought public input from the point expansion became a possibility.
The open house presented attendees with four stations aimed at imagining the potential of various areas of focus: Attract, Enhance, Connect, Support. While not mutually exclusion, each provided a framework to envision very divergent possible outcomes for the 13.5 acre project. Yet, by far the most engaging part of the open house were the zoo employees. They listened to ideas from all comers, and offered many of their own. They were dreaming as well. This was only step one, but this is how a public planning process should work.
So what did you see if you attended the open house?
Attract: entice, interest, appeal. Exhibit expansion. New attractions. This is where the big dreams lay: a 10-story Ferris Wheel, an aquarium, iconic animal enclosures and experiences, a zoo waterpark, zip lines and more. Have a big idea? Think the zoo could use a new iconic structure? This is where it could happen. The land here is much less restricted than within Forest Park. An aquarium has been a popular idea in some circles for years. Should it be downtown? On the riverfront? This location is one opportunity if a truly significant project is desired. If it happens, a unique hook could be a freshwater river aquarium – seems fitting for the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri and could provide incredible research and education opportunities.
Enhance: improve, enrich, develop. Neighborhood and Community Amenities. This is a focus on added to and complimenting the existing zoo and park: sculpture park, community market, boutique hotel, playground, dog park, retail development, community garden, amphitheater and more. This is where a community can come together and the project can augment the zoo and neighborhood. All are good ideas, but it would seem an especially attractive site for a signature zoo/Forest Park hotel with retail development connected to existing retail along Clayton Avenue.
Connect: join, link, bring together. Traffic. Circulation. Bridges. Streetscape. Here, the Zoo recognizes the barrier that is I-64. The challenge here is likely to combine pedestrian and automated people mover access. Why not aspire to the pedestrian bridge over the Craigieburn Bypass Freeway in Australia? While the earliest rendering for the site showed a monorail, it seems likely that the solution will be more modest. A practical and fun idea was echoed by several visitors: simply expand the zoo train across a new bridge and onto the new site. One issue the zoo hopes to address is parking and traffic and having a fun and familiar attraction would lead many visitors to park at the new site.
Another idea, offered by a zoo representative and loudly echoed by those in the conversation was to create places and moments for people along any new pedestrian connection in the form of nests for native birds, bee hives, or other small animal exhibits. This could also be an ideal place for the zoo to offer information about the impact of Interstate highways on animal habitat and populations. And with soon-to-be three dedicated zoo parking areas, should they explore smart parking technology, perhaps directing those exiting I-64 to the nearest open parking?
Support: sustain, assist, reinforce. Zoo Operations. Research. Conservation. Education. Parking. Here's the practical side, behind the scenes operations and zoo support. Could the animal nutrition and food prep facility move here? Veterinary facilities? Small-animal breeding? This could be the side of a solar array, new research and education facilities, a transit hub. Basically there's a whole lot to a zoo other than the, well, zoo. With demolition of nearly the entire Forest Park Hospital facility anticipated, this 13.5 acres can be just about anything.
The open house comment form will be available online until Wednesday, December 19, 2012 – just follow this link: https://s.zoomerang.com/s/stlzooexpansionsurvey. You can also submit comments to the project team via email at email@example.com. The next public event will be held in Spring 2013.
The zoo expansion has been the subject of a What Should Be series on this site. The zoo has been presented with the following planning visions from the nextSTL.com community and a number of ideas have been included in the early stages of the framwork plan.