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September 18, 2013

Zoo to open $21 million exhibit for penguins by 2015

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
A rendering released Sept. 18 shows the Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo. The zoo expects to build the facility by 2015.

The Detroit Zoological Society announced Sept. 18 that it intends to construct the $21 million, 24,000-square-foot Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center by 2015.

Upon completion, the zoo says it will be the largest exhibit within the zoo and likely the largest exhibit dedicated to penguins in the world.

Ron Kagan, the executive director and the CEO of the zoological society, said the building of the structure represents the zoo’s recommitment to penguin preservation that it had established in the 1960s, when its leaders decided to build the current penguin exhibit. He said it was “unparalleled” at the time.

“We felt it was important for us to maintain that leadership,” Kagan said.

The new structure, designed by architects from Albert Kahn Associates and Jones and Jones, will feature 80 penguins and four different species. Kagan said the current penguin exhibit will be repurposed, but he would not elaborate on any plans.

The penguins will be able to dive through a 310,000 gallon, 25-foot deep aquatic area. Visitors will experience an ever-changing, four-dimensional exhibit with simulated wind and snow the deeper they go into the exhibit.

Much like the polar bear exhibit, penguins will be swimming around visitors as they walk through clear tunnels.

The center will be named after the Polk family, who donated $10 million for the exhibit. It is the largest single contribution to the zoo in its 85-year history, according to the zoo.

“I think we are very fortunate that Bobbi (Polk), and I can make a gift like this and bring this to Detroit,” said Stephen Polk.

Polk is the former chairman, president and CEO of the R. L. Polk Company and the vice chair of the DZS board.

“This kind of project is very daunting, and it’s frankly very expensive to do this,” Kagan said. “It wouldn’t be possible without the philanthropic resources that we have.”

He said the zoo is still looking to fundraise $8 million of the $21 million it needs to build the center.

Combined with the Arctic Ring of Life exhibit — containing polar bears, seals and arctic foxes — Kagan said building the Penguin Conservation Center will establish the Detroit Zoo as a premier site for Antarctic and Arctic preservation.

 “Certainly, as topical as climate change is now, Antarctica — as is the Arctic— is a focal point,” Kagan said. “I don’t think I need to point out that this kind of gives us the lock on the notion of having the largest, still, and most spectacular polar bear facility, which obviously live in the Arctic, and now the most extraordinary penguin facility and program”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.