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Utica Zoo undertakes $75 million renovation, double in size

For the first time since 1990, the Utica Zoo is embarking on comprehensive master plan. The proposed "Dream Big" project would expand the facility from 40 acres to 80 acres over the next 20 years. The goal is to raise $75 million, mainly through fundraising. If achieved, it will mean new animals, like tigers, bears and orangutans, as well as improved homes for some of its current tenants.

Handler Beth Ricci said a new sea lion exhibit would be welcome. The current habitat was last renovated in the 1980s.  

"It would give us more opportunities to give them a more enriched environment," Ricci said. "This is just a circular pool so one of the ideas is to make a pool that's a little more intricate, that they have more space and more ability to go to lower depths and do jumps and really exercise."

Utica Zoo communications coordinator Mike Beck said the changes will also enhance the viewing experience, like at the primate building where the gibbon monkey is currently enclosed by thick black bars. 

"The bars and cement is kind of an old-school thing," Beck said. "Back in the day when this was built, it was probably top of the line. But in 2016, our visitors say they don’t like it and we agree with them."

Beck said most of the money for the renovation will come through fundraising. The zoo is already on an upward trajectory after marking its centennial birthday in 2014. Officials have invested $1 million into the venue in recent years, spurring increased attendance and requests for corporate events.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.