An aquarium at the Kansas City Zoo is one of many projects being talked about recently in the same breath with plans for a general obligation bond election next spring.
But a City Council member and the chairman of the zoo board both said Wednesday that no decisions have been made and the talk is just that — talk.
Friends of the Zoo chairman Chuck Caisley said leaders are working on a new strategic plan as well as a capital construction plan for the city-owned animal park.
“An aquarium has been discussed as part of that planning process, and I think there are a lot of folks who find that to be a pretty compelling project,” Caisley said.
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He said city bonding authority is one of three potential sources for zoo projects, along with private donations and revenue from the zoo’s taxing district. But Caisley said there is no agreed-upon scope or budget for an aquarium to serve as the basis for a request for money.
The prospect of a polar bear exhibit became the poster art in the successful campaign for a city bond package in 2004. The $11 million exhibit, financed partly with bonds, opened in 2010.
Kansas City leaders are considering again asking voters to approve a general obligation bond package, possibly in April. The amount is yet to be determined, but it is expected that most of the money would go for infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, roads, bridges and parks.
A new animal shelter could be a signature project to entice voters, and it is possible that some money could be set aside for improvements in the 18th and Vine district.
Alissia Canady, a 5th District city councilwoman who also serves on the zoo board of directors, confirmed on Wednesday that early discussions were underway about an aquarium at the zoo.
“There’s some people in the civic community who are interested in this,” Canady said without naming names.
Canady described the idea as one that “hasn’t fully matured” or been presented to the City Council. But some of the money for the project, she said, could come from public sources.
Councilman Quinton Lucas said that basically he was “unaware of what will be in the bond package but was happy to listen to any ideas that will create long-term economic benefits for Kansas City. My belief is that the focus of any bond package is to address long-term infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs.”
It’s not clear how much an aquarium project might cost. One is not included in the zoo’s most recent master plan. Zoo director Randy Wisthoff was not available Wednesday.
A $15 million aquarium called Sea Life opened at Crown Center in 2012. The for-profit enterprise’s aquarium has 260,000 gallons.
There has been discussion of a much larger aquarium in Kansas City for years, but none of the ideas gained traction.
An aquarium was envisioned as part of the redevelopment of the Missouri River waterfront when gambling was approved in 1993. A task force that included three former Kansas City mayors tried to revive interest in a riverfront aquarium in 2000. In 2004, a Kansas City Zoo master plan penciled one in. The Kansas City Economic Development Council solicited project teams in 2008, and Union Station even expressed interest.
A developer proposed a 2.5-million-gallon aquarium for the Mission Gateway project but abandoned that idea in 2012.
The Kansas City Zoo, once struggling, is on firm financial footing after voters in Jackson and Clay counties agreed to join a zoo taxing district in 2011. Residents of those counties pay a 1/8-cent sales tax to support the zoo, which continues to receive a city subsidy.