Kansas City council members want to help build a $75 million aquarium at the zoo

Kansas City Zoo
Kansas City Zoo File photo

Two Kansas City council members are proposing the city contribute $7 million toward building a $75 million saltwater aquarium at the Kansas City Zoo.

If everything goes smoothly, an aquarium of about 750,000 gallons could open in late 2021 or mid-2022. It would be about the size of the aquarium at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.

“We’re looking at two ocean biomes, warmer water and colder water,” zoo director Randy Wisthoff said Tuesday. “We’ve got a number of species we’d like to bring in, a range of animals from sharks all the way to sea horses and jelly fish. We would take a look at sea otters and some things you don’t find in a lot of aquariums.”

Wisthoff said the zoo has identified a little more than $20 million in potential private funding.

The city’s portion would come from general obligation bonds approved previously by voters, according to a resolution introduced last week by Councilmembers Alissia Canady and Kevin McManus. The rest would come from the zoo’s 1/8th-cent sales tax in Jackson and Clay counties.

“We’re about as far away as you can get from an ocean (so) we’d like to bring something to Kansas City in a scope and size that would be considered a destination, a major-league aquarium,” Wisthoff said.

Zoo officials have not settled on a location for the aquarium, but are considering the valley where the bear pits used to be in the old Kansas City Zoo. It would be included in zoo admission, although ticket prices would probably go up. Jackson and Clay county residents would still receive four free admission days a year.

An aquarium has yet to be designed, but it would include immersive features, such as tunnels, where visitors would be surrounded by sea life.

“That’s the big wow experience you have to have,” Wisthoff said, “but then it’s about those smaller tanks, too.”

There have been several large aquariums proposed in Kansas City over the years, on the riverfront and elsewhere, but most have not been realized. Crown Center features the Sea Life aquarium, which opened in 2012.