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Wichita zoo unveils ambitious 25-year plan

WICHITA, Kan. — Zoo officials are proposing a 25-year master plan for the Sedgwick County Zoo to attract more visitors to Wichita from across the US.

The zoo is Kansas’ top attraction with an estimated $43 million annual impact on the Wichita economy. But 94 percent of the zoo’s 600,000 annual visitors come from within 100 miles of the zoo, the Wichita Eagle reported.

The plan’s eight phases of upgrades and new features aim to draw beyond the zoo’s current reach, said Jeff Ettling, the zoo’s executive director. The changes proposed will set Sedgwick County Zoo apart from others, he said.

The first phase to achieve by the zoo’s 50th birthday in 2021 will be a new entry with eight ticket booths.

“That’ll be a really new face to the zoo,” Ettling said. “We’re living with the original entry that was built in 1971.”

The first phase also includes a new electric train, an expansion of the Amur leopard habitat and an event center that can hold up to 500 people.

The plan includes other ambitious ideas, such as a new aquarium, hotel, water park and destination restaurant overlooking the savanna exhibit.

“We’ve decided to kind of take a different approach to an aquarium,” Ettling said.

The new aquarium will be part of the amphibian and reptile complex, which will double in size. The three will combine to tell the story of amphibians and reptiles living in the tropics, the mountains and deserts.

Ettling touted plans for a 55,000-gallon shark tank that could be designed as a tunnel that people can walk through.

He also discussed plans for a 200-300 room hotel overlooking a grassy area that mirrors an African savanna.

“It really does give the feel that you’re in a very, very different place than Wichita, Kansas,” he said.

Fundraising will likely begin before the end of the year. Ettling declined to provide details on the plan’s cost estimates since they’ll likely change over the next couple of decades during its implementation.

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