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PROPOSED: Miami Metrozoo makeover


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Zoo entertainment park planned

Susan Stabley

Miami-Dade County's hopes for an entertainment complex of theme parks, hotels and shops anchored to Metrozoo may soon roar to life with the expansion of an enterprise zone offering incentives to developers.

With a pending designation of 75 acres next to the zoo as an enterprise zone, officials are hopeful they can lure more attractions and offset the park's losses from low attendance. County commissioners are to vote Jan. 20 on the issue.

While proposals to boost the zoo's economic health have been considered since the mid-1990s, officials say the county is closer than ever to making Metrozoo the center of an amusement multiplex.

"I believe it gives us an opportunity to have our own Universal Studios," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss, who has pushed for the complex's creation. "The whole idea was to create a niche for South Dade after the [Homestead Air Force] base was blown away. I realize that South Beach has the shopping and the beaches and all of that, but we don't have any major family entertainment venues."

The county's current concepts include adding two hotels, an expanded railroad museum and three theme parks, plus a "Main Street" with shops and restaurants, said Kevin Asher, a planner with the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation department. Miami-Dade would offer concession leases to developers, similar to the kinds used with stadium owners, he said.

Job creation is an estimated 13,000 during construction and 9,000 permanent jobs upon completion.

By next spring, the county could start seeking developers for a water park and a family entertainment center.

"The zoo would be like the anchor store in a mall," Metrozoo spokesman Ron Magill said. "There is no place south of Disney with that kind of entertainment center."

New attractions inside and outside the zoo are necessary for its survival, Magill said. Metrozoo is no moneymaker. County subsidization has kept admission prices - $11.75 for adults, $6.50 for kids - low.

Attendance peaked in 1986 with 876,000 visitors. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew swept through the park, tearing out more than 5,000 trees and twisting apart its aviary. More than 300 exotic birds were lost.

Turnout afterward fell to about 500,000 visitors, but has since grown to more than 600,000. The proposed complex could bring as many as 2.5 million a year, according to estimates.

Zone creation to lure developers

Establishment of an enterprise zone would allow developers around Metrozoo to receive tax credits for bringing new jobs. To make the zone, county officials must take away space from an existing zone, so they found an area where jobs can't be created. Officials could carve out 75 acres from an existing enterprise zone by eliminating the designation from the waters of Lake Joanne at the Blue Lagoon business park near Miami International Airport and give that enterprise status to 75 acres north of the zoo's core.

The change in designation required permission earlier this year from the Florida Legislature, which also allowed enterprise zones boundary modifications in Hialeah, West Dade and northern Miami-Dade County.

The proposals also require passage of a Development of Regional Impact, a review process from federal, state and local regulators.

Development of a water park and family entertainment venue has been eyed for part of the zoo's underused parking area. In May 2003, the county acquired 135 acres from the Martinez Army Reserve and is in talks for an additional 300 acres from the U.S. Coast Guard reserve.

Three monkeys, a goat and two bears

Metrozoo began with a stranded traveling road show in 1948.

Legend has it that the county gave the show's owner $270 to fix his truck in return for three monkeys, a goat and two black bears. The animal collection started Crandon Park Zoo in Key Biscayne.

In 1975, work began on the former Richmond Naval Air Station southwest of the airport to transform it into exhibits of free-roaming animals and free-flying birds. The first 12 displays opened July 4, 1980.

Notable animal additions to the zoo, which has developed 300 of its 740 acres, include Asian elephants, Indian rhinos, southern bald eagles, white tigers, koalas, Andean condors and Komodo dragons.

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  • 4 weeks later...

moving forward....


Massive Metrozoo makeover planned


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When Metrozoo opened, keepers envisioned wild cageless landscapes -- offering the nearest thing to viewing gorillas, zebras and squirrel monkeys in their midst.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the goitered gazelle. People got hot and sticky in the summer. Kids got tired of the long walks. The beasts found shady sports and got hard to spot.

''The kids are roaring to go at the beginning, but about halfway through, they're ready to go home,'' said Shaun Anderson, 34, who brought his 4-year-old daughter Skyler on Thursday but avoids the zoo in the summer.

So the zoo is changing, more than it has since it dropped the cages in Crandon Park and moved south in 1980 to Southwest 152nd Street off Florida's Turnpike. Tonight, donors and zoo leaders will board the Biscayne Lady Yacht to celebrate the start of its rebuilding campaign, which has silently raised $13.5 million from the private sector.

The zoo is embarking on its biggest fundraising drive ever and, as it spends $360 million over the next 20 years, zoo leaders plan to add more ''themed'' exhibits that include theaters and boat rides along with the animals.

The wide scale, once celebrated as crucial to making animals feel at home, is shrinking. New exhibits, planned to capitalize on the wealth of tropical monkeys and tapirs near Florida, will offer more of the great, air-conditioned, indoors.

Modest outdoor signs that explain where the species comes from and what it likes to eat will be overshadowed by tanks with touchable electric rays and jaguars that wander above visitors' heads on logs.

Combined with new roller coaster and water parks planned for the zoo's periphery, the line between zoo and theme park is blurring.

''This is the trend in zoos today,'' said Jack Brown, director of the Sante Fe Community College training zoo in Gainesville.

The word in the industry is ''immersion'' -- making visitors feel like they are in the same habitat as the animals. Metrozoo's old ''naturalistic'' approach offers wide paths for visitors and large fake rocks and real trees for animals, who are kept from visitors by moats instead of cages. An occasional cave, playground or misting machine cools things.

''We're quite blunt about this,'' said Glen Ekey, president of the Zoological Society of Florida, the nonprofit arm that runs the zoo fundraising and marketing as the county handles day-to-day operations. ``Our goal is to create the best zoo in the United States of America and possibly the world. Our battle cry is beat San Diego.''


Zagat's guide rates Metrozoo as South Florida's best attraction, but it's not close to San Diego in resources and attendance. Three of every four Metrozoo visitors come from Miami-Dade County, according to marketing director Paul Vrooman. Its attendance, 492,523, ranked 57th out of 173 accredited zoos in the country in 2003, the most recent comparison available.

San Diego's zoo and wild animal park, national landmarks, draw 10 times more visitors and spend 10 times more money and are run solely by a private nonprofit.

Metrozoo's next major project, a 27-acre section called Tropical America, will cost $36 million. It will be larger than the average American zoo. The firm paid $3.1 million for design and engineering, Jones & Jones Architecture of Seattle, designed many of the exhibits at Disney's Animal Kingdom and sections of the San Diego Zoo and the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.


Designer Mario Campos insists Metrozoo will not look like Disney. Its mission is education and preservation, he said. Still, the change in philosophy is profound.

Two years ago, the zoo began its first immersion section, the $13.5 million Wings of Asia aviary.

''It's themed and it tells a story,'' said Vrooman. ``It's more of an adventure.''

The exhibit capitalizes on children's love of dinosaurs and uses archaeological evidence to emphasize that birds are ''living dinosaurs,'' a point reinforced with a movie. Vrooman walks by a spot where a girl is digging for fake fossils outside of an Asian-inspired shrine, as Eastern music and wind chimes play in the background.

Visitors see the lake from a side glass, with turtles at the bottom, tropical fish swimming and ducks diving down from the surface. ''This is the zoo of the future,'' Vrooman says.

It seems like a completely different zoo than the naturalistic giraffe pens, where trees are the closest thing to distractions from the animals.

Tropical America exhibits build on the new style. Three major sections -- the Brazilian Rainforest, the Cloud Forest of Costa Roca and the Amazon -- will explore different Latin American regions.


Visitors to the Amazon, for example, will walk into a curvy glass enclosure that shows a dry river with monkeys and birds on one side and a flooded river with six-foot river fish on the other side. Nearby, harpy eagles, the world's largest, will swoon.

The building will include spots for an electric eel and small insects. And the same room will be available for fundraisers in the evening.

The cloud forest -- full of misting machines, monkeys and bromeliads -- will simulate high altitude with a berm that raises the ground level.

Older exhibits at Metrozoo generally have 20-foot pathways for people, difficult to shade with trees. To further cool those areas, the zoo continues to add more trees, benches and misting machines. Newer areas will have tight, four-to-six foot pathways. Scientists said shrinking animals' spaces won't hinder their care, especially the generally smaller animals chosen for the Tropical Americas.

Most captive animals do not use all their space because they do not hunt for food.

'A lot of it has more to do with the visitors' psychology than it does the animal welfare,'' said Bill Jungers, a Stony Brook University anatomy professor who studies the movement of captive animals.


Animal rights activists, who oppose zoos in general, see it differently.

'Their number one priority is to make a profit, if they can find a better way to get the people through the turn-stiles. The animals' needs are always going to be secondary,'' said Holly Bowman, campaigns coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.

Metrozoo has several advantages as it grows. Its species collection is larger than most zoos and only 12 zoos have more land.

Long-term, Commissioner Dennis Moss wants hotels, theme parks and video game entertainment complexes around the area. He hopes to rival the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando and draw more driving tourists who stay nearby.


This summer, the county will take bids on an adjoining property for a water park. Zoo director Eric Stevens said he wouldn't mind if some of the water attractions bleed directly into the zoo.

Not everyone thinks the zoo needs a face-lift. Donald and Linda Monsalvatge, with their 20-month-old grandson Tye, relaxed at a shady spot near the gorillas Thursday afternoon.

''I don't think people appreciate nature enough. They'd rather go to a mall,'' Donald said. ``People ought to be flooding to this place.''

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You sound worried FLA. Does Orlando have a copyright on tourist attractions? Please. Tampa came up wit the zoo/attraction idea anyway with Busch Gardens.

The only thing at work here is to try to make the zoo profitable and more of a all year, all ages attraction. This has everything to do with the Miami economy and absolutely nothing to do with Orlando. Orlando is barely on the radar to us down here so don't bring your central florida regionalist competition to us.

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Trying to compete with Orlando theme parks is the worst idea I've ever heard. We obviously have that market cornered. Miami needs to worry about it's own economy instead of attempting to steal ours.


There is really nothing to worry about. No one visiting Orlando for parks is going to travel all the way to Miami for a zoo if they weren't going there with some other purpose as well, especially with Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens, Sea World/Discovery Cove and Cypress Gardens here. The only thing I could see it doing is perhaps keeping some Miami tourists in Miami who would have otherwise traveled to Orlando for the attractions.

I do have to admit, however, that this guy is an idiot:

"Long-term, Commissioner Dennis Moss wants hotels, theme parks and video game entertainment complexes around the area. He hopes to rival the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando and draw more driving tourists who stay nearby."

That's just not going to happen.

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You sound worried FLA.  Does Orlando have a copyright on tourist attractions? Please.  Tampa came up wit the zoo/attraction idea anyway with Busch Gardens.

The only thing at work here is to try to make the zoo profitable and more of a all year, all ages attraction.  This has everything to do with the Miami economy and absolutely nothing to do with Orlando.  Orlando is barely on the radar to us down here so don't bring your central florida regionalist competition to us.


I sound worried? You sound defensive. You must have a really old, broken radar. To say I'm not worried is an understatement. If I were, I wouldn't have said "Trying to compete with Orlando theme parks is the worst idea I've ever heard." And to say that this has nothing to do with Orlando is rediculous when the man himself mentions trying to compete with one of our parks, even mentioned by name. Did you skip that part?

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that's not even part of the long term plan.

regardless he says, "drawing more driving tourist who stay near by". I wouldn't consider Orlando near by. Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Naples is more like it.

So tell me, why is it such a bad idea? Are you oblivious to how big a part tourism is to Miami's economy? And with more people in the metro area than Orlando and Tampa combined, why couldn't we support a regional theme park?

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It is nice to have a thme park in Miami, but most people go to Miami for the beaches and shopping. I would not waste my day at a generic theme park that I can found in other parts of the country, especially in Miami. People go to Miami and Orlando for different reasons. The zoo theme park will be good for the locals. Prahabohem is right, it will never be able to rival Universal Studio.

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I like the idea of adding some more attractions around Metrozoo. I think it is a fantastic zoo, but it is plagued to be a kind of off-the-radar attraction because of its location. When I was at UM and living in pseudo-south Dade, going all the way down to 152nd St always seemed like such a trek, expecially because it was away from everything. I always felt that if I'm driving that far south, that I may as well keep going to the Everglades or the Keys. I found it quite interesting how "down south" really was such a different world apart from like Dadeland and areas north of that. I have a good friend who grew up around SW 170th, and he claims to have almost never gone north of Kendall Dr growing up. But anyways, I think spicing off the parks offerings to make it more of a destination will be a great thing.

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I agree with the previous post, Orlando really isnt on the radar down here. It is viewed as just a tourist town. Miami boasts the most international tourists in the state and is third in the country behind N.Y. and L.A. it has a very healthy tourism industry. And I think you miss understood the commisioner. He wasnt trying to take business away, he was referring to Universal Studios in the sense that they have that mall and hotels within walking distance of the attraction. Miami Metrozoo is already built they are just expanding it and want it to feel more like an adventure. JUST RELAX.

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  • 3 months later...

Posted on Mon, May. 23, 2005


New concessions, menus and displays at Metrozoo

Miami Metrozoo's concession stands and gift shops will be getting a new look.

The changes result from hiring a new vendor, Service Systems Associates of Denver, which last week took over management of food and gifts at the zoo.


Plans for Metrozoo include new displays, lighting and a wider selection of wildlife related products in the gift shops. The concessions will get expanded menus including children's meals, soft-serve ice cream and frozen coffee beverages, as well as fresh condiment stations and ''grab and go'' meal items.

The majority of the changes, which are part of the 20-year Master Plan to improve Metrozoo, will take place by the end of the summer. The five-year contract with Service Systems provides that 15 percent of all profits go back to the zoo. Metrozoo is guaranteed monthly revenue of $52,800 for food sales and $18,660 for gifts and novelties.

Read more: Miami Herald

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Link To PDF of new Attraction

Work-in-Progress. Rhythms of the Tropics is a new exhibit at the Miami Metrozoo that will celebrate life in the tropical Americas. Lyons/Zaremba is developing the narrative storyline and interpretive exhibits that explore the ecosystems of Meso America, Amazonia, and Mata Atlantica.

The exhibits will engage visitors of all ages with animals such as jaguars, harpy eagles, poison dart frogs and Amazon catfish. For each of the three ecosystems, an exhibit storyline provides younger visitors with successive storybook

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Yeah, I've visited many of the world's major zoos and Miami has a lot of potential right now to become a world class Zoo. I think it is in their benefit to create some sort of partnership with Parrot Jungle and the Miami Seaquarium to really easily attract tourists to all three venues.

I like to see indoor exhibits at all the zoos I visit and considering how Hot it is here in Miami some indoor exhibitions would be great for attracting more guests in the hot summer months.

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