Dodge City Commissioners on Monday approved a 10-year master plan for possible future improvements and expansion of Wright Park Zoo.

According to city officials, the 10-year plan for the Wright Park Zoo would be for renovating or replacing all exhibits and buildings of the existing facility.

Some of the possible outcomes of the expansion would be the zoo having two conceptually themed zones, Pioneers on the Prairie and Viva Kansas, and relocating the main entrance from the north to the south to make better use of the existing parking and the soon to be renovated pond.

Along with new animals native to Kansas and beyond, there will also be a brand- and story-driven entry building for both ticketing and donation stations, as well as gift shop and entry services (including stroller rental and restrooms).

A possible ticket pricing structure of $5 to $10 per adult would also be considered. Residents would not be required to purchase admission, but a donation of $1 each would be suggested.

An industry average of 2 percent of attendance for family memberships would be available and anticipated to be purchased.

"Realistically, there are a lot of animal lovers out there that would get behind a project like this," Commissioner Kent Smoll said. "The Wichita Zoo does have a foundation so there is no reason that we can't have a smaller foundation here.

"That is how Garden (City) funds a lot of their zoos. It's a change, but I think it gives people something to look forward to."

Commissioner Joyce Warshaw added, "Friends of the Zoo is getting more and more active."

The Friends of Wright Park Zoo and the city of Dodge City work together to make improvements to the zoo.

Members are individuals from the community who help the zoo.

"We're hopeful that Friends of the Zoo will be a part of this," Warshaw said. "We can have fundraisers and all kinds of things."

The projected cost for the master plan’s projects is projected at just under $4.5 million.

"If you look at year one, that is $599,000," Commissioner Rick Sowers said. "That's at the point where, we have a plan, we have it out there now, but it scares me that we have dedicated $50,000 right off the bat and this first year we need $599,000 to start fulfilling this and I don't know how we scale down from $599,000 to $50,000 to take out a dent of it."

Sowers said he is not arguing that the plan is not great, and that it encompasses a lot of things.

"The one thing that a little bit scared me is that we didn't say early on that it would be a mini version of Garden City," Sowers said. "And to some extent, to me, is that it is a mini version of Garden City.

"I'm just trying to figure out where we find the money, and the money thing is what it comes down to. I see all the improvements that are needed, I just don't know what we're approving tonight, so I'm trying not to raise expectations up so high that we can't fulfill or meet them."

City manager Cherise Tieben added, "We have to have a plan to show to U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have to be able to show it to people like the Mariah Fund (for grants), to present to them and fundraising and go out to businesses and say, 'Do you want your name on the aviary? Here's what we are projecting.'

"So is this saying this a concrete plan? No. Then it would be passed as an ordinance. But it's a plan and it's a place to start."

The city earmarked $2 million for capital projects for the zoo along with the $2.2 million in profits, it is estimated the zoo will need an additional $271,000 in fundraising to complete the plan.

Fundraising dollars are not expected to be required until 2028 because the projects are phased over 10 years and city funding is expected to be used for the first half of the projects.

The process for the zoo master plan began in January of this year through public engagement sessions and outreach through Felis Consulting.

It was determined that 87 percent of respondents were in favor of seeing the zoo improved compared to 13 percent who said they would like to see the zoo close.

According to city officials, with the projected revenues and projected operating costs, the zoo is projected to raise about $2.2 million in profit over the master plan’s 10 years.

"We need to reiterate we are just looking at the plan," Warshaw said. "We are not committing to dollars and cents, we are committing to a plan to present to the community."

Commissioners approved the Wright Park Zoo plan unanimously 5-0.


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