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Idaho Falls Zoo starts expansion into former fairgrounds.

Byline: Teya Vitu

Idaho Falls Zoo Director David Pennock stands inside the large, open Hamilton Building at the neighboring fairgrounds and paints an invisible picture with his hands.

"Imagine a pride of lions in here," Pennock said, "You'd be able to view them on a freezing cold day in January."

Perplex glass in the building, of course, would separate lions from zoo visitors.

Next, he steps outside onto the enclosed couple acres of grass. Pennock visualizes the fairgrounds lawn as an African setting. Lions outdoor, perhaps.

Across the fence are the two livestock barns and a tall pavilion with staggered bench seating that was once the auction hall for the Bonneville County Fairgrounds. Pennock would like to turn it into a year-round aviary.

Bonneville County sold its small, 3.3-acre fairground adjoining to the city of Idaho Falls in November for $695,000. The county is now building new 30-acre fairground in southeast Idaho Falls.

Pennock is now considering how to expand the 7-acre zoo into the adjoining property.

"It's a very fluid process with me," he said. "This is just ideas now. You caught us n the middle of the dreaming phase."

Expansion starts with education center

The first step in zoo expansion started July 11 with construction of the Maeck Family Foundation Education Center next to the zoo gift shop. A stretch of Rogers Street that fed into Tautphaus Park Idaho Falls' largest park was abandoned to provide space for the 4,555-square-foot, nearly $1 million education center.

The construction is funded by a $500,000 grant from the William J & Shirley A. Maeck Family Foundation and $250,000 from the Tautphaus Park Zoological Society, which also established a $100,000 endowment to maintain the new education center, Pennock said.

Myers Anderson (Architects) of Pocatello is the architect. PETRA Construction of Boise is the general contractor.

The bucolic Idaho Falls Zoo, tucked within a grove of trees, is only open April to October. Pennock said the fairground building would be used to keep the zoo open year-round.

The zoo draws 160,000 visitors a year, about 50,000 from Idaho Falls, one-third from within 100 miles and one-third from elsewhere, he said.

Pennock became zoo director in April 2016 after 13 years as executive director of the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls. The city's parks and recreation director, Greg Weitzel, had already crafted a Tautphaus Park master plan in 2016 that included zoo expansion, but at that time there was no certainty that the county fairgrounds would be in play.

Weitzel said discussions have started and stalled for more than 30 years to transfer the fairgrounds from the county to city. Bonneville County Commissioner Bryon Reed approached the city in early 2017, and the deal was final in November.

"The zoo expansion will be great for our children, for conservation and tourism, which will be great for the economy," said Weitzel. He noted the zoo is the most visited attraction in eastern Idaho even though it's only open half the year.

Pennock does not have timeline for converting the fairgrounds into a zoo facility other than "as soon as is practical."

"I can't tell you how important it is to have a clear vision of what we're doing," Pennock said. "I think we're very close We're taking advantage of the opportunities as they come. The sooner the better."

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Publication:Idaho Business Review
Date:Aug 14, 2018
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