Kansas City leaders have heat over the last few years for spending decisions involving light rail and an expanded international airport. Now, the city is being asked to help build a $75 million saltwater aquarium at the zoo.
The project is on the agenda for the city’s finance committee later this month.
Two city council members are proposing that the city contribute $7 million toward the 750,000 gallon aquarium. And zoo director Randy Wisthoff said Tuesday that the zoo has identified a little more than $20 million in potential private funding. That would require another tax increase. The shortfall in funding would be made up from a 1/8th-cent sales tax in Jackson and Clay counties.
The zoo’s attendance has grown from half-million to 1 million in the last few years and it has expanded its workforce by more than 100 people. The aquarium would require an additional 100 employees.
As with other major additions, he said the aquarium would be covered by the gate fee, though that fee would increase.
“A major aquarium has been talked about in this town for many, many years,” Kansas City Zoo CEO Randy Wistoff said. “But to bring something of scope and now with our new taxing district, the access of the zoo to residents, our school programs, to really bring and teach about the oceans and the world, the importance of them.”
Plans call for the aquarium to open in late 2021, possibly in an area of the zoo that once housed bears. Wisthoff says officials would like it to include sharks and immersive features, such as tunnels, where visitors would be surrounded by sea life.
Kansas City mayoral candidate and Zoo Board member Alissia Canady is a supporter and co-sponsored the legislation. “This is an opportunity to attract responsible economic development, and the business case is strong to support the investment,” she said.
He says he wants the project to be a “destination, a major-league aquarium.”