Grand Rapids zoo plans more exhibits, redesign

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) — A western Michigan zoo is proposing a makeover that would feature new animals, exhibits and experience for visitors.

The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids is closing a month early to work on improvements. Zoo officials are hoping to widen the entryway to enhance accessibility.

“The zoo, to be a community treasure, really needs to be a community treasure for all,” said Peter D’Arienzo, who heads the zoo. “It’s a lot more than just being (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, it’s about being a zoo for all. If I walked up that hill right now, maybe I’m not in great shape, but if I’m talking, I get out of breath.”

The zoo recently added toucans, a spider monkey and the popular red pandas, which officials are hoping they’ll make a love connection.

“We’re hoping they’ll get together and produce offspring,” D’Arienzo said. “So we built a bridal suite and they’re getting to know each other.”

The changes expected to be implemented over the next five years include moving the parking lot from the front to the rear of the zoo to make room for the an 18-acre (7.285-hectare) playground for the neighborhood.

D’Arienzo told WOOD-TV new exhibits will roll out every year.

“We’re adding a giant anteater, which isn’t on exhibit yet — maybe about a month or so,” D’Arienzo said.

The zoo draws nearly 500,000 people each year.

It opened 128 years ago, making it the nation’s 10th oldest zoo. It’s among only 10% of zoos in the country certified to have the best possible practices for meeting animals’ needs.