$10M Donation to Fund Detroit Zoo’s New Penguin Center


The Detroit Zoo announced Wednesday a $10 million donation — the largest in the zoo’s history — from the Stephen Polk Fund in Bloomfield Hills, that will be used to create the $21-million Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center.

The center will replace the current Penguinarium, which debuted in 1968 and was first renovated in 1985. The new penguin exhibit is projected to open in 2015.

In an interview in Hour Detroit magazine in June, Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, explained that advanced research has gone into the new exhibit’s development and included visits to Antarctica.

“Our goal was to make the Penguin Conservation Cener as accurate and authentic as possible,” said Kagan this summer. “What are the stories and the unique aspects of the penguins that we should be telling people, and how does that fit into what is a rich environmental story?”

From the outside, the new exhibit will appear to be an iceberg breaking through the water. On the inside, “There will be lots of solar tubes that will feed natural light into the building,” Kagan said.

One of the most dramatic features of the $21 million, 24,000-square-foot facility will be a penguin “deep dive” with views above and below water as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area.

“The building will stretch 50 feet from top to bottom, and half of that is water,” Kagan said. “It will be quite a ways underground. You cannot see penguins under the water in the wild, but when you’re in the lower level of the building, you’ll see penguins swimming, or flying, around you.”

More than 100 design, engineering, and construction jobs will be created and sustained for the estimated two-year construction period, and the facility will add several full-time employees to the Detroit Zoological Society’s staff.  With an associated annual increase of 100,000 visitors, the new attraction is expected to have an economic impact of more than $3 million per year.

This news comes on the tail of the zoo’s announcement that it achieved a modern, single-day attendance record of 20,113 visitors on Aug. 3. Annual attendance at Detroit Zoo has surpassed the one-million mark for eight consecutive years.