$500,000 Awarded to Detroit Zoo's Penguin Center


ROYAL OAK — Fundraising for the Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo has been energized by a $500,000 gift from the DTE Energy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the utility provider.

“We are happy to partner with the zoo to help build a world-class penguin center that will be enjoyed by visitors of all ages for many generations,” says Faye Nelson, spokeswoman for DTE Energy and president of the DTE Energy Foundation. “In addition, we are proud to invest in this high-tech facility because these types of cultural projects help support the economic progress of our region and state.”

The center is expected to have a regional economic impact of as much as $10 million per year, adding to the current $100 million economic impact the Detroit Zoo already has on the region. More than 100 design, engineering and construction jobs have been created and sustained for the development period of the center, and several full-time staff positions will be added when the facility opens early next year.

The grant will support projection mapping, an advanced video feature that will depict a phenomenon known as iceberg calving — icebergs splitting and sending massive cascades of ice crashing into the sea. “This generous gift will enable our visitors to experience one of nature’s most dramatic visual spectacles,” says Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society.

One of the most dramatic features of the 33,000-square-foot facility will be a penguin “deep dive” with views above and below water as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. That feature, deeper and larger than the aquatic area at the Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life, will allow visitors to observe penguins “flying” under water – something that cannot even be seen in the wild.

The center will be home to more than 80 penguins of four species: rockhopper, macaroni, king and gentoo, which currently reside in the Detroit Zoo’s Penguinarium.