Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Virtual walk-through: Experience Detroit Zoo's planned penguin center

Animation of the new Detroit Zoo penguin center: Animation of the interior of the new Detroit Zoo penguin center
Royal Oak — The Detroit Zoo announced Wednesday a $10 million gift and plans to build a state-of-the-art penguin center, which will be the largest exhibit constructed in its 85-year history.

The gift from the family of Stephen Polk of Bloomfield Hills will be used to create a new $21 million Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center that will try to recreate the essence of Antarctica.

Much like the zoo's Arctic Ring of Life polar bear exhibit, visitors will be able to walk through tunnels. They also will be surrounded by swimming penguins, both above and below their feet in some cases. The aquatic area will feature a 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep body of water chilled to the penguins' comfort.

On first entering the center, visitors will walk down ramps into what the zoo is calling a "4-D" experience, which will mimic the turbulent drama of crossing Drake's Passage to get to Antarctica.
The 24,000 square-foot center will be home to 80 penguins from four species — rockhopper, macaroni, king and, new to the zoo, gentoo penguins as well.

“I feel very fortunate that Bobbi and I can make a contribution like this and to be able to give something back to Detroit,” said Polk, former chairman and CEO of R.L. Polk & Co., referring to this wife during the announcement made Wednesday at the zoo’s Ford Education Center. Polk also is vice chairman of the zoo’s board of directors. R.L. Polk & Co. is a Southfield-based provider of automotive data and market strategies.

Detroit Zoo Director Ron Kagan announced the penguin exhibit will be larger than the zoo’s current polar bear and seal exhibit combined, with architecture that resembles a cracking iceberg.

“Just like the polar bears, we felt it was time for us to invent the next generation” for the penguins, Kagan said while displaying images of the new exhibit in a slideshow presentation.

During the presentation, Kagan described how visitors will pass through glass-enclosed passages, where even the floors will be glass.

“So penguins will literally be doing laps around us,” he said.

Kagan said the zoo still has to raise $8 million to hit the full $21 million price tag. Construction should start by March 2015; Kagan expects the center to be completed in 2015.

Kagan said the zoo was simply advancing a long tradition.

"In the mid-’60s, this zoo was brilliant in creating the Penguinarium," he said. "Even today, its design is unparalleled. But just as we did with polar bears, we felt it was time to invent the next generation and maintain that leadership."


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