Editor’s Note: The following is a press release from the Minnesota Zoo.
Minnesota Zoo Director/CEO Lee Ehmke announced Thursday the successful completion of Heart of the Zoo campaign, a six-year comprehensive public/private partnership that secured more than $76 million from the State of Minnesota and more than 12,000 donors and transformed the experience of visiting the Minnesota Zoo.
Launched in fall 2006, under the leadership of honorary chairs Edward (Ned) Dayton, Eleanor Crosby, and campaign chairs Peter Maritz and Harry Haynsworth, the campaign secured $55 million from State and private sources for capital projects, and $22 million in corporate, foundation and individual donations for the zoo’s annual fund, which supports conservation and education programs. The campaign helped build and revitalize zoo exhibits, strengthened and created new educational initiatives and facilities, increased the depth and breadth of the zoo’s commitment to conservation, and enhanced opportunities for families and kids to connect with the natural world.
“The Heart of the Zoo campaign has been instrumental to our successes over the past several years,” said Ehmke. “Our attendance reached an all-time high of nearly 1.37 million guests this past year, a 40-percent increase over pre-campaign levels, and zoo membership now exceeds 46,000 households, another all-time high. The physical transformation of the zoo combined with our investments in education and conservation clearly are making an impact: we’re connecting families and children with wild animals and the natural world, and we’re providing fun, unforgettable experiences for our guests whose visits to the zoo and participation in our programs inspire them to conserve wildlife while supporting our bottom line.”
The first and last project supported by Heart of the Zoo was the repurposed Medtronic Minnesota Trail that showcases Minnesota’s wildlife. Thanks in part to a $1 million gift from the Medtronic Foundation, the exhibit was designed and built by zoo staff in 2007, and has just been augmented with the final project of Heart of the Zoo, a new American black bear exhibit which opened Sept. 15.
The Minnesota Trail received the Significant Achievement Award for Exhibits from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which one year later awarded the zoo top honors in exhibit design and marketing for Russia’s Grizzly Coast, a state-of-the art environment that immerses zoo guests in the landscapes of the Russian Far east and introduces them to some of the world’s most charismatic animals.
When Russia’s Grizzly Coast was completed, the zoo also opened a revitalized Central Plaza with a new nature-based playground called Woodland Adventure, funded by a grant from the General Mills Foundation. In addition to providing improved guest amenities such as outdoor seating, animal sculptures, a Splash Pad and food and retail service, Central Plaza offers kids unique opportunities for active play/learning.
Heart of the Zoo also invested significantly in new educational facilities and innovative math and science learning programs. The new Cargill Environmental Education Center, funded by a lead $1 million gift from the Cargill Foundation, boasts four new classrooms that help meet the needs of more than 300,000 students each year. The Target Learning Center, a new multi-use theater that occupies the footprint of the zoo’s long- vacant whale pool, was supported by a $1 million gift from Target. The Target Learning Center is a venue for a variety of educational and community activities, including the zoo’s popular World of Birds free-flight show.
The final two projects of the campaign were the 3M Penguins of the African Coast and the new south entrance to the zoo. As part of an on-going commitment to supporting education and encouraging student achievement in science, 3M made a gift of more than $1.4 million to support the penguin exhibit as well as zoo programs developed to increase student achievement in math and science. At the same time the penguin exhibit opened, the zoo created a gracious and green entryway to the zoo, welcoming guests and connecting them immediately with the natural world.
“Heart of the Zoo provided opportunities for our guests to make emotional connections with wildlife, engage in science and conservation, and have enjoyable experiences with family and friends,” concludes Ehmke. “We’re inspiring people of all ages to think about and actively engage in the stewardship of our natural world. Together, we are making a difference. And we can’t wait to show you what we’ve got planned next.”