The Saint Louis Zoo wants the public to advise its leadership on how to develop its new 425-acre North Campus in Spanish Lake.
The Community Input Sessions will be held 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, January 18 at North Campus, 12385 Larimore Rd. in Spanish Lake, and 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, January 23, at the zoo in The Living World building at the North Entrance.
RSVP is required by January 17 for the Saturday session and by January 22 for the Thursday session. Time slots are one hour; attendees may show up any time during that timeframe.
“These will be interactive sessions,” said Jo-Elle Mogerman, director of North Campus. “We want to hear the types of experiences people want to have, the types of feelings, their thoughts on the animals.”
A few matters have been decided. There will be a safari-type experience.
“At the zoo, the animals are there and we walk around them,” said Jeffrey P. Bonner, president and CEO. “Here, you’re here and the animals will walk around you.”
And there will be an animal science and conservation component. But what animals will walk around visitors and be the subject of conservation efforts remain to be determined.
Bonner envisions three basic groups: amphibians, birds and hoofstock (the latter, he said, “will drive the public programs”; it would be difficult to sell the public on a frog and bird safari). The poster animal of the zoo’s early renderings, however, appears to be the cheetah.
Mogerman said that the zoo’s conservation mission forces a priority on “animals where we can move the needle on their status in the wild.”
The notion of large wild animals, including some carnivores, roaming 425 open acres lends the image of escaped wildlife on the hoof in the neighborhoods of North County.
“We’re really good at keeping things in,” Bonner said.
The zoo has a vast array of considerations and regulations in deciding what animals to populate this beautiful landscape. The public’s opinion is welcome on the critters but even more needed regarding other amenities and visitor experiences.
The zoo intends to offer “glamping” (camping with glamor). Should there also be a lodge? The property has a large lake. Should there be kayaking? Other water rides? Horse rides? A gondola lift? A nature boardwalk?
The input process already is quietly underway. The zoo sent direct mail inviting every resident of Spanish Lake to visit the property, which formerly was owned by the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562 and best known to the public for its Emerald Green Golf Course. Many came.
“They want us to be a good neighbor,” Mogerman said. “They are already telling us ways that we can have an impact.”
She said local residents asked for early childhood education and workforce opportunities at North Campus. Mogerman said that has the zoo thinking ahead about workforce development “so we can have a local workforce trained.”
Bonner said North Campus won’t open to the public for another five or six years. Mogerman said the zoo’s feasibility study estimated a need for about 300 staff positions, with a mix of full-time and seasonal. Already a cadre of staff from the zoo’s architectural and planning departments have moved north and are on the ground working.
The economic impact stands to be huge. Bonner estimated the existing economic impact of the zoo at more than $200 million a year and said that North Campus could approach those numbers. “There could be a large spillover impact,” Bonner said — “restaurants, hotels.”
(The attraction will be free for St. Louis County residents, who approved a 1/8 of one percent sales tax increase in 2018 to fund the development of North Campus and repairs to the zoo.)
There is another and perhaps ultimate source of information about how to develop the land, though it can’t RSVP for an input session: the land itself.
“You turn a corner, and a vista opens up,” Bonner said. “You can imagine the herds. The land will dictate a lot of what we do. The environment dictates a lot to us.”
For more information and to RSVP for a Community Input Sessions, visit https://www.stlzoo.org/about/inputsession.