Leading SA: A look at the San Antonio Zoo expansion

Tim Morrow, president and CEO of the zoo joined GMSA on Sunday

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Zoo has big plans for expansion and upgrades and it’s a multi-year plan that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

That is why Tim Morrow, president and CEO at San Antonio Zoo, joined Leading SA this weekend.

We have a lot of construction going right now, a lot of improvements happening. The main project we have is an all new entrance that is going to greet guests here later this year, at the end of November, beginning of December, and then throughout the zoo. Over the last few years, we’ve invested almost $80 million back into the zoo and really upgrading it and getting ready for these massive projects like this front gate. And then early in 2025, we’re going to bring back gorillas, which we haven’t had since 1991, and have a great, beautiful event center that can really help the zoo and host a lot of events for the community,” Morrow said.

The time table is not necessarily set in stone, but families can start seeing big changes over the next couple of years.

We’re hopeful to open in the first half of 2025 with gorillas. So really excited. And people will start to see construction in that corner of the zoo in the next couple of months and just really excited about bringing those gorillas back to San Antonio. The habitat is big, one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the country of two acres of gorilla space. And so really immersive exhibit for our visitors that will see that and very enriching and welfare focused habitat for the gorillas that we’ll bring in from other zoos,” Morrow said.

Part of the expansion plans is the expansion of the popular zoo school.

We have a great problem and challenge with the Will Smith Zoo School. We have around 240 children that go to that nature based preschool and the waiting list is now over 8,000. And so the zoo is actually working with a committee of philanthropists and business leaders and other people to kind of just think through how we can scale that school. We know there’s a big demand for parents who want their children in nature based preschools and nature schools like this. And so we’re working on how we can expand the reach of that,” Morrow said.

The transformations will not happen overnight and they will not be cheap.

The overall master plan is probably around $200 to $250 million, and that’s going to be over the next 10 to 15 years. Gorillas is just the big start of what we’re doing with this entrance and event center. And so really excited about the long term plan of the zoo and the sources we are using utilizing to help us fund this area one philanthropy. So corporations, individuals, foundations contributing to the zoo. We are a5a1 city nonprofit. So we need donations to to build and to expand and get better. The city has been amazing with us, with assisting us with funding through the bond and other sources, and then things like new market tax credits, the tax credits. We’re hoping the county will want to participate at some level at some point. So just really anybody that wants to help, we are accepting that and working really hard to raise those funds to make San Antonio Zoo the best zoo on the planet,” Morrow said.

The plan is to make the San Antonio Zoo an attraction and economic driver to bring in people from around the country.

We do know people from Austin visit our zoo, and we do know people from Austin because the San Antonio so just like the Spurs, we really want to tap into that audience and be welcoming to them. And get them to San Antonio and hopefully stay a couple of nights in hotels, eat at all the restaurants, and enjoy all these amazing attractions that we have in San Antonio,” Morrow said.

About the Author

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.

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