MARCH 13, 2012 -- The Saint Louis Zoo Association announced it has signed a conditional contract to purchase the 13.5-acre Forest Park Hospital site at 6150 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, Mo., 63139 (located on the south side of the zoo and across I-64).
"The zoo has always been a prudent steward of its resources and would not consider this purchase if it did not qualify as a financially wise move," said Jeffrey P. Bonner, president and CEO of Saint Louis Zoo. "In the past few weeks, we have brainstormed dozens of ideas for this site. For example, it could help the zoo further its mission of enhancing the visitor experience by increasing available parking, offering relief for traffic congestion and providing educational opportunities. We think this property could also be the anchor that positions St. Louis as a life sciences leader not just for medical or plant sciences but for animal science and conservation. Some buildings on this site could possibly serve as office, conference and lab space for conservation initiatives."
According to a project description also released by the zoo today, officials are looking at several options for the medical office building. These options include moving zoo staff into into the building, adding new research staff, adding lab staff, providing off-site collections space for small animals and housing new equipment, such as a CT scan. Surface parking and the existing parking garage could improve traffic on Hampton, reduce vehicle traffic within Forest Park and improve access to the zoo, according to the project description.
In the long-term, zoo officials say the property could be used for commercial and residential space, fitness trails, play areas, a transportation hub and a connection to Forest Park (such as a people mover, gondola or pedestrian bridge). "Ultimately, we may be able to expand the zoo's exhibition area by more effectively utilizing the South Parking Lot)," the project description states.
Price and contract terms were not disclosed, however payment for the site would come from funds of the Saint Louis Zoo Association and not taxpayer revenue, according to the news release. The contract is conditioned upon the satisfactory completion of multiple due diligence audits, which are expected to be completed within 120 days.
If conditions warrant, the closing for the transaction would be set for late spring 2012. The closing would jumpstart extensive planning for the site's future use. "In this planning process, we would involve local officials, our nearby Dogtown neighbors and a range of other stakeholders to make the best possible use for this site," Bonner said.
The zoo announced the conditional contract today on its Facebook page, and zoo fans were quick to comment. Some were hoping the zoo would use the additional space to create room to expand the Cat Country exhibit or even build a large aquarium.
More details on the purchase are available on the zoo website.
In addition to the conditional purchase, the zoo is also making improvements to its current property. Construction is currently ongoing on the zoo's Living Promise Campaign, which includes the creation of Sea Lion Sound. Sea Lion Sound is an expanded and improved 1.55-acre home for some of the zoo's most popular animals, the California sea lions. The exhibit combines two areas, the current Sea Lion Basin and the Sea Lion Arena into one major complex. The project includes a state-of-the-art sea lion habitat; Sea Lion Landing, with salt-water pools, underwater viewing, a unique underwater walk-through tunnel; and the new Lichtenstein Sea Lion Arena, where public shows will be held. Construction on Sea Lion Sound is more than 90 percent complete, and an opening date has yet to be announced.