JACKSON — In 1919, the Jackson Zoo began with a small collection of animals in the area between the Central Fire Station and City Hall in Jackson. In 1921, the zoo was relocated to Livingston Park, which was donated to Jackson by Samuel Livingston.
Today, of the 110 acres the Jackson Zoological Park (JZP) is located on, 44 acres have been developed. Through a capital campaign, money is being raised that will eventually lead to the development of all 110 acres.
A steering committee of community leaders, the JZP staff, campaign leadership and others are working to raise $8 million for phase one of the zoo’s renovation and construction projects, which include the science education center ($1.3 million), Mississippi wilderness exhibits ($5.6 million), African savanna ($800,000) and entrance plaza ($300,000). The master plan, a three-phased plan, is a $21-million or more investment and will eventually lead to the development of all 110 acres.
Of the $8 million that is required to build out phase one, $4 million has been appropriated by the State of Mississippi and another $1.5 million by the City of Jackson. The remaining $2.5 million, of which $2 million has already been collected, will come from donors. JZP staff, community members and leaders are working to raise the last $500,000. Construction on phase one is scheduled to begin sometime around the first of the year.
Joan Marie Kaye, the JZP director of development, said the zoo is something that showcases Mississippi and is another tourist draw for the state and city.
“We want to make the zoo one of Mississippi’s jewels,” Kaye said. “We’ve been talking about these exhibits for years, but when we really start to see them emerge we know it will have a great impact on the city and the state. We’ll have an educational magnet to draw (tourists and students) here and we’re very pleased about that.”
The final approval for phase one is expected any day. The state will be handling the bidding process and construction draws. The planning process for the project has taken more than 10 years.
“When the Jackson Zoological Park took over the management of the zoo in 1985, the board members decided they would commission a master plan for this whole park and the surrounding areas,” Kaye explained. “It’s taken a while for all the ducks to be put in a row.”
In 1992 the planning process began and for several years the board lobbied to raise funds from the state and the city.
“Now we’re in the position to hold a capital campaign,” Kaye said. “Since the zoo is a statewide institution we wanted to make sure we reached everyone in the state so they could have a chance to help the zoo.”
The public campaign opened at the end of October. Fundraising for phase two will begin as soon as phase one’s fundraising is complete. At that time, Mississippians will have the chance to donate $5 million to help develop the North American exhibits. Phase three fundraising will begin soon after phase two’s fundraising is complete. Phase three will consist of the development and renovation of the Asian exhibits, South American exhibits and Livingston Park, and cost about $8 million. Construction of each phase should last about two years.
About 200,000 people visit the zoo annually, Kaye said. She said the ultimate goal is to develop the best regional zoo in the Southeast.
“The Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau has habitually called us the first or second state tourist attraction for many years,” Kaye said. “They’ve supported us because of this in the past with promotions and advertising.”
After phase one’s completion, Kaye expects attendance at the zoo to pick up dramatically.
“Eight million may sound like a small investment but people will awaken to the city and come this way,” Kaye predicted. “The long-term economic impact will be great because the people around the area and the zoo itself will attract very sizable amounts of visitors and tourists. It’s a domino effect.”
And, she added, the zoo will be a magnet for those studying science and those looking for internship programs.
There are currently 45 people who work full-time at the zoo, and more staff members are added in the summertime. Kaye expects that after all phases of construction are complete, the zoo will employ at least 100 people. But that number does not touch the number of people who will be working on the construction projects.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Kaye said. “The excitement is beginning to build.”
Bill Hunsberger, president and publisher of The Clarion-Ledger and chairman of the JZP Capital Campaign, has been a supporter of a number of zoos.
“I think zoos play a vital role in the quality of life of a community and there’s no doubt that our zoo needs to improve its facilities. That’s what this first Capital Campaign is all about — to really dramatically improve some of the exhibits we have there.”
Hunsberger said people from metro Jackson and from all over the state visit the zoo each year. More improvements would bring in more people and benefit more businesses in the area.
Mr. Discount Drugs with locations in Vicksburg and on Capitol Street in Jackson will be directly affected by the enhancements that will be made to the zoo.
“I can tell you that the West Capitol Street area is still a very strong business community,” said John Storey, who owns Mr. Discount
Drugs with his partner, Chad Barrett. “Of course the zoo could be in a more aesthetically pleasing location for Jackson but I think enhancement of the zoo could lead to a domino effect in the area. That would be good for my business and others.”
Storey’s business provides medication for the zoo’s animals, and Storey frequently visits the zoo because it is so close to his business.
In fact, the Capitol Street entrance of the zoo is only about a half a mile away from Mr. Discount Drugs.
“I have hopes that they’re able to make the zoo stronger,” Storey said.
Storey’s business, which he bought about three years ago, is one of about five or so remaining businesses on what he calls a “tumbleweed-strewn section of West Capitol Street.”
“It’s like it could go either way,” Storey said. “The rest of the businesses could die out here or rejuvenation could occur. But the traffic count and the population are definitely here to sustain businesses. We support the zoo and we’re just excited about any positive changes that occur there.
“I implore people to go there and make changes in it. That’s one of the things the city can take pride in.”
Wanda Collier-Wilson, executive director of the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “The enhancements at the Jackson Zoo will give us an even more dynamic attraction to promote to visitors as a meeting place. Again, it’s an example of Jackson’s outstanding attractions playing a role in economic development while benefiting Mississippians too.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.