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Lawmaker's view: Plans for zoo will create modern outdoor park

The Lake Superior Zoo is a very special place to our community — and to me.

I’ve worked hard for several years now to bring the zoo’s vision for a brighter future to fruition. Fortunately, the city of Duluth recently announced it has reached a consensus plan to renovate the zoo and nearby Fairmount Park. The plan helps fill out a larger vision for the St. Louis River corridor. The plan would make the zoo and surrounding area a nexus of outdoor activities, perfect for the evolving vision of the St. Louis River corridor.

The concept envisions a renewed zoo in a smaller 10-acre footprint and a converted portion of the existing zoo to become a top-quality public park. Once developed, Fairmount easily will rival Hartley and Bagley as a western-version nature-center destination.

The project is estimated to cost around $15 million, much of that financed through the food, beverage and lodging taxes I authored in 2014. Additionally, my 2015 $1.9 million bonding request to renovate the zoo’s Polar Shores Exhibit space will serve as a cornerstone of this new vision.

The zoo concept includes a commitment to maintain the American Zoological Association accreditation and to retain the large exotic animal exhibits, including a new and improved bear exhibit as well as a new Forest Discovery Zone exhibit. The Forest Discovery Zone will feature regional animal species in a natural forest habitat.

I’m also excited about the proposed destination outdoor play spaces at the zoo and adjoining park.

This vision is about bringing the zoo and the park into the 21st century and creating a modern public space on the western side of our community for everyone in the region to enjoy.

The city has an aggressive goal to get this project moving forward. In January, the city plans to present its project proposal to the City Council and will then hear public comments through February.

If you support this new vision for the zoo and Fairmount Park, I encourage you to let your elected officials know. We cannot let 2016 pass without taking action to secure the long-term future of the Lake Superior Zoo.

Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth represents the 7th District in the Minnesota Senate.