Zoo breaks ground on $21M orangutan exhibit

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Indianapolis Zoo officials are hoping to finish strong on the organization's largest fundraising effort since the zoo moved to White River State Park in 1988.

They've raised $25 million of the $30 million goal for the second phase of a capital campaign that began about two years ago. The effort, dubbed The Campaign for Conservation and Community: Saving the Orangutans, will pay for the construction of a new International Orangutan Center, along with improvements to the zoo's entry pavilion, tiger exhibit and Flights of Fancy bird exhibit.

"We're exactly on target for where we predicted we'd be," said Karen Burns, the zoo's vice president of external relations and fundraising chief.

She said 158 donors have pitched in so far, including large gifts from the Dean & Barbara White Family Foundation and Lilly Endowment. The first phase of the Campaign for Conservation and Community kicked off in 2002 and raised $31 million, Burns said.

The zoo moved to White River State Park in 1988 after raising $60 million from donors. The zoo does not receive taxpayer support.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard joined zoo officials Tuesday to break ground on the $21.5 million orangutan center, which Burns described as the "most significan single exhibit" for the zoo since its founding in 1964.

The center will provide a state-of-the-art home to eight of the world’s most endangered primates, while offering human visitors a unique perspective. It's scheduled to open in May 2014.

"This is truly unlike anything we've done or anyone else has done for that matter," Burns said shortly before the 11 a.m. groundbreaking.

The zoo said in August it received a $2 million gift from the family foundation of Dean and Barbara White of Crown Point. Dean White is co-founder of Merrillville-based White Lodging, whose developments include the towering JW Marriott Hotel that overlooks the zoo in downtown Indianapolis.

Architectural highlights of the orangutan center include the 150-foot tall Beacon of Hope that will be illuminated at night and a 90-foot-tall, four-season atrium featuring both indoor and outdoor viewing for visitors.

Also, the Hutan Trail mimics an orangutan highway through the forest and allows the animals to leave the atrium and travel to different places throughout the zoo, above ground. An aerial cable ride complements the trail by giving visitors a unique view of the orangutans.


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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.