Detroit Zoo to build new penguin center

$10 million donation from Polk family helps make Antarctica project

By Halston Herrera - Digital news editor

DETROIT - The Detroit Zoo is getting a new penguin exhibit, thanks to a $10 million private donation from the Polk family.

The Detroit Zoological Society on Wednesday announced the $21 million Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center, which will be the largest exhibit in the zoo's 85-year history.

The 24,000-square-foot facility will have a penguin "deep dive" with views above and below water as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. That feature, deeper and larger than the pool at the Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life, will allow visitors to see penguins deep-water dive -- something that cannot be seen anywhere else, even in nature.

The facility will feature 4-D effects such as arctic blasts, rough waves and snow, and include other elements like ice crevasses.

There will be 80 penguins of four species: rockhopper, macaroni and king -- which currently reside in the zoo's original Penguinarium -- as well as gentoo, a species that will be new to the zoo.

Zoo officials said a crew went to Antarctica to get ideas and research and want people to feel like they're experiencing the continent while they visit.

The entry plaza will include a water feature that will be a splash area in the summer and a skating rink in winter.

The center was designed by Jones & Jones, architects of Disney's Animal Kingdom as well as the Detroit Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life and National Amphibian Conservation Center, and by Albert Kahn Associates, architects of the Zoo's Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Project leaders say they hope to have construction started in March of 2014 and a grand opening in the fall of 2015.

The donation by Stephen Polk and his wife, Bobbi, is the largest donation in the zoo's history.

The Polk family has a long business history in metro Detroit.

R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive and marketing data company, launched in Detroit in 1870.

The zoo said they've applied for grants and will be launching an online donation place for the public to give. They are estimating they'll need to raise $8 million over the next two years.

For information on how to donate to the penguin center, click here.

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