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St. Louis (KSDK) - The Saint Louis Zoo is expanding its footprint in the cityby purchasing the 13.5-acre Forest Park Hospital site.

Zoo officials made the announcement during a news conference Monday morning. The price and terms of the purchase were not disclosed, butSaint Louis Zoo President and CEO Dr. Jeffrey Bonnersaid taxpayer revenue would not be used for payment.

The Saint Louis Zoo, a private nonprofit group, would organize fundraising efforts to covercosts.

A conditional contract was signed March 8. The deal could be completed by late spring.

Medline Industries Inc., a private manufacturer and distributor of health care supplies based in Mundelein, Illinois,is the current land owner.

According to Dr. Bonner, the zoo will increase available parking and use some buildings at the Forest Park Hospital site for as possible office, conference and lab space.

"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," Bonner said.

The zoo intends to reuse the seven-story parking structure in order to improve traffic flow on Hampton Avenue and circulation in Forest Park, without increasing the number of vehicles that enter the park, as well as alleviating parking problems for residents and businesses in Dogtown.

The medical office building on the Forest Park Hospital site will see adaptive re-use possibilities, such as new lab space, off-site collection for smaller animals, alleviating crowded office and support space at the zoo, and adding new equipment. It could take three to four months of planning after closing the deal before construction would begin on these improvements.

Buildings not included in the zoo's long-term plans will be demolished once the deal is completed, but the Deaconess Foundation has requested that certain architectural features be protected and turned over to their care. Those features include cornerstones, sculptural elements and stained glass.

Among the zoo's long-term potential uses of the property are development of commercial space; addition of fitness trails, playgrounds or water features; improving quality of life for surrounding areas; a physical connection to the park via a gondola, pedestrian bridge or a people mover; and potential resident development.

St. Alexius Hospital closed the emergency room at Forest Park Hospital on May 20, 2011, citing a decline in patient volume and lost revenue.

In 2007, the Forest Park ER treated 15,770 patients. In 2010, the number of patients dropped to 7,571.

The Forest Park location had been treating less than one patient per day with a true medical emergency. About 98 percent of all cases at the Forest Park ER were walk-ins diagnosed with non-emergency conditions, a hospital spokeswoman said prior to the ER's closure.

The hospital was also operating with $24 million in lost revenue because of declining reimbursements and increased uncompensated care losses.

Saint Louis Zoo was rated America's top zoo by Zagat Survey for its U.S. Family Travel Guideand byParenting magazine. It attracts about 3 million visitors a year.

NewsChannel 5 will have more information as it becomes available.

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