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Saint Louis Zoo announces plan to expand in St. Louis County

Friday, the Saint Louis Zoo Association and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 entered into a purchase-sale agreement for a 425-acre complex in north St. Louis County worth $7.1 million.

ST. LOUIS — The Saint Louis Zoo announced plans to expand their operations into St. Louis County as part of a long-term plan to further the Zoo's mission to conserve animals.

The property would sit in the upper corner of north St. Louis County.

On Friday, the Saint Louis Zoo Association and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 entered into a purchase-sale agreement for a 425-acre complex in north St. Louis County worth $7.1 million.

The project will be gifted through privately donated funds, and is pending a due diligence assessment.

Upon completion of the assessment, the Zoo will construct a plan to develop the property for the "purposes of enhanced dedication and care for threatened and endangered animals," a press release said.

The statement also said there are plans to develop a "public component" to the new property, similar to other zoos which have off-site conservation breeding facilities and "wildlife and safari" experiences.

“The purchase will be made with local philanthropic gifts intended for procurement of this property. No taxpayer dollars were used,” said Joseph T. Ambrose, President of the Saint Louis Zoo Association in a prepared statement.

“The Saint Louis Zoo is an incredible asset to the entire region and it is recognized as a world-class operation that provides tremendous economic value to our community. Maintaining the Zoo’s world-class status requires the kind of forward-thinking represented in this purchase.”

“Local 562 is honored to sell this property to an organization that brings added value to the community,” said John O’Mara, Local 562 Business Manager and Secretary-Treasurer, in a statement.

“We are confident the property is being left in good hands and we wish the new owners continued success in the future.”

Zoo leaders are quite open about the fact they don't have the money to keep up with maintenance and repair of the infrastructure at the century-old main campus. In fact, leaders said in 2016 the Zoo was $52 million short of its needs. So, paying for the new expansion and shoring up the original campus will likely require tax dollars.

“If you want to maintain this great, world-class institution that's one of the things that needs to happen,” said Jeffrey Bonner, president and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo.

Senate Bill 49, signed in 2017, laid the groundwork for the Zoo to make more money. It would allow ballot initiatives to raise taxes to specifically support the Zoo. It would also allow people who don’t already pay taxes for the zoo, to be charged and admission fee to new attractions. Right now only St. Louis and St. Louis County residents pay those taxes.

The Zoo, itself, would still be free.