Zoo History - Blank Park Zoo

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History of Blank Park Zoo
Updated July 2008  PH

1961

Federal Government approaches the City of Des Moines to donate
Ft. Des Moines land to the City to be used for recreational purposes.
Mayor Charles Iles contacts A.H. and Myron Blank to discuss possible uses for the land

1963

Mr. A.H. Blank donates $150,000 to the City of Des Moines to build a children's zoo on a site near old Ft. Des Moines.  Civic Leaders and the citizens of Des Moines work to raise additional funds.  City signed agreement December 23, 1963.

1966

The Des Moines Children's Zoo opens on May 8.  Designed primarily around nursery-rhyme themes, it features a castle with moat, Noah's Ark, Monkey Island, barnyard, animal petting area and miniature train.  Bob Elgin is Zoo Director.

ATTENDANCE:

1966    185,695;   1967   140,358;    1968    145,174;   1969   134,380;
1970    118,977;   1971   132,086;    1972    113,086;   1973     89,401;
1974      89,005;   1975     77,428;    1976      79,947;   1977     71,914;
1978      66,445;   1979     56,188;    1980      42,817

1981

A pro-active group of civic and business leaders formed The Blank Park Zoo Foundation.     A successful private-public partnership with the City of Des Moines results in a voter-approved $1.8 million bond referendum and a community-wide capital campaign that raised an additional $1.4 million. 

ATTENDANCE 59,694

1982

The zoo closes for renovation at the end of the season.

ATTENDANCE:  61,435

1983-1985

ZOO CLOSED FOR REFURBISHING

1986

The all-new, 22-acre Blank Park Zoo opened May 17 under the direction of
Ralph Waterhouse.  A local landscape architectural firm utilizing professional zoo planning consultants designed the Zoo.  No longer just a “children’s zoo,” it now featured a zoogeographic theme with spacious, naturally landscaped outdoor environments for animals and people.  . During the 15 years from 1986 through 2001, the Zoo hosted 3.2 million visitors averaging 214,525 visitors per year compared to an average attendance of 97,930 during the previous 17-year history of the children’s zoo.  Attendance in 1980 was 40,817.  

Attendance  216,751

1987

Accredited by the American and Aquariums Association (AZA). ZooCamp- Campfire Summer Camp for children - begins. 

Attendance  191, 838.

1988

David Allen becomes the Zoo Director and Administrator.

ATTENDANCE 181,511


 

1989

Lemur exhibit opened and visiting animal was the White Tiger.  Visitor services revenues increased 117%. The Zoo begins joint programming with other area cultural organizations.  Initiated Annual Capital Improvements Plan.   Attendance 226,938.

1990

First issue of Tracks to the Zoo publication for school field trips is distributed. 

Attendance 206,339.

1991

First Year of Night Eyes, a merry not scary Halloween safari for treats attracts 30,853.  Started annual visitor demographics surveys.   Survival Strategies - 7th grade field trip program brings 2,000 students to the zoo its first year.  Attendance 224,294.

1992

AZA Accreditation.  Night Eyes attendance is 30,756.  Visiting celebrity animals were 2 Wart Hogs.  Participated in Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Good Old Summertime Midwest promotion. 

Attendance 238,861.

1993

Hired Special Events/Marketing Coordinator.  Initiated the Feast with the Beasts group sales program.  Zebra Exhibit opens.  Continuous rains during the Great Flood of ’93 results in only 14 " normal" attendance days from May 1 through July 31.  Zoo is closed for nine days due to lack of water.  Repairs to the Zoo total more than $245,000.  Night Eyes attendance is 23,106.  Planning Initiatives:  Foundation Strategic Plan; Zoo Staff 5-year Plan; Baseline Master Plan for the Fort Des Moines property.  

Attendance 191,157.

 

Between 1989 and 1993, Capital Improvements totaled $1.3 million

1994

Foundation hires first Development Director.  Bob Burnett agrees to chair
“A Zoo For All Season’s” capital campaign.  Night Eyes attendance 29,692.    Attendance 227,446.

1995

Construct three Special Event Pavilions.  Open White-Handed Gibbon Exhibit. Launched Summer Safari Classes - Zoo camp for children aged 3-15.  Acquire additional 26 acres of historic Fort Des Moines property for future Zoo expansion.  Night Eyes attendance 18,415;

attendance 196,716

 

1996

The Foundation kicks off Capital Campaign to raise $8 million dollars to build Discovery Center and Big Cats Exhibit.  Zoobiliation Gala event raised $98,772.  Night Eyes attendance 20,606. 

 Attendance 202,832.

 

1997

Zoo hosts 10,000 bike riders from the Register’s Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) event.  Business plan is completed.  Visiting celebrity animal:  White Tiger.  AZA renewed Zoo’s accreditation.  Zoobilation Gala raised $125,000.  

attendance 193,580.

 


 

1998

Ground breaking and construction of the Great Cat's Exhibit.  Night Eyes attendance 21,157. 

attendance 184,683.

1999

Grand opening of the $1.6 million Tom and Jo Ghrist Great Cat's Exhibit.  Ground breaking for the new Myron and Jackie Blank Discovery Center.  Hired Guest Services Manager and in-sourced all guest operations.  First full-time Marketing Director hired. Zoobilation raised $220,386.  Night Eyes attendance 22,796.  

attendance 209,681.

2000

Updated Master Plan and the Foundation adopted a Developmental Policy.  Expanded the Night Eyes event attracting 30,410 visitors.  The first Penguins, Pizza and Prose dinner and children's story reading for families with children ages 3 to 6 is held for 2,545.  Construction continues on the Discovery Center.   Visiting our Zoo was Rosie the Elephant – a major attraction!

attendance 224,858. 

2001

The $6.7 million Myron and Jackie Blank Discovery Center opens and year-round visitor season begins.  Kratt Brothers event draws 22,685 people for two shows.  Zoo employs first Horticulture Technician and Aquarist.  Penquins, Pizza and Prose attracts 4,482. The new 20,000 sq. ft. Special Events Center opens.    

attendance 272,698.

2002

The City of Des Moines and the Blank Park Zoo Foundation begin final rounds of negotiations to transfer operations and management of the Blank Park Zoo to the Blank Park Zoo Foundation.  HELP Program implemented through Zoo’s Education Department.  Also, the first overnight adventure in the Zoo was held. 

ATTENDANCE 249,802

2003

Foundation and City of Des Moines complete a new 28E agreement to transfer the operations and management of the Zoo to the Foundation, effective July 1, 2003.  Terry Rich is hired as the Zoo’s first-ever Chief Executive Officer, marking a new era in Zoo history.   Initial Spring Break and Holiday Safaris are introduced with much success.

ATTENDANCE 235,386

2004

Foundation has shown success in developing organization and managing the Zoo.   New agreement with the City of Des Moines will move all staffing to the Zoo Foundation. 

ATTENDANCE 301,936

2005

The Zoo Foundation expands to a 20-year management agreement with the City of Des Moines.   Most City employees become Foundation employees.   Attendance 310,708.  More than 29,000 people attend Night Eyes, setting a new record with over $90,000 raised for the Zoo.  Contribution from
Myron Blank of $5 million is the largest gift in Zoo’s history; money placed into the Endowment Fund.  The first Boy Scout Camporee was held on Fort Des Moines with programming involving the Zoo.

ATTENDANCE 295,411

2006

Began exploring an expansion of the Zoo.   Attendance increased with both the Latino Festival and Taste of Des Moines.  Added to the collection were two zebras.   Births from our birds, giraffe, bongo and Chilean Flamingo (first birth in over 20 years!). 

Attendance  339,495.

2007

Talks continue on expansion.   Traveling exhibit Scoop on Poop generated excitement.  Latino Festival and Asian Heritage Celebration were at the Zoo.  Night Eyes was major success producing over $100,000 in profits.   Added to the Zoo were two bald eagles and a young male giraffe.  Chilean Flamingos continue to produce live births with 4 additional chicks.  Jellyfish are successfully reproducing and we are shipping them to other zoos.  Kids Kingdom built and opened. 

Attendance  387,529.  

2008

Returning to the Zoo for 7 weeks were Rosie the elephant and her son, JP, (18 months old).   They were a huge success with the visitors. 

AZA Certification Team visited the Zoo to perform due diligence on renewing our certification.  Seahorses have been introduced into our aquatics exhibits.

New grill opened and Snow Monkeys have been moved to their new holding building.

2009 The Birdman of Las Vegas wowed visitors with rare Andean Condor and other rare birds and conservation messages.
2010 Budgie Bogin opens (parakeet feeding) and the Birdman returned with an all-new show.
2011

New signage and interactives are installed in the Great Cats kiosks, David Kruidenier Australia Adventure opens featuring the endangered Cassowary, Sea Lion pool is rebuilt and a special dinosaur exhibit was open all summer in the Zoo Plex.

"Big Dig" event held at Blank Park Zoo to generate excitement about expansion held at Zoo with 8,000 in attendance.

Behind the scenes a new quarantine facility is constructed to help animal management and a new veterinarian agreement with Iowa State University is signed.

 

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