Importance of a master plan

The zoo's 20-year plan lays out a bold new direction for animal care and visitor experiences.

The Oregon Zoo is in an amazing position. Once in a generation, a zoo is entrusted with the confidence of its community, the funds to carry out significant improvements and an exciting new vision and direction. Taking full advantage of this opportunity, the zoo is making changes that will not only improve the welfare of the animals in its charge but influence how zoo animals are managed around the world. At a moment and opportunity like this, it makes sense to create a great plan

What is a master plan?

A master plan is a vision of the future zoo that guides its development and evolution over time. It starts with a complete understanding of its site and surroundings. Then it conveys the future in photographs, drawings and maps.

A master plan also narrates the story of the zoo’s plans for the future. It describes the zoo’s vision and goals, the purpose and intent for each facility, and includes a budget, sequence and timeline of construction projects that will bring the future vision to reality. This representation of the zoo’s future is an essential tool to coordinate the development of the zoo's separate facilities into a coherent, effective and unique institution with a clear and recognizable theme and mission.

The Oregon Zoo master planning process was not a simple endeavor. For this reason the zoo’s animal keepers, conservation educators, event organizers and zoo directors worked with an experienced team of architects, engineers, exhibit designers, interpreters and project managers led by SRG Partnership, Inc. of Portland. The team provided professional guidance, broad experience and deep understanding of the latest trends in zoo design as well as knowledge of the newest water and energy conservation tools and technologies.

What’s happened so far?

The design team began their work in September 2010, getting to know the zoo’s unique qualities. They perused property boundaries, followed paths of flowing water, and analyzed geography, topography and sun direction. They explored exhibits and met the animals, boned up on zoo history, and investigated utility systems. They learned that 1.5 million people visit the zoo each the year and thousands attend events like summer concerts and ZooLights. They rode the train, ate elephant ears and learned about the vast array of educational programs, camps and classes offered year round and filled to capacity in summer.

In a series of three-day workshops over winter 2010-2011, designers and zoo staff together considered ways to update and expand habitat for elephants, polar bears and primates. They explored creative ways to help visitors find their way from the ticket booth to Family Farm, Tiger Plaza and Predators of the Serengeti. They envisioned airy, exciting dynamic spaces where kids learn about nature. They pinpointed great places to cool off with a snow cone and rendezvous with your brother-in-law. And as they considered these things, they drew pictures.

The master plan was completed over summer 2011 and approved by the Metro Council Nov. 3.

What’s in the new plan?

Imagine the main street of a small town. That’s where you shop, dine, meet friends and relax. The zoo has a Main Street. Fifty years ago, when it was called the Washington Park Zoo, the entire zoo consisted of this relatively level area between Tiger Plaza and the Elephant Museum. Today, this same area forms the central core of the Oregon Zoo. Over time as exhibits have been added and changed, the zoo has expanded up the hill to Cascade Crest and down the hill to Predators of the Serengeti.

Despite changes over time, Zoo Main Street remains the center of the zoo and will be emphasized and featured so that visitors can more easily find their way to surrounding exhibits. Because bond funds are covering replacement or renovation of the zoo’s oldest exhibits – elephants, primates and polar bears – this is exactly the area that will be under construction and that provides a great opportunity to redesign and enhance Main Street.

These old exhibits won’t move to new places but their footprints will change. The new elephant habitat will encircle the eastern edge of the zoo, expanding in size and providing much more stimulating spaces and terrain. Learn more about the new elephant habitat.

Polar bears will remain in the same general location but their habitat will double in size, include hills, beaches and grand views of the zoo and the train will no longer run across the top of their home. Learn more about the new polar bear habitat.

Zoo staff can’t wait to renovate the 1950s-era concrete primate building to expand and improve habitat for apes and monkeys. Only the recently renovated west end of the building housing Red Ape Reserve will remain as is. In the master plan, chimps and mandrills will roam much larger habitats oriented to the south, tying these two African species other Africa exhibits. The zoo hopes to breed chimps, gradually increasing their numbers to build an expanding family colony. Orangutans, gibbons and other Asian primates will be thematically linked with elephants and other Asian species to the northwest. Learn more about the new primate habitat.

Hippos will find a new home in another zoo and rhinos will move into their space within the next few years. Eventually they will share an expanded Africa savanna habitat with several other species. Learn more about the new rhinos' habitat.

The condor exhibit is the only brand new exhibit to be constructed with the current bond funds. They will reside in the family farm area in a sunny spot where they can display their 10-foot wingspans. Learn more about the new condor habitat.

The conservation education center will be located at the former zoo entrance, providing easy street access for parents and school buses dropping off excited campers and intrepid zoo explorers. The new building will provide a staging area for groups and a “base camp” for zoo adventures. It will open onto Tiger Plaza to serve as a conservation information and zoo hub for The Intertwine. Learn more about the new conservation education center.

What is being conserved?

The master plan determined the location and footprint of each habitat and facility and helped zoo staff determine feasibility of rainwater capture, heat exchanges and solar collection. Specifics of each of these new systems will be better defined as designs and construction drawings are developed for each facility. Every exhibit and building will make the most efficient use and reuse of water, energy and waste products. Learn more about the zoo's sustainability improvements.