Big ideas could reshape BioPark, ABQ zoo

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — It’s the most visited place in the state and now KRQE has learned of a couple things in the plans to revamp Albuquerque’s zoo.

The City held a second public meeting on Thursday to talk about the master plan that’s in the works for the BioPark.

Two things people say they really want include better food and better parking. However, those who want a tram could be disappointed.

So far, the master plan process has gotten nearly 3,000 suggestions. Now, those ideas are taking shape.

“They’re actually starting to get concepts which is very exciting,” said Rick Janser, director for the ABQ BioPark.

The concepts start outside with zoo parking.

“We know that parking capacity is unable to meet demand at peak times,” said a presenter at Thursday’s meeting.

According to the BioPark’s statistics, the zoo runs out of parking about 50 days out of the year.

Planners latest proposal could add a one level parking deck in the existing lot.

“A single deck is fairly light looking you kind hide a lot of it with vines and trees,” said Janser.

Planners are also looking at how to carry people between the zoo, aquarium and the botanic gardens site. The train isn’t fast enough and now the city is considering pulling out the tracks and going with an open-air shuttle system instead.

“It’s inexpensive and we can move a lot of people,” said Janser.

At least one man at Thursday’s meeting criticized the idea.

“I think that would really be not in the best interest,” said Patrick Turrieta, a lifelong Barelas neighborhood resident.

But one of the biggest ideas, an aerial tram that Mayor R.J. Berry suggested, may be off the table.

“You know I don’t think the tram is totally off the board but at this point the cost of it just didn’t look like it would work for us,” said Janser.

Inside the BioPark, some new exhibits are already on the map.

“They did mention an otter exhibit which doesn’t exist yet which we have on our plan, our intermediate range plan as well, really near term plan I would say,” said Barry Bitzer, Director of Development for the New Mexico BioPark Society.

The society also says the long delayed penguins are also still on the way, but they’ll just cost more.

“We’re on track, it’s just not a fast track,” said Bitzer.

That’s because of West Nile virus, which is killing zoo penguins everywhere. Now, zoos have to make a mosquito proof enclosures for penguins. The enclosure is especially important for Albuquerque’s zoo, as it’s in the middle of the Bosque.

“We’re looking at a multi-million dollar facility,” said Bitzer.

Right now the city and the BioPark society have about $2.5 million of the $8 million they’ll need to build the penguin pen and get the penguins.

“It still works, the whole thing works the way we had it drawn up its just going to be move a little bit within the facility,” said Janser

At Thursday’s meeting, residents also raised concern about making it easier to navigate the zoo. Zoo officials also talked about planned additions of public art in Tingley Beach, a revamped cat walk in the zoo and additional classroom space and viewing space near elephants. Officials also talked about possibly opening up a silvery minnow  and New Mexico “flora and fauna” exhibit in the botanic gardens. 

The city is still taking ideas for the master plan, which should be done in summer 2014.

So far, the mayor’s office doesn’t have a dollar figure on how much it would invest in the master plan. The BioPark says it’s likely the city would try to fund big projects through voter-approved bonds.

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