Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Breaks Ground on REZOOVENATION Projects

  • by 904 Newsroom
  • October 24, 2023

JACKSONVILLE, FL – (October 20, 2023) Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens held a ceremonial  groundbreaking Friday to commemorate the forthcoming construction of its new Manatee River  habitat, generously supported by a lead gift from J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver, and the  25,000 square-foot VyStar SkyScape new Zoo entrance. The two transformational projects are  the second phase of the Zoo’s REZOOVENATION campaign, aimed at significantly enhancing the  Zoo’s facilities. 

The new Manatee River will be an innovative facility for manatees receiving treatment at the  Zoo. Being one of the few federally permitted acute care facilities for manatees in Florida,  Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens can currently treat up to six injured, sick or orphaned manatees. As  an expansion of the existing Manatee Critical Care Center (MCCC), the Manatee River habitat will  have four new treatment pools and three habitats, effectively tripling the Zoo’s rehabilitation  efforts with 330,000 gallons of space. 
The mixed species Manatee River habitat will celebrate the diverse natural environment of North  Florida, mirroring the state’s waterways and incorporating native fish, reptiles and birds. The  state-of-the-art first-impression habitat will showcase Florida’s beloved manatees prominently,  welcoming visitors as they enter through the VyStar SkyScape. 

“We are excited to officially break ground on this incredible new facility, which will position our  Zoo and Gardens as an industry leader in manatee rehabilitation,” said President and CEO Jeff  Ettling, Ph.D. “It is crucial to deliver prompt and expert treatment to safeguard wild populations  of Florida manatees, and we are grateful for the generous support of J. Wayne and Delores Barr  Weaver, whose lead gift has been essential in making this vision a reality.” 

The longstanding support of J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver for the Zoo’s mission has been  demonstrated through donations that have contributed to the construction of award-winning  habitats like the Land of the Tiger and Range of the Jaguar, as well as enhancements to the Zoo’s  African Forest gorilla enclosure. Serving as Honorary Chairs of the REZOOVENATION campaign, 
the Weavers have played a pivotal role in bringing the new Manatee River habitat to life, inspiring  the community to rally behind the Zoo’s vision for the future. 

“Zoos and aquariums can have a direct impact on the attitudes and behaviors of residents in the  community in relation to conservation and respect for wildlife,” said Delores Barr Weaver. “For  decades, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has educated locals and visitors alike about the  importance of protecting our natural assets. Wayne and I hope that the Manatee River will not  only provide guests with an unforgettable experience, but also encourage future generations to  foster a deeper appreciation for one of Florida’s most iconic species.” 
The groundbreaking event also marked the start of construction for the VyStar SkyScape, the  Zoo’s innovative new entrance that visitors will enter before experiencing the Manatee River  habitat. Supported by an investment from VyStar Credit Union, the iconic open-air entrance will  not only welcome guests and reimagine the visitor experience, but also bring a first-of-its-kind  multifunction space to the Jacksonville community. 

The 50-foot-high entrance will transform several aspects of the Zoo experience, including  admissions, guest relations, retail, as well as food and beverage offerings. The structure will also  include a stage, VIP lounge, meeting spaces, and a full-service catering kitchen, making it a  destination event venue for corporate meetings, weddings and other group functions. 
"The groundbreaking for the new VyStar SkyScape marks a milestone in our dedication to  creating unforgettable experiences for guests of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens,” said VyStar  President/CEO Brian Wolfburg. “This innovative structure will offer visitors an exciting design that  features interactive elements and educational displays. The VyStar SkyScape is set to be a new  highlight of an already amazing attraction. 

We are thrilled to partner with the Zoo to bring this  project to life and look forward to its grand opening.” 
With the groundbreaking, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens also announced an updated fundraising  goal to the current campaign phase due to increased cost of supplies for construction. The  campaign has expanded from $52 million to $70 million. In addition to the gifts from the Weavers  and VyStar Credit Union, the Zoo has been able to raise 66% of the $70 million goal through a  combination of individual donors, corporations, and a $5 million match per year, for five years,  by the City of Jacksonville. 
Several grants from state agencies and organizations have also supported construction of  Manatee River. 

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Grant Program (FWRIGP) awarded the  Zoo roughly $2 million for the expansion of its Manatee Critical Care Center. The Florida  Legislature, by approval of Governor Ron DeSantis, approved $250,000 in funding to be used  towards construction documents during the design phase. The Florida Department of State,  Division of Arts and Culture also awarded the Zoo a $500,000 grant to pay for the Manatee River  theming work that will occur during the final phase of the construction.

The largest capital campaign in the Zoo’s nearly 110-year history, REZOOVENATION consists of  other planned improvements that include a new education campus, an immersive lion habitat  with a scenic overlook, a reimagined elephant habitat, and the addition of orangutans. To learn  more about giving to REZOOVENATION: The Campaign to Inspire, visit  jacksonvillezoo.org/rezoovenation. 
The design work for the VyStar SkyScape and Manatee River habitat was created with local firm,  Dasher Hurst Architects. Danis Construction has been selected as the construction partner for  the current phase of REZOOVENATION, which is expected to be completed by Fall 2025.  

About Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens 
For over 100 years, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has aimed to inspire the discovery and appreciation of  wildlife through innovative experiences. Starting in 1914 with an animal collection of one red deer fawn,  the Zoo now has more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 species of plants, boasting the largest  botanical garden in Northeast Florida. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit organization and a  portion of every ticket sold goes to the over 45 conservation initiatives Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens  supports around the world and in NE Florida. JZG is proud to be an accredited member of the Association  of Zoos and Aquariums. For more information, visit jacksonvillezoo.org. 

About The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida 
The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, Florida’s oldest and largest community foundation,  works to stimulate philanthropy to build a better community. The Foundation helps donors invest their  philanthropic gifts wisely, helps nonprofits serve the region effectively, and helps people come together  to make the community a better place. Now in its 57th year, the Foundation has assets of $550 million  and has made approximately $600 million in grants since 1964. For more information: www.jaxcf.org. 

About VyStar Credit Union 
VyStar Credit Union is the second-largest credit union headquartered in Florida and now serves more  than 915,000 members with assets of over $13.5 billion. VyStar is the largest mortgage lender in  Northeast Florida and a major employer in the region with over 2,000 employees across the  communities it serves. VyStar membership is open to everyone who lives or works in the 49 contiguous  counties of Central to North Florida, 29 Georgia counties, and past and present military members and  their families all over the world. For more information, visit vystarcu.org, and follow us on Facebook,  Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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