Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that, with New York State's assistance, the Buffalo Zoo will close its current funding gap and move forward with an $18 million new entry complex and state-of-the-art habitat for polar bears and other Arctic species. With the assistance of $750,000 from the Governor's NY Works program, the planned Arctic Edge exhibit will create a new home for the zoo's popular polar bear cubs.
"The Buffalo Zoo is the most visited tourist destination in Erie County, and supporting the Arctic Edge exhibit will help it draw even more travelers to Western New York," Governor Cuomo said. "This project is accomplishing much needed upgrades that will further cement the Zoo's status as a driver of tourism and economic activity throughout the region, and I am pleased that Luna and Kali will be able to continue their stay in Buffalo."
Buffalo Zoo President Donna Fernandes said, "We are extremely grateful to Governor Cuomo for putting The Bear Necessities Campaign over the top and ensuring that the Arctic Edge exhibit will be built. We are thrilled that he recognizes the significance of cultural tourism to the area and the role that the Buffalo Zoo plays in bringing people to Western New York. Our deepest thanks go out to the Governor for making sure that our bears will remain in Buffalo."
The Western New York Regional Economic Development Council named the Arctic Edge exhibit a regional priority in 2011, as it aligns with the council's tourism and smart growth strategies. Funding commitments from public sources include $3 million from Erie County, $1.085 million from the City of Buffalo, $776,000 from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), $400,000 from Senator Mark Grisanti and the Western New York Senate delegation, $400,000 from Assemblyman Sean Ryan and the Western New York Assembly delegation, $150,000 from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and $15,500 from the Buffalo City Council.
For more than a century, polar bears have been among the most popular animals at the Buffalo Zoo. In order to keep this iconic species at the Buffalo Zoo, a new exhibit must be built to meet the current husbandry standards adopted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Zoo's professional accrediting body. The current bear exhibit dates back to the 1890s with only modest changes over the past 120 years and, as a result, Buffalo's adult polar bears have had to be relocated to other zoos out of state.
The Buffalo Zoo's Arctic Edge, which will create 228 construction jobs, will be more than 60,000 square feet (1.5 acres) in size and replicate the snowy, frozen climate of the Arctic Circle. Two large exhibits will house polar bears while three smaller enclosures will feature arctic wolf, bald eagle and Canadian lynx to illustrate the diversity of species that have adapted to life in this harsh climate. The landscape will be naturalistic and will include two large saltwater pools, natural boulders and a variety of substrates. A sophisticated Life Support System (LSS) will be utilized to maintain high water quality. Underwater viewing will enable visitors to get an up-close look at the bears' swimming styles, natural behaviors and playful antics.
An Arctic Conservation Center will also provide enhanced educational opportunities for the exhibit. Climate change, its effects on the polar bear population and simple changes people can make in their daily lives to reduce the threat of global warming will be featured. Programming for school groups and general visitors will be implemented to create a more educated public, which in turn will help protect this iconic species.
Over the last decade, an investment of $32 million in new exhibits and visitor amenities has helped the Zoo grow from 330,000 to 450,000 visitors annually, with 35 percent of visitors coming from outside Erie County. The Zoo is a leading employer of unskilled youth within the City of Buffalo, who are trained to work in its ticketing, food service and gift shop operations. Many of these jobs would be at risk, as well as skilled zookeeper positions, if this project was not completed and the polar bears were sent to another facility. Construction of a state-of-the-art polar bear habitat will also put a positive spin on Buffalo's snowbelt image and significantly enhance the Zoo's winter attendance.
Senator Mark Grisanti said, "Once again Governor Cuomo and his team continue to show their commitment to Western New York. By completing the funds needed for the artic exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo we have solidified our standing to keep Luna and a strong case to keep the orphan cub Kali. This exhibit will be a tremendous boost to tourism and the economy for Buffalo and Western New York. We have never seen the type of commitment on both an economic development and tourism aspect as to what Governor Cuomo has brought and continues to bring to the people of Western New York."
Assemblyman Sean Ryan said "Today's announcement ensures the Arctic Edge exhibit will have all the necessary financing to be completed on schedule, which is terrific news for our polar bears Luna and Kali. Our polar bears belong in Buffalo, and I am thankful that Governor Cuomo is making this critical investment that will allow the Buffalo Zoo to continue to thrive for decades to come. The Buffalo Zoo is an incredibly important tourist destination for Buffalo and Western New York. Luna and Kali's future home, the Arctic Edge exhibit, will bring continued economic benefits to Buffalo and our entire region."
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, "I'd like to thank the Governor for closing the gap to ensure the complete construction of the polar bear exhibit. This truly was a unified effort between state and local leaders to support one of our greatest assets, the Buffalo Zoo."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said "The polar bear exhibit is an important part of not just the zoo but also of the tourism economy of Buffalo and Western New York. We thank Governor Cuomo for providing this important piece of funding to close the gap and make this project happen. The polar bear exhibit will be an exciting attraction that will provide hours of education and entertainment for visitors and residents."