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Jacksonville Zoo renovation takes major step forward

An illustration of the VyStar SkyScape.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
An illustration of the VyStar SkyScape.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is 75% of the way toward its $52 million "Rezoovenation" fundraising campaign, with a $2.25 million gift from VyStar Credit Union to build a new entrance called the VyStar SkyScape.

In what the zoo calls a "first of its kind in zoos and aquariums," the covered walkway with a 50-foot-tall roof and wrap-around "immersion screens" will house the ticketing area, a stage and a VIP lounge, all leading to an expanded manatee critical care habitat that will greet zoo visitors.

“As the name suggests, the VyStar SkyScape will inspire residents and visitors of all ages to think big and to dream big," VyStar President and CEO Brian Wolfburg said in a news release.

J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver are the honorary chairs of the fundraising campaign and made the $3 million lead gift for Manatee River, the expanded manatee care area.

Manatee River will connect to four additional treatment pools, providing a total of 330,000 gallons of rehabilitation space. The zoo is one of six federally permitted acute care facilities for manatees in Florida and currently can treat up to six manatees at a time. The expansion will allow the zoo to treat at least 15 more manatees simultaneously, the zoo said.

The fundraising campaign includes five projects overall, the first being a renovated parking lot and the second being the manatee care center expansion with new entrance. Other planned projects include a new education campus with expanded lion habitat, a redesigned elephant habitat and the introduction of orangutans.

The overall cost for the projects is estimated around $120 million.