ASHEBORO NC – The NC Zoo is set to begin work on the new Asia expansion with plans already approved and companies lined up to start construction as early as this fall. That is, provided the N.C. General Assembly passes a budget that includes the funds needed to complete the budget for the project.
The originally expected budget for Asia was $65 million, but that estimate had to be increased. “When we did a lot of these estimates, it was several years ago. We’re starting to see inflation in construction costs,” said Diane Villa Director of Communications and Marketing for the NC Zoo. “Right now we’re looking at $75 million for Asia, and our hope is to complete Asia all in one fell swoop rather than phase things.”
Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget released earlier this year included the $46 million needed to finish funding Asia. That funding is a part of a $4.7 billion Capital Improvements bond, which allocates $439 million to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources which oversees the state’s resources for the arts, history, libraries, and nature (including the NC Zoo).
In 2016, voters in the state approved $25 million in ConnectNC bonds to go toward the development of Asia and Australia. “We used about 10 million to remove the African pavilion, which is now down, and we also are doing some baboon renovation,” said Diane Villa. “And then we did a new Zoofari Road, so that’s what we did with the $10 million.”
The remaining $15 million, when combined with $12 million from the NC Zoo Society’s capital fundraising campaign, brings the current total raised so far to around $27 million. If the Capital Improvements bond passes, the remaining $47 million would come from the state. If that happens and construction begins this fall, Asia would likely open in 2023, barring and delays.
Asia would be the first new continent since the zoo added North America back in 1994. Asia would bring with it tigers, red pandas, Komodo dragons, vultures, and Chinese-specific species of alligators and otters. Plans also call for a 300-seat restaurant with views of the tigers’ habitat, as well as an education center.
After Asia is complete, Australia would be next with an aviary featuring Australian bird species and an exhibit dedicated to kangaroos.