Grant from Polk Family Fund will be largest in Zoo’s 85-year history

logoThe Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) today announced the intention of the Polk Family Fund to grant $10 million towards the development of The Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center. The grant will be the largest donation in the history of the Detroit Zoo. The Penguin Conservation Center has been in the planning and design phase for two years and represents the largest project the Detroit Zoo has ever undertaken.

One of the most dramatic features of the $21 million, 24,000-square-foot facility will be a penguin “deep dive” with views above and below water as the birds dive and soar through a chilled 310,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. That feature, deeper and larger than the pool at the Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life, will allow visitors to see penguins deep-water dive – something that cannot be seen anywhere else, even in nature.

“This project and the Polk’s generous support will be truly transformational for the Zoo and for our community,” said Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society executive director and CEO. “We are thrilled to be able to move forward with our plans for an amazing place for penguins that is centered on conservation and will be an extraordinary and unique experience for our guests.”

The Penguin Conservation Center will be home to 80 penguins of four species: rockhopper, macaroni and king – which currently reside in the Detroit Zoo’s original Penguinarium – as well as gentoo, a species which will be new to the Zoo. The habitat will ensure an optimal environment for the penguins’ welfare and encourage wild behavior, from diving and porpoising to nesting and rearing young.

“The Detroit Zoo has a reputation for creating world-class facilities that provide the best environment for animal conservation and welfare and an educational and exciting experience for visitors. Our family is honored to support this exciting and important conservation center,” said Stephen R. Polk, former chairman, president and CEO of the R. L. Polk Company and vice chair of the DZS board, who traveled with Kagan to Antarctica in early 2013.

Inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expeditions as well as the epic crossings of Drake’s Passage, the facility will feature 4-D effects such as arctic blasts, rough waves and snow, and include other physical elements such as ice crevasses. The building’s exterior is a dramatic design evoking a tabular iceberg.

“The design of this unique facility has been informed and inspired by the harsh and visceral ice world of Antarctica. The end result will be an extraordinary and authentic polar experience,” said world-renowned polar ecologist and penguin expert Dr. Bill Fraser, who served as a design consultant on the project.

The entry plaza will include a water feature that will be a splash area in the summer and a skating rink in winter.

The Penguin Conservation Center was designed by Jones & Jones, architects of Disney’s Animal Kingdom as well as the Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life and National Amphibian Conservation Center, and by Albert Kahn Associates, architects of the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. It will be built on a 2.1-acre site near the Detroit Zoo’s entrance and will open in 2015.

More than 100 design, engineering and construction jobs will be created and sustained for the estimated two-year construction period, and the facility will add several full-time employees to the DZS staff. With an associated annual increase of 100,000 visitors, the new attraction is expected to have an economic impact of more than $3 million per year.

For more information or to make a philanthropic investment in the Penguin Conservation Center, visit

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