ZooTampa to undergo $125 million transformation with a new riverfront connection

ZooTampa at Lowry Park today unveiled plans for a stunning multi-year vision aiming to continuously and gradually add new immersive wildlife experiences across multiple habitats and new realms over the next 20 years.

Already Florida’s most attended cultural institution and recognized leader in wildlife conservation, including its renowned work in the rescue and rehabilitation of Florida’s manatees, ZooTampa is raising funds for the planned $125 million transformation, which will progressively increase opportunities for friends and families to form lasting connections with animals, expand public education initiatives, and drive local and regional economic growth.

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A new South America-themed realm will include an exciting nature and entertainment zone in Lowry Park that expands public access to the Hillsborough River. The riverfront connection emphasizes ZooTampa and the City of Tampa’s commitment to nature, wildlife and green spaces that is essential for happier, healthier lives.

ZooTampa adds new entertainment zones

New innovative habitats for some of the world’s most majestic mammals have been carefully designed to uphold the highest standards for animal care and welfare with the goal of providing awe-inspiring moments of engagement and learning for guests of all ages. The changes also will add a welcoming sense of arrival for the more than 1.2 million guests that visit the Zoo each year, while making the parking easier and faster.

“As our world-class Tampa Bay community continues to evolve, we will raise the bar on distinctive and interactive conservation experiences with the potential to engage and inspire future generations,” said President and CEO Joe Couceiro.

The Zoo’s transformation began earlier this year with the opening of Florida Wilds, featuring expanded habitats for endangered and threatened native species, and moves forward to the following four areas:

Manatee Rescue

As the home of the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, the largest non-profit and one of only four critical care centers in the world, the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of Florida’s iconic species has been at the heart of ZooTampa’s mission for more than 20 years. The new Manatee Rescue (opening January 2026) will be an innovative multi-dimensional environment that will immerse guests in the manatee’s world, the state’s fragile marine ecosystem; from rivers, to the intracoastal, to the Gulf. The area will offer unforgettable moments of education and eye-level viewing with manatees as guests witness the real-time life-saving work taking place every day to save these gentle sea cows.  Importantly, this newly designed area will expand the capacity of the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center with the addition of acute care and nursery pools for the direst patients (opening Fall 2023).  

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Manatee Rescue will also feature graceful jellies floating weightlessly with the current and a riverbank oasis home to playful otters that will glide by so closely that families will feel like they are swimming alongside them. Stingray Shores (opening Fall 2023), a newly reimagined interactive habitat, will give guests a chance to touch and feed stingrays while they swim carefree, and also offer a truly unforgettable opportunity for the more adventurous visitors to wade into the water for a rare up-close-and-personal encounter with these amazing animals!

South America

In collaboration with the City of Tampa, the Zoo is developing plans to expand to the Hillsborough River, creating a new realm connecting Tampa to its cultural roots. Guests will encounter multiple South American species including sea lions, giant river otters, jaguars, and a variety of other rarely seen wildlife. The expansion will also offer a new way of getting to the Zoo itself – via water taxis!

The South America realm will include a vibrantly themed entertainment, retail, dining and nature district in Lowry Park that renovates green spaces and multiplies public access, allowing more of the riverfront to be enjoyed by local residents and Zoo visitors alike.

Africa

The reimagined Africa realm will feature expanded habitats that create a new experience on every visit and reinforces the Zoo’s commitment to the care and protection of species in peril. At ground level, guests will see red river hogs in their natural environment. A higher climb will bring them side-by-side with mighty gorillas and ultimately, high in the treetops, safely face-to-face with a variety of playful primates. The realm will also feature multiple-species habitats that bring together endangered African elephants, Masai giraffes, and white rhinos, and a unique opportunity for guests to sleep within the roar of the king of the jungle.

Asia

The transformed Asia realm will immerse guests amid the habitats of some of the world’s most endangered species. Featuring stunning overhead paths that blur the line between guests and animals, the area provides new unforgettable – and safe – ways to connect with wildlife such as Bornean orangutans and Malayan tigers. 

“Zoo Tampa is a community treasure, and we look forward to reviewing the parts of the proposed expansion that require City of Tampa approval,” said Nicole Travis, Tampa’s administrator for Development and Economic Opportunity.

ZooTampa has been engaging its neighbors and members about the project, including inviting representation from the Zoo’s nearest neighbors in focus groups and broader community surveys. Feedback has been positive, seeing the project as a vibrant rejuvenation to the historical Lowry Park Central and Seminole Heights areas, advancing economic development for small business owners, and improving neighborhood safety, traffic flow and beautification. Further neighborhood meetings are planned, as well as opportunities for local residents to share thoughts and stay up to date with developments.

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ZooTampa transformation to have major economic impact

The Zoo’s transformation promises to be a boon for the local economy, bringing more jobs and tourism dollars to the community while enhancing the beauty of Tampa’s natural areas. The proposed expansion would enhance the riverfront and boost the direct economic activity of Hillsborough County by 42 percent, to $274 million, and bring in nearly $1 million in additional tax dollars for the county annually.

“Our plans will energize the community, improving the quality of life for neighbors and area residents,” Couceiro added. “As ZooTampa embarks on an even more extraordinary future, we remain committed to transforming with the resilient Tampa Bay community, creating world-class zoological experiences, providing the highest standards in animal care, and inspiring action to be responsible stewards of the natural world.”

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