Aquarium construction under way at Kansas City Zoo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Construction crews at the Kansas City Zoo are working hard toward the grand opening of the new 600,000-gallon aquarium in 2023.

KC Zoo CEO Sean Putney told The Heartlander the aquarium will have 34 exhibits featuring fish and other creatures from every oceanic territory in the world. 

The $77 million project is being funded partly through a one-eighth cent zoological sales tax, which Clay and Jackson County residents have been paying since 2011, along with several private donations. 

EHDD Architecture of San Francisco, and El Dorado Inc. architects in Kansas City were both selected to draw up the blueprints, while JE Dunn Construction was hired to bring the blueprints to life. 

Construction workers recently filled the giant shark tank with water, and are checking for leaks. Once the tank is cleared, it will be drained and refilled with saltwater. Every tank in the aquarium will contain different levels of salt for various marine life, while water pumps will consistently monitor water quality. 

The zoo hopes to have every tank filled by the end of this year, and may begin moving marine life into their new homes by March 2023. The sea creatures will need plenty of time to get accustomed to their artificial habitats before guests arrive at the tentative grand opening date of Labor Day 2023.

The new aquarium is being built on the main path of the zoo directly before the elephant habitat. Putney says future guests will be greeted by a wave tank featuring Caribbean creatures like sea urchins and reef fish. 

The zoo plans to host nine different species of sharks throughout the aquarium, including bonnetheads and whale sharks. Guests can also expect five different species of jellyfish, octopi, eels and hands-on touch-tanks full of urchins, horseshoe crabs, starfish, small sharks, anemones and other harmless saltwater species. 

“What better way for kids of all ages to remember the things they experienced? A lot of the time, that comes by interaction,” Putney said. “We’ve had a great response with our touch-tank stingrays up by our penguin exhibit. I feel having similar experiences at the aquarium will be a huge part of the experience – especially here in the Midwest, where we don’t get to experience the ocean very often, and some not at all in their lifetime. We want them to have a fun experience, but also an educational experience.”

Toucans, cotton-top tamarins, several species of otters from around the world and rehabbed sea turtles also will be part of the aquarium exhibit. 

“The excitement is starting to build,” Putney says. “We’ve been very excited for quite some time. But now that we are less than a year out, there is some buzz going around. We had a sneak peak back in August for our members, and we try to do this for all of our projects so our members can get the first-look into it.

“Three thousand people came to visit, and I did not hear one negative thing about it. Everybody is very happy, excited and looking forward to the opening day.”

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