A $10 million, 20,000-square-foot Great Lakes Nature Center will be constructed in Macomb County, the Detroit Zoological Society announced Tuesday.
The facility will combine features of nature and science centers, with educational programming and a focus on Great Lakes water and wildlife conservation, Ron Kagan, the nonprofit’s executive director and CEO, said at a news conference at the Macomb County Administration Building in Mount Clemens.
The zoo hasn’t yet determined a location, but is considering a variety of spots along the lakefront and riverfronts, Kagan said.
Site selection is expected to be announced this spring, along with the design of the facility.
Construction is expected to begin as early this year. The center would open around the end of 2019 and is expected to draw 150,000-200,000 visitors per year, he said.
Other specifics are still in the works, such as pricing that will likely be around $6-$7 for adults and $2-$4 for children to visit.
The zoo hopes to generate investment interest as it undertakes fundraising efforts. The $10 million cost isn’t “too high of a hill to climb,” said Candice Miller, a DZS board member and Macomb County Public Works commissioner. She said she will take a major role in finding donors.
The DZS will be seeking private and foundation contributions, as well as public dollars. Miller and Kagan declined to comment on specific funders with which they’re in talks, but did say public funding could come from the state through the Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Department of Environmental Quality or Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Kagan said. “It’ll take a real team effort.”
Millage revenue from residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties helps fund the Detroit Zoo’s operations each year, but that doesn’t extend to the Belle Isle Nature Center, which the zoo also operates, and it won’t extend to the Macomb County nature center, either.
Site options, features
Macomb County has about 32 miles of coastline on Lake St. Clair and 31 miles of the Clinton River.
There isn’t a lot of county land on lakefront property, said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who has weighed in and offered site suggestions. There is also city- or municipality-owned land along the riverfront and private lakefront property and “Metroparks are in play,” he said, adding that those would be his “favorite locations” from which to choose.
The nature center will allow birders, astronomers and those interested in science to gather, spend time and learn more about Great Lakes flora and fauna, Kagan said. He said it will be bigger in scale and have a wider scope than most nature centers, including a focus on green infrastructure and solar power.
“I think this is gonna be a national jewel,” Miller said.
It will be home only to indigenous wildlife, Kagan said. That will include Great Lakes fish such as lake sturgeon and paddlefish, which are technically extinct in the Great Lakes. The center will focus on conservation efforts and other endangered species. It will have habitats for native amphibians, reptiles, turtles, small mammals, shorebirds and birds of prey. Many of those birds of prey will have been rescued and nonreleasable, the DZS said, such as sandhill cranes. There also will be a native butterfly garden.
Reflection on Macomb
The Detroit Zoological Society’s Kagan went to Macomb County with the idea for the nature center, which has been around a year in the making. The county has been a “major advocate” of the Great Lakes, he said.
The addition is also a boon for the county, adding to the growing number of developments that make the county an economic destination — such as Selfridge Air National Guard Base, the United Shore Professional Baseball League’s Jimmy John’s Field and the coming Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Shelby Township, Hackel said.
“And now (the zoo is) coming and saying, ‘Macomb County is a location we want to make home,'” Hackel said.
If public transportation is a concern near the selected waterfront location, Hackel said the county would work with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART).
“If that becomes a question that there’s gonna be some kind of a need for that, it’s very simple: We turn to SMART, which has always helped us enhance our connectivity,” he said.