Kansas City Zoo hoping to bring ocean to KC with proposed $75 million aquarium

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Oceans make up 70 percent of our planet, and some are hoping salt water will soon make up a small part of Kansas City.

It’s still in the planning phase, but the Kansas City Zoo wants to be able to teach people about oceans by creating an actual ecosystem right here in Kansas City.

“A major aquarium has been talked about in this town for many, many years," Kansas City Zoo CEO Randy Wistoff said. "But to bring something of scope and now with our new taxing district, the access of the zoo to residents, our school programs, to really bring and teach about the oceans and the world, the importance of them.”

Kansas City Zoo

He and his team talked with the city manager and the mayor in May. He describes the aquarium as “in the neighborhood of 700,000-750,000 gallons of water, 3/4s of a million gallons of water, is what we’d like to land on.” That would be about an acre and a half of salt water with two ocean biomes: warmer water and colder water.

“We’ve got a number of species we’d like to bring in, kind of a range of animals from sharks all the way down to sea horses,” Wistoff said.

He said it would be comparable in size to the aquarium in Omaha and wouldn’t take away from Sea Life Aquarium at Crown Center.

“Sea Life is a great aquarium. It’s smaller in size. A bit of Legoland with more of a children’s emphasis," he said. "Ours is much bigger in scope, and by no means would it be what we consider competition. It would be an enhancement.”

The project is on the agenda for the city's finance committee later this month.

“We’ve identified a little over $20 million in potential private funding, funding from our tax district, and we’re looking to the city for about $7 million,” Wistoff said.

The total project is expected to cost about $75 million.

There may be critics who say $7 million is too much to give, but Risthoff said the payoff is greater.

“We’ve done some feasibility studying, looked at what the potential in our attendance growth would be, visitor-ship from out of town, the economic impact it would have on the city," he said. "By the time we got there and opened, we’d probably be adding another 100 jobs.”

Wistoff said plans aren’t even drawn up yet; the project is in the very early stages.

“We just want to bring something, again, about as far away as you can get from an ocean to Kansas City in a scope and size that it would be considered a destination aquarium, major league aquarium," he said.

If it all works out the way the zoo hopes, they’d hire an aquarium architecture firm and the project would be complete in late 2021 or early 2022. The gate fee would go up, but the aquarium would be free with your zoo admission.