On June 29, the Birmingham Zoo cut the ribbon on its new Arrival Experience and Welcome Plaza. The new entrance is the culmination of Phase 2 of the $18.6 million Renew the Zoo Capital Campaign, centering on the notion that “great cities have great zoos.”
The campaign provided the funding necessary for capital projects and improvements, including the new front entrance, plaza and park area. As one of the city’s top tourist attractions, upgrades were imperative to maintain contemporary standards and accreditation status and to address the critical needs of the 60-year-old facility.
The Arrival Experience, designed by GMC, features a new two-story building, restrooms, two plazas, an outdoor classroom, natural play areas and an event lawn. The existing entry was repurposed for group entry with a separate gathering zone. The new front entry plaza allows room for queuing and ticketing before passing through the entry gates under the large canopy of the new main building which includes the gift shop, administrative offices and an education center. Past the gates, the large plaza provides plenty of gathering space for families and groups, with seating walls and a view into the zoo exhibits from the elevated plaza.
The event lawn and green park area replaced two ponds and former fish hatcheries near the front entrance and provides a venue for Zoo events, as well as gatherings for festivals, performances and celebrations.
The parking area was also expanded and enhanced with a natural visitor experience that preserved 70% of the existing trees and created an entrance path underneath a shaded tree canopy where visitors begin their zoo excursions.
All of these enhancements were designed to create a better visitor experience, accommodate more guests, provide greater accessibility and enhance the Zoo’s educational programs.
GMC served as the project architect and landscape architect. Other project team members include Civil Consultants, Inc. (CCI), civil engineer; Edmonds Engineering, mechanical and plumbing engineer; Jackson, Renfro & Associates, electrical engineer; MBA Engineers, Inc., structural engineer; Scout Branding Company, signage and plaza graphics; and Taylor + Miree Construction, general contractor.