ST. LOUIS • This fall, the St. Louis Zoo Association closed on its $6 million purchase of 14 acres just south of Highway 40, site of the old Deaconess Hospital.
Tuesday night, St. Louis residents said what they wanted built there.
One suggested a boutique hotel. One touted a trolley, to ferry guests into the zoo. One proposed a pedestrian bridge across Highway 40 (Interstate 64). Another suggested “a new home for the Rams.”
But most held smaller ideas, reflecting hopes for their streets and neighborhood: A farmer’s market. A corner store. An ice cream shop. A local-food restaurant. Bike rentals. And, in several cases, a dog park.
At the three-hour open house, the zoo’s hired planning and design team presented a half-dozen placards with dozens of ideas for the land — just ideas, they noted carefully — ranging from exhibits and attractions to traffic and research parks.
They showed pictures of a grass-roofed greenhouse in California, a gigantic Ferris wheel in London, a hot air balloon that rises over the Philadelphia zoo, glass-walled aquariums, and the bulbous gardens of Marina Bay, Singapore.
“Who knows if it will come to fruition?” said Jim Wolterman, co-owner of the planning firm, SWT Design. “But the idea is to stimulate the imagination. Projects like these all started with visionary ideas.”
The SWT photo montages suggested zip lines, suspension bridges, giant wooden playgrounds, vegetable gardens, trains, trams and hotels.
“I think our attitude for tonight is, let’s not dream small. Let’s dream big,” said SWT principal Ted Spaid. “I have seen things happen in this town I never thought would happen.”
Some residents, however, were suspicious.
Margot Cavanaugh, a Dogtown resident and animal activist, worried that too much emphasis was being placed on expanding attractions. “I haven’t heard a lot about adding space for the animals already here,” she said. “And that’s my first priority. That south lot’s going to go. Let’s give it to the elephants.”
Others were just happy that the zoo bought the land, and that the vacant, decrepit hospital buildings would soon be demolished.
“People are pretty pumped,” said Lauren Wightman, 34, another Dogtown resident. “Nobody likes an abandoned warehouse.”
“I can’t think of an organization I’d rather have be a custodian of the property,” she added.
Tom Schwarztrauber, 46, also from Dogtown, worked at Deaconess 30 years ago and watched it slowly fall apart. “The whole area started to feel economically unstable,” he said. “When they moved in, it was a godsend.”
The goal, said SWT project manager Bonnie Roy, is to gather all the ideas – from public sessions, board steering committees, and staff – and to create a book of guidelines and rules the zoo can follow as it designs its new campus.
The zoo’s contract with SWT is for just under $375,000. The next open house is planned for this spring or early summer.