LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park Zoo plans to reconfigure its East Gate with a $9 million new visitor center.
The zoo unveiled plans for the visitor center at an open house Thursday in its offices at 2001 N. Clark St.
According to Steven Thompson, the zoo's senior vice president of capital and programmatic planning, it will replace the Gateway Pavilion, the building with the circular entryway that has greeted zoo visitors at the East Gate since 1994.
"At the time, it was a huge improvement," Thompson said, but it proved to be dark and congested inside and ill-suited to the multiple tasks of housing the information desk, member services, stroller, wagon and wheelchair rental, lost-and-found and first-aid stand.
The new visitor center is designed to be open and welcoming, with large glass windows. Two buildings will span the East Gate with an overhead canopy offering shade. The smaller building to the south will have restrooms visitors can use when they arrive or when they leave for the parking lot between the zoo and the Lincoln Park lagoon, as Thompson said the majority of visitors use the East Gate.
A larger, U-shaped building on the other side of the gate will be laid out so that the main information desk with rentals will be the first thing visitors see. Inside, there will be security offices, first aid, member services and other offices. The recessed area in the center will also have a canopy to offer shade as a place for people to meet and rest.
Thompson called the new visitor center "a place to go for help," but it's also designed to be more welcoming and efficient than the Gateway Pavilion.
The designs have to be approved by the city's Plan Commission, but Thompson said the project is expected to take around 10 months from when permits are granted, with groundbreaking expected to take place by the end of the year, putting completion on track for next year.
According to Thompson, the free-admission zoo welcomes 3.5 million-4 million visitors a year, with as many as 35,000 in a day.