The makeover at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo seems to be a good fit for its mission and for its bottom line.
The zoo announced Thursday it is changing its name and adding several features in an effort to maintain its status as a quality destination. It’s now called ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and over the next several months the zoo will open a boat ride, an upgraded critical care center for manatees and several other features on the 65-acre property in central Tampa.
Changing the name of the 60-year-old city-owned zoo may hit some hard, given its long identity with the idyllic riverfront park. But having Tampa in the name will help raise the zoo’s profile among out-of-town visitors. The boat ride could draw new traffic and help the zoo compete with other tourist attractions. And the improved manatee center and habitat showcasing Key West and the Florida wilds will add to the zoo’s preservation role.
The zoo’s education mission is a sacred public trust, and it should not strive to become yet another theme park. But it also needs to have a strong economic base to keep the attraction and its many programs going. There seems to be the right balance here between modernizing the visitors’ experience and doing more on the conservation front. Given the heavy public financial support for the zoo over its life, and its iconic place in Tampa’s history, the zoo and the city need to continue working to ensure that this community asset stays true to its mission.