Lowry Park Zoo changes name, will add water ride and increase wildlife capacity

The newly dubbed ZooTampa at Lowry Park is builidng a water ride, Roaring Springs, which is expected to open in a few months. [ZooTampa at Lowry Park]
The newly dubbed ZooTampa at Lowry Park is builidng a water ride, Roaring Springs, which is expected to open in a few months. [ZooTampa at Lowry Park]
Published March 8, 2018

TAMPA — From now on, call it ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and maybe bring a towel.

Officials at the former Lowry Park Zoo announced upgrades and a planned new water attraction Thursday, along with a new logo and name for the nearly 60-year-old zoo.

This spring, ZooTampa will open Roaring Springs, a boat ride that will allow passengers to catch glimpses of the surrounding park.

"Explorers will board a boat and gently drift along a crystal-clear spring surrounded by native landscape and wildlife," zoo spokeswoman Andrea Alava said in a news release. "The journey takes a sudden turn when the elevation drops. Guests will feel a rush of adrenaline as they experience a three-story splashdown."

The journey for guests will continue along a trail showing hidden Florida, with glimpses of black bears, alligators, panthers, Key deer and other native species, Alava said.

Don't look for ZooTampa to turn into an amusement park, though. Much of the development coming in the upcoming months and years will be for the betterment of the animals, Alava said, with the zoo increasing its capacity to take in Florida wildlife.

There are also plans to improve life-support systems at the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, which accepted 35 injured manatees in 2016. The zoo dedicates about $1 million a year to manatee rehabilitation.

The changes — the biggest expansion at the zoo in 10 years — are part of an ongoing effort by zoo officials to remain an integral part of the Tampa Bay community while also promoting wildlife preservation, zoo CEO Joe Couceiro said.

"We want to provide a place where people can be entertained, where they are going to be engaged, educated and inspired to protect wildlife," he said.

When appointed CEO in July 2015, Couceiro said the zoo needed to stay relevant. He previously worked for the Chicago Zoological Society and all five Busch Entertainment Corp. parks.

Nearly 1 million people a year visit the 65-acre ZooTampa to see its more than 1,300 animals.

However, it continues to face competition from other attractions and amusement parks in the Tampa Bay area, including Busch Gardens. To meet that challenge, the zoo should become a "must see" experience, Couceiro said

"We have ambitions to become more than what we are right now," he said. "We were never going to be the biggest zoo in the world. What we want to be is an iconic zoo that's distinctive and different."

Contact Jonathan Capriel at (813) 225-3141 or Follow @jonathancapriel.