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St. Louis Zoo's WildCare Park projected to bring in over $660 million to St. Louis region

A pair of Zebras
Sophie Proe
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Zoo’s WildCare Park is situated in Spanish Lake. The zoo is estimating the project will generate over $660 million in economic activity across the St. Louis region within 10 years.

The St. Louis Zoo WildCare park, which is scheduled to open in 2027, will boost the north St. Louis County economy by $660 million within a decade, according to an economic impact report released Friday.

Zoo officials bill the Spanish Lake attraction as “a place where endangered and threatened animals can thrive.”

“This report makes it clear WildCare Park will help the regional economy thrive too,” said Dwight Scott, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Zoo.

The Zoo Association bought the unincorporated St. Louis County property in 2018 for $7.2 million. The 425-acre plot sits in Spanish Lake, near Ferguson at the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Sophie Proe
St .Louis Public Radio
Sabarras George, left, director of the St. Louis Zoo WildCare Park, reacts while looking out on Friday in Spanish Lake.
The St. Louis Zoo’s WildCare Park is situated in north St. Louis County.
Ray Meibaum
St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo’s WildCare Park is situated in north St. Louis County.

The town faces a shrinking population with a 21.5% poverty rate, more than double the St. Louis County average. The economic impact report estimates WildCare Park, which will cost $230 million to develop, will create nearly 400 jobs. It also estimates the zoo will attract 400,000 visitors annually, with 65% coming from outside St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“It was also one of the requests of the community members here in North County, one of the things they said was, ‘We want WildCare Park to be as good as the St. Louis Zoo,’” said Martha Fischer, curator of WildCare Park. “Not only would we have done it anyway, but we also want to make our community very proud."

The park will allow nearby businesses to profit from visitors, said Rebecca Zoll, president and CEO of North CountyInc., an economic development group.

“This project is an amazing opportunity for businesses in north St. Louis County,” Zoll said. “With around $184 million in off-site guest spending over the next decade, hospitality, retail, transportation and entertainment sectors will all get a significant boost.”

During the free park’s first eight years, guests and operations will generate $49.9 million in state and local tax revenues, according to the report’s projections.

Taxpayers in St. Louis County paid for part of the project with a voter-approved tax increase in 2018. It will allow for admission-free entry to the safari-like experience. More than 250 animal residents will roam free in the park, while guests experience a guided walking or bus tour.

“WildCare Park will bring with it a major tourism boost for our region and an economic boost for north St. Louis County,” said St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. “The zoo is a favorite of locals as well as a national tourist destination, and WildCare Park will join the list of must-sees when in the St. Louis region.”

Lauren Brennecke is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio and a recent graduate of Webster University.