The Little Zoo That Could
The New Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, scheduled to open on November 15, is well on its way to becoming a “fully operational zoo at the forefront of conservation and sustainability.” Hurricane Ivan brought national attention to the beloved “Little Zoo that Could” inspiring not only an Animal Planet Series but plans for a new facility. The new campus will provide better protection for its animals, enhanced habitats, and captivating educational opportunities.
Director Emeritus Patti Hall, asked local business owner, Joey Ward, from Cool Concepts Consulting, LLC to manage the project. With assistance from Homer Jolly, from Homer Jolly Design, Ward and Jolly developed the Master Plan, created commercial project renderings, and set the plan into motion. According to Ward, “Untold hours were spent researching all aspects of the park including animal habitats, educational activities, and attractions as well as food and beverage.” Under their direction, this will be the first ZAA-accredited facility, built from the ground up, to open within the U.S. during the last 20 years.
The new facility will have something for everyone, including hands-on animal encounters, a safari ride through the Aussie Outback, and a thrilling zip line attraction. Visitors will soar 120 feet in the air for a breathtaking view of the entire Zoo and surrounding area, then continue back across the property above the lakes and Monkey Islands. The giraffe feeding station allows guests to feed the world’s tallest land mammal at eye-level. It also serves as one of a dozen dining event spaces with chef-prepared culinary delights. Although this space seats 12, various event spaces throughout the zoo can accommodate up to 1,000 guests.
The Dirk Bayer Butterfly Observation Outpost, a treetop exhibition, will capture the minds and imaginations of visitors young and old. Alabama native, Dirk Bayer, has researched butterflies for over 60 years. His lifelong collection of over 3,000 different species of mounted moths and butterflies are on display in the heavily-themed Amazon treetop camp.
The Safari Club is a full-service restaurant and the ever first-ever green certified kitchen in Alabama. Executive Chef Greg Buschmohle and his culinary team will prepare meals using fresh, organic herbs and vegetables cultivated from a sustainable garden. The menu boasts a wide array of vegan, vegetarian, steak, and seafood dishes all influenced by international flair. As the restaurant team likes to say, they “Proudly serve herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores.”
The Safari Club will begin serving dinner nightly in mid-July. The main dining area seats 280 guests while a private dining area seats up to 30 people. This venue offers a beautiful veranda view overlooking the entire Zoo, one of the most stunning vistas on the Gulf Coast. Buschmohle states, “We are so excited about all the wonderful opportunities afforded us at the new Zoo. This facility will truly be a diamond for our community, from birthday parties to weddings, cocktail parties to corporate events, and even music in the park. We have it all, and we could not be prouder.” The Safari Club will accept reservations.
With construction well underway, Coastal Lifestyle Magazine had the opportunity to take a private tour with Ward and Jolly. The visit left us with feelings of anticipation, amazement, and excitement. The newly paved road leading to the dual-arched Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo entrance felt a lot like we were entering Jurassic Park.
Sidewalks, fences, lakes, and islands intertwine with a landscaping aesthetic that feels like a links-style golf course, native and organic. According to Jolly, “What is most unique about the facility is the plan and how it flows.” The wide pathways and tramways already embrace the elevation changes throughout the 25-acre facility. This is not something that happens overnight or on a whim. It is the vision Ward, Jolly, and Hall shared over five years ago. Ward reflects, “The design is intentional to help families put away phones and other distractions, enjoy the experience, and maybe learn something along the way.”
Final design elements are taking shape. While much of the décor will be handmade by local carpenters, artists, and zoo supporters, various props, relics, and artifacts fill buildings while awaiting placement. Many of the artisans working onsite are donating their time and talent to help breathe life into a zoo that will be unrivaled along the Gulf Coast.
Value engineering is the underlying theme of the project. Jolly offers, “This approach allows for the new Zoo to be attractive without running over budget.” The cumulative efforts of everyone involved are not only an example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things but also a testament to Ward’s leadership and attention to detail. He states, “Unique things have been done during the process. I am proud of the team for doing their part and more proud to build a park where the cost of admission is not a barrier for visitors.” After a reflective moment, he continues, “The things you can accomplish with a like-minded team.”
The new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is not just about building something new and exciting; it is about creating a local attraction where families will make memories for generations to come. Hall has been the face of The Alabama Zoo for decades as well as a primary driving force behind its success. To see her vision for a larger zoo come to fruition with its style and unique attributes is a testimony to both her and her staff’s devotion to The Little Zoo that Could. Because of the efforts set forth by Hall, Ward, Jolly, the Zoo’s Board of Directors, the City of Gulf Shores, the County, the State, friends of the Zoo, and the rest of the Zoo team, the little zoo that could, did.
Design and Construction Team
Project Manager, Joey Ward, Cool Concepts Consulting, LLC.
Lead Designer, Homer Jolly, Homer Jolly Design
Construction Consultant, Terry Christmas, TPC Associates.
Architect, Steadman McCollough, McCollough Architecture, Inc.
Landscape Architect, Chad Watkins, WAS Design, Inc.
Civil Engineering, Barry Dees, Dees Engineering, Inc.
Site Contractor, Colin Uter, Blade Construction
Vertical Contractor, Stuart Construction, John Alms, Ben Harris, Billy Peavy
Executive Chef – Food and Beverage Manager, Greg Buschmohle
Finish and Detail Carpenters, Shoreline Carpentry, Greg Plante, Tyler Munn
Prop and Finish Artist, Coastal Visions Artistic Service, Jenny Lynn Culberson, Chris Lenning
Faux and Sign Artist, Todd Faehnrich