Zoo officials have raised $25 million of the $30 million capital campaign goal for the facility that will feature an aerial gondola ride for visitors to see the eight orangutans, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported Monday. That exhibit, which will have a 150-foot-tall spire as its centerpiece, is to open in 2014.
The zoo has raised $66 million since 1999 through capital campaigns beyond the $3 million to $4 million in contributions it collects each year to support its $23 million operating budget. It had quietly raised money for two years and had $17 million in the bank when it publicly announced the International Orangutan Center in December.
By August, it had pulled in an additional $8 million — including $2 million from Lake County billionaire Dean White and his wife, Barbara. That was more than enough to start construction.
"I wish I could say (the fundraiser) was an overnight success, but there really has been a lot of planning along the way," said Tim Ardillo, the zoo’s director of institutional advancement.
Ardillo said much of the campaign’s success can be attributed to the drive’s leadership cabinet, which is led by retired Cummins Inc. CEO Tim Solso and includes several other business executives.
Solso said his involvement began in the early stages and grew to include contacting potential donors to solicit contributions.
"We have enjoyed the zoo with our kids and now our grandkids, so this was probably the most natural interest to be involved with," Solso said
Other recent projects at the zoo, which draws about a million visitors a year, have included upgrading its dolphin exhibit with an underwater viewing dome. That expansion opened in 2005 after a $30 million campaign.
The zoo has emphasized the need to protect orangutans and educate the general public about the primates.
The two species of orangutan numbered 230,000 a century ago, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. The eight apes from the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra living at the zoo will be among the remaining 50,000 of their species today.
Zoos have an advantage by having animals to connect with the public, said Bill Tortorici, a member of the advancement committee for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
"If you were to look at zoos and aquariums as a product, we have a living collection that connects in ways to people that are just different," he said.
___ Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal.