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DSM Forward: The Future of Blank Park Zoo

Blank Park Zoo During COVID-19

September 18, 2020

The Greater Des Moines Partnership DSM Forward webinar series offers insight on moving the Greater Des Moines (DSM) region forward in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. As plans are made and businesses reopen, The Partnership has put together resources for employers at DSMpartnership.com/DSMForward.

The “DSM Forward: The Future of Blank Park Zoo” webinar welcomed Anne Shimerdla, president and CEO of Blank Park Zoo, and Amanda Nuzum, VP and chief development officer, as they discussed the effects of the recent derecho and the COVID-19 pandemic, fundraising efforts and planning for the future.

COVID-19 Impact

Shimerdla says that after the Zoo closed for 65 days, it is now running at 50% capacity. It costs $19,000/day to operate the Zoo. The priority of Blank Park Zoo is always the animals — the Zoo won’t and can't cut utilities for buildings, animal food and vet care — so every staff member took a reduction in hours/pay. The Zoo is currently looking at a $1 million loss for the year, but Zoo staff continue to meet and acquire information from zoos across the nation in order to determine the best way forward.

Safety procedures have been put in place in an effort to encourage guests to visit the Zoo. Modifications include:

  • Limited capacity
  • Plexiglass barriers
  • One-way path around some of the exhibits
  • Mask requirement for indoor exhibits (ages 2+) and in outdoor exhibits where guests are unable to social distance

Staying Engaged with the Public

Right away, Nuzum says, the Zoo upped the ante on social media through new Facebook Live programming. This included:

  • Developing a craft that tied into a certain species for new daily content.
  • Creating Zoom programs that allowed the Zoo to share moments with the animals
  • Offering early childhood virtual classes
  • Sharing animal memes
  • Adding live webcam content so the community could see the animals in real time

Scoop the Lighted Zoo Loop

The Scoop the Lighted Zoo Loop events took place over the course of several weekends last spring. Lighted displays, used during previous Night Eyes events, created a way for the Zoo to support the community while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Guests drove through the Zoo’s parking lot to see the lights, and the free events encouraged donations in order to create revenue during the Zoo’s shutdown. Nuzum says the events were a huge success, welcoming more than 3,000 people the first weekend.

Fundraising Efforts

While the Zoo acknowledges it is one of many affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, within the first week they had their urgent appeal written and ready to go. Nuzum says that was helpful because so many areas of the Zoo’s budget were altered due to the situation. The Zoo kicked off its summer with Zoo Brew — its number one fundraiser — planning a virtual version of the event for Wednesday, June 3. Once people could physically visit the zoo again, Sip ‘N Stroll took place, leading the way for limited capacity Zoo Brews, but revenue continues to be impacted by the pandemic and the Zoo’s funding continues to be a critical top priority.

Strategic Planning

Shimerdla says the Zoo’s planning process will be set by next January/February, when they hope to set the stage for expansion in future years. The Zoo is also working on three capital projects, including an event center, a sensory garden and Go Go Plaza in the center of the Zoo.

Watch the entire webinar below:


Find Blank Park Zoo COVID-19 reopening strategy here and enhanced reopening measures here.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Greater Des Moines Partnership

The Greater Des Moines Partnership is the economic and community development organization that serves Greater Des Moines (DSM), Iowa. Together with 23 Affiliate Chambers of Commerce, more than 6,500 Regional Business Members and more than 400 Investors, The Partnership drives economic growth with one voice, one mission and as one region. Through innovation, strategic planning and global collaboration, The Partnership grows opportunity, helps create jobs and promotes DSM as the best place to build a business, a career and a future. Learn more at DSMpartnership.com.