INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Zoo is one of the city's many beloved places to visit, but it offers much more than a chance to see lions, tigers, and bears.
A recent study shows the zoo is a top-tier economic driver for the region.
The Indianapolis Zoo drives more than one million visitors each year. Some may see this as a cool attraction with fancy features and exotic animals. But over the next 15 years, the zoo is projected to draw $882 million in revenue which could be a game changer for the economy.
"We have three kids, and they love coming to the zoo. They're always asking, "Hey! Let's go see this animal or that animal," said Andy Collins from Brownsburg.
For Collins, a regular trip to the zoo is a family pastime to keep the kids entertained.
"They start driving you crazy if they're around the house and you got to get them out. They can come to learn something and have fun at the same time," Collins said.
What is considered a simple fix for families like Collins, has opened a door to many opportunities for the Indianapolis Zoo.
"I think the zoo being here in 1988 helped make a lot of those things possible," said Karen Burns, Executive Vice President of the Indianapolis Zoo.
Burns explained the economic impact that the zoo plans to see by 2029 is a process that started back in 2014.
"The study says that we're going to have an $882 million dollar impact on the Central Indiana economy and $649 million of that is going to be directly related to tourism," Burns said.
Burns said 63% of the zoo's visitors come from outside of Indianapolis and 20% of those are coming from outside of the state.
"You got all the people in the suburbs, like us, and we're going to come in any time you have something to entertain the kids," said Collins.
And the impact made by those visits will stay close, in the form of added jobs in a variety of industries.
"It's the ripple effect and as we're looking at jobs, we're looking at the jobs we create in construction because of the money we spend as we add new exhibits and build at the zoo. We're looking at jobs in hotels, we're looking at jobs in the food industry, gas station attendants. That's how those jobs figures are calculated," Burns said.
And visitors eager to see the new alligator and crocodile exhibit or orangutan enclosure are expected to generate $31 million in tax revenue. It's a unique impact for a facility like the Indianapolis Zoo. It's the largest zoo in the United States that does not receive tax supported revenue.
"Most zoos that you may be familiar with are receiving City-County tax based revenue. The zoo isn't structured like that and so we are funding ourselves off our visitors and our members and our donors and the activity that they do when they bring to the zoo," Burns said.
"We live here. We plan on living here for a while and we want to see the area thrive. The more we can bring in, the more things to do, the more people will come and just keep making things better," Collins added.
The zoo can get expensive, though. Right now, tickets are about $26 for kids and $30 for adults on the weekends. Burns said the zoo works with local community centers to make sure Indy families have opportunities to visit.
"We work with local community centers to make sure that families who are economically challenged have opportunities to visit the zoo. We work with our schools to make sure those schools who have fewer means can come to visit the zoo. So, we have several programs in place. We also work with a ticket pricing that allows people to look at our website and find dates and times where it's more affordable and more likely to fit with their budget. It’s very important to us that the zoo remains accessible to our community," said Burns.
It's also suggested that families take advantage of the "Indy Attraction Pass" that can save you money on admission to the zoo, the children's museum, and other major attractions.
"We get the pass every year and we come often and they never get tired of coming," said Collins.