SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two of Sioux Falls’ most popular family friendly attractions are now coming together. The Great Plains Zoo and the Butterfly House and Aquarium announced a merger of their two organizations Thursday, with some big changes coming over the next two years.
“We will be transitioning our exhibits to a new space at the zoo,” Butterfly House and Aquarium Executive Director Audrey Otto-Pepper said.
Master planning is underway to begin construction on a new Butterfly House and Aquarium at the zoo with more than double the space of the current building at Sertoma Park.
“We’re looking at 25,000 square foot space so it will be much bigger than what we have here which will allow us to build some larger exhibits we’ve always wanted to do… like a great big shark tank that you love to see on aquarium visits,” Otto-Pepper said.
Bringing all of the exotic animals and conservation education together in one location.
“Being able to see zoo animals, as well as aquarium animals and butterflies, that is going to create the type of experience that will be incredibly valuable for families here, especially in the wintertime,” Otto-Pepper said.
“We know our community wants more indoor rec opportunities and with our partnership with the city, we want to better serve the community and have that ability to have the mesmerizing experience whether its 20 degrees outside or 100 degrees outside,” Great Plain Zoo CEO Becky Dewitz said.
The Great Plains Zoo says expanding the zoo’s indoor options was one of the motivating factors for combing their efforts and bringing a new indoor option to the zoo. It’s why they want the new building to be built closer to the entrance for easy access in the winter.
“We’re trying to stabilize basically how many people attend our zoo so that helps us have more stable operations to not have such a peak on and off-season,” Dewitz said.
Both organizations are also outgrowing their current spaces. The Butterfly House saw attendance double after adding the aquariums and the Great Plains Zoo’s educational camps and programs are sold out every year with only a lack of classroom space limiting their numbers.
“Our missions are so similar, it really comes down to education and conservation of our natural world. So it makes sense for us to come together, we can do so much more with educational programming,” Otto-Pepper said.
Giving families access to even more education and activities in Sioux Falls all year round and further lifting quality of life for the community.
“People will often ask me what we’re doing to attract more workers to our community. I’ll say well we’re building a community that people want to live in, that there’s stuff to do here so they don’t want to leave,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said.
Until the new building is ready, the visitor experience at the Butterfly House and Aquarium and the Great Plains Zoo will continue as usual.
Discussions are still underway about what will happen to the current Butterfly House building at Sertoma Park. Mayor TenHaken says Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation is trying to determine the best community benefit for the building.