Gladys Porter Zoo adding new entrance complex

    Visitors to the Gladys Porter Zoo on busy days won’t have to stand in line as long once a major renovation project is complete.

    Zoo Director Patrick Burchfield said two entrances and a ticket booth are being added for the general public, plus a new membership office and separate entry that will allow zoo members to avoid the lines all together.

    It’s part of a new entry/exit complex going in near the zoo’s current single-turnstile exit leading to the parking lot left of the main entrance, he said.

    “What that’s going to do, on busy days in particular, it’s going to expedite us getting more people in there more quickly and serving them more efficiently,” Burchfield said.

    The existing turnstile will be relocated, and another installed next to it, as part of the new complex. Both turnstiles will be able to accommodate wheelchairs and double-wide strollers. The old gift shop, meanwhile, has been “totally gutted, renovated and redone,” Burchfield said. The gift shop at the main entrance will remain in operation, he said.

    Work on the new complex started about two months ago, and a ribbon cutting is planned for August, Burchfield said.

    Zoo facilities director Jerry Stone, who is in charge of the project, said the new entrances will take pressure off the main entrance during the busiest times and relieve the chaos that sometimes envelops the tiny front office.

    “There’s people in there signing up for memberships,” he said. “There’s people who forgot their card and want to have it checked. The UPS guy’s trying to deliver. People trying to bring in a wounded bird — all right there in that little area.”

    The new, bigger membership office and entrance, meanwhile, should be a major perk for zoo members, Stone said.

    “You get to walk right through there,” he said. “You don’t have to wait in any lines.”

    The zoo, which opened in 1971, gets an average of 423,000 visitors per year. As with the new entrance/exit complex, all new exhibits going forward will take visitors’ comfort into consideration by offering air conditioning, shelter from the rain and sun or some combination thereof, Burchfield said.

    “It’s all in trying to service our customers better and more comfortably, and make their visit more pleasant,” he said. “We’re trying to become as all-weather-friendly as we can. We have to get to that point where we can say, ‘Rain or shine, come and spend several hours at the zoo in comfort’.”