Sparky the sea lion is getting new digs at St. Paul’s Como Zoo, thanks to a $15 million bonding appropriation from the Minnesota Legislature.
The appropriation from the 2017 bonding bill will pay for design, engineering and construction costs for the $19.8 million seal and sea lion habitat renovation. Private donations will cover the remaining costs.
The Sparky exhibit — and the many sea lions who have starred in it — have delighted visitors to Como Zoo for more than 60 years. The renovation will update the exhibit to meet changing federal requirements for housing marine mammals and help maintain the zoo’s accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“We wanted to make sure that Sparky is here for the next generation of Como visitors,” said Michelle Furrer, director of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.
The St. Paul City Council will vote April 11 to authorize the Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the zoo, to enter into a grant agreement with the state through the Metropolitan Council.
The zoo started planning for the renovation in 2012, Furrer said. A previous bonding request was included in the 2016 bill that the Legislature did not pass.
The renovated exhibit will include two year-round pools for the seals and sea lions, an underwater viewing space for visitors, an updated seating area, a new restroom building and new food service.
Demolition is underway. A groundbreaking is scheduled for late spring or early summer, Furrer said, and the updated exhibit is expected to open in late 2019.