Open Today: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM | Grand Rapids Lantern Festival: 7:30 PM – 11:30 PM

Weather Data Source: Grand Rapids weather today
tickets
donate
Membership
Search
Close this search box.
Advanced Lantern Festival tickets are required. Walkups not available on Sold Out nights. Purchase tickets online to guarantee your spot!

Our Master Plan

KENT COUNTY APPROVED 2015 MASTER PLAN KENT COUNTY APPROVED 2023 AMENDMENT
Examine the available plans by sliding the line
Green palm leaf
JOHN BALL ZOO IS GROWING

A Look At Our Future

John Ball Zoo is one of the most attended cultural attractions in Michigan, welcoming hundreds of thousands of guests each year. As Kent County and the Zoo have grown, the need for additional parking access has increased.

Over the course of the last six years, John Ball Zoo has worked alongside the community to refine the Master Plan to meet the needs of today and those anticipated for tomorrow. The Zoo’s Master Plan was updated and approved by Kent County Commissioners in 2015. In January 2024, the Kent County Board of Commissioners approved an amendment to the 2015 Master Plan regarding parking, which reflects various feedback from our community and the desire to create safer and more efficient parking at John Ball Zoo.

did you miss the tele-town hall?
no problem!

John Ball Zoo hosted a tele-town hall event for the community on Wednesday, Nov. 15 regarding the proposed 2023 Amendment to our county-approved 2015 Master Plan. Learn about our proposed amendment and hear the answers to some vital community questions. 

Master Plan Amendment

Through an ongoing series of public community engagements since 2018, John Ball Zoo collaborated with community members, receiving meaningful feedback that fueled the design of John Ball Zoo’s Master Plan amendment.

The amendment to the Master Plan, approved by Kent County Commissioners in January 2024, includes:

PAVED
PARKING

Make room for additional paved parking

TRAFFIC & SAFETY

Minimize traffic and increase safety through neighborhood streets

JOHN BALL ZOO

Current Situation

On John Ball Zoo’s busiest days, many guests park their vehicles on the grass at the park, which is not ideal for our neighbors, the Zoo, and the wildlife that inhabits the park. Each year, more than 200,000 cars exit the Zoo directly into the adjacent neighborhood, creating traffic flow and safety issues.

2022 Parking

Our proposed amendment was formulated with direct feedback from the neighbors of John Ball Zoo through a series of public community engagements between 2018-2023, with the goal of accommodating both our guests and our neighbors to the best of our abilities.

2015 Master Plan
JOHN BALL ZOO

Updated Plan

The 2023 Amendment shows no additional paved parking east of the current main parking lot. We will reposition our Fulton Street entrance to the west to reduce congestion with the bus station and create a safe pedestrian path around the fountain.

The full plan is available online.

Amendment Plan
listen to the conversation

John Ball Zoo hosted a tele-town hall event for the community on Wednesday, Nov. 15 regarding the proposed 2023 Amendment to our county-approved 2015 Master Plan. Learn about our proposed amendment and hear the answers to some vital community questions. 

Next Steps

John Ball Zoo is meeting with Kent County Commissioners to present the amendment to the 2015 Master Plan with the goal of getting it approved. If this proposed amendment does not get approved, John Ball Zoo will be forced to implement the already-approved 2015 Master Plan, with construction beginning in 2024.

Add your name to our growing list of supporters by signing our petition in support of the proposed parking plan

Save the date to join the conversation

John Ball Zoo will host a tele-town hall event at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15 about the proposed amendment to our Master Plan. This is an opportunity for our community to hear about the plan and provide feedback. 

No registration is required to join the event. 

Get Answers

FAQs

  • How are you funding this parking construction project? 
    These plans are self-funded by John Ball Zoo. 

  • How will runoff from rainfall be managed? 
    We will incorporate strips of green spaces, edges, and swales to accommodate rainwater and proper drainage.

  • Where will people park during construction? 
    Zoo guests will continue to park in our current parking lots and overflow grass parking until the construction phases are completed. 

  • What is the route for the new road?  
    The 2023 Amendment closes the current drive access to Park Street and replaces it with a connection directly to Butterworth Street. We made this design choice because it will prevent more than 200,000 cars from exiting the Zoo directly into the adjacent neighborhood per year. Having access to Butterworth Street gives us two primary access points on major streets, along with Fulton Street. John Ball Zoo is a major cultural destination in our city, and having these two access points will allow people to come in and out in a safe and efficient manner. 

  • When would construction begin on plans in the 2023 Amendment, and when will construction end? 
    Construction will begin during summer 2024, with the goal of completing the first two phases by the end of 2024.

  • Will John Ball Zoo engage firms using union labor for these construction projects? 
    John Ball Zoo does not require work to be performed by union laborers, though union labor has been part of various construction projects at the Zoo.

  • What was the bidding process like for the architecture/construction companies? 
    We regularly request proposals for projects at John Ball Zoo. The Request for Proposals for the architectural firm working on this project was previously completed. 

  • If guests enter the Zoo via Lake Michigan Drive and drive to Fulton Street, how does exiting on Butterworth Street improve their parking/visiting experience? 
    Access to Butterworth Street gives us two primary access points along major streets, along with Fulton Street. John Ball Zoo is a major cultural destination in our city and county, and having these two access points will allow people to come in and out in a safe and efficient manner.

  • If you proceed with the parking plan, where will the annual carnival be held? 
    Under both the approved 2015 Master Plan and 2023 Amendment, the carnival can be accommodated in its current form.

  • What parts of the 2023 Amendment benefit the landscape of the area, and what can be done without adding asphalt? 
    We are planning to add rain swales and pollinator gardens to help create an enjoyable and attractive experience for the community and a haven for butterflies, birds, bees, and other species.

     

  • How will you protect wildlife if you implement the 2023 Amendment? 
    As a conservation organization, preserving wildlife and wild places is our mission, which extends beyond our property. We are being incredibly intentional with any plan that is implemented, and we have taken great care to incorporate protections to the existing wildlife and environment in this proposed plan. We will do so through the incorporation of flowering gardens, grass fields, and usable green space. We will also use green infrastructure to prevent drivers from parking on the grass, which will include large boulders and depressions. We’re planning to use native plants and flowers that attract butterflies, birds, bees, and other wildlife, because we know that a parking lot with pollinator gardens is a much bigger benefit to the environment and is much more ecologically productive than an open field of non-native grasses. Further, parking on the grass prevents micro habitats from flourishing. We will also incorporate strips of green spaces, edges, and swales to accommodate rainwater and proper drainage, and we plan to preserve mature trees.
  • What is the future plan for when the need for parking increases beyond the capacity built in the 2023 Amendment? 
    We know as Kent County continues to grow that we are going to need to accommodate the increased need for parking. We are assessing a combination of a green parking garage, which would be built against the hill on the surface parking included in the 2023 Amendment, along with public transit options and parallel parking within the neighborhood. In the long term, a green parking garage is the best solution as a next step after the 2023 Amendment, because it is a significant investment and will need to be thoroughly planned with funding secured. The 2023 Amendment includes a plan to lay the foundation for a green parking garage under the paved parking lot now to prepare for that eventual construction.

  • Why don’t you build a parking garage now? 
    The proposed 2023 Amendment improves safety, addresses parking, creates permanent, usable green park space for the community, and provides the foundation for a green parking garage in the future. We do believe at some point we may need to build a parking garage; however, this is currently cost prohibitive without securing other sources of public funding. The parking garage is anticipated to be built on approximately the same footprint as the paved parking by the hill that is included in the proposed 2023 Amendment. 

  • How has the Zoo engaged with adjacent neighbors? 
    John Ball Zoo has held multiple public engagement sessions with neighbors since 2018. We reached out to our 1,000 closest neighbors via mail in 2018 to invite them to a public design workshop at the Zoo. A month later, we reached out to nearly 4,000 households to invite them to a public design workshop. Another similar community meeting was held in January 2019. Following a pause during COVID-19, we invited 5,000 of the closest households to join another community meeting in February 2023. We also held two public open houses in May and June of this year. The tele-town hall event on Nov. 15 was the seventh community engagement session we held. The feedback we received during each of our engagement sessions has been so valuable to us, and our neighbors’ feedback has been incorporated into 2023 Amendment planning.

  • If the Kent County Board of Commissioners rejects the amendment, will the Zoo proceed with the original master plan?  
    If the Board of Commissioners does not approve the 2023 Amendment, John Ball Zoo will need to move forward with the 2015 Master Plan, which was already approved by the Board of Commissioners via the democratic process. 

  • Who is making the decision about the 2023 Amendment?  
    The Kent County Board of Commissioners will have the ultimate say in whether we move forward with the approved 2015 Master Plan or the 2023 Amendment. We will revisit our Amendment with the Kent County Finance & Physical Resources Committee on Nov. 21. If recommended by the committee, the amendment will be considered by the full Board of Commissioners on Nov. 30. These meetings are open to the public.  

  • You need to submit a new master plan for 2025. Why not come up with a new and improved master plan rather than making changes before 2025? 
    According to our lease operating agreement with Kent County, we submit a Master Plan every 10 years although it is not a requirement to submit a plan in 2025. Without a new Master Plan, the current 2015 Master Plan is still the valid document. We are in the very early stages of developing the next Master Plan, however there is an immediate need to address parking now, which is why we are proposing the 2023 Amendment. This Amendment is the best solution for our guests, our community, and Kent County as a whole.

  • What alternatives did the Zoo consider when planning the 2023 Amendment? 
    John Ball Zoo examined numerous alternatives to paved parking while planning the 2023 Amendment, and below are some of those options: 

    –  Encourage a coordinated plan between the Zoo and other large area attractions. 

    John Ball Zoo has worked alongside our neighbors to come up with the 2023 Amendment, which is a win-win for our community and our guests. We are always open to a broader conversation with other organizations to build onto the 2023 Amendment. 

    – Add a parking lot to the Butterworth Landfill and operate a Zoo shuttle. 

    In 2023, H2R Market Research* completed a parking concepts study for John Ball Zoo, focusing on and testing multiple options for offside parking with remote shuttle services. The results of this study showed that offering offsite parking with shuttle transportation could result in a 30% decrease in guest attendance. We believe the 2023 Amendment is the best solution for our guests, our neighbors, and the community because it improves safety, addresses parking, and creates usable green space for the community. 

    *H2R Market Research is an international award-winning research consultancy that specializes in providing customized market research services in the Travel, Destination, and Attractions Industries and other areas impacting consumer quality of life. 

    – Build a parking garage now at the top of the hill where Zoo staff parking already exists.  

    The area on top of the hill is slated for our African Expansion, which would bring giraffes and other animals to the Zoo for the community to learn about and enjoy, contributing to our mission of preserving wildlife and wild places locally and around the world. Because of the small footprint of this area, a parking garage placed there would need to be several stories high. This is one of the highest points in the city of Grand Rapids, and having a tall parking structure on top of the hill would be a burdensome eyesore for the community. 

    – Add more bicycle parking.  

    Though the vast majority of Zoo visitors do not arrive by bike, additional bicycle parking is included in the 2023 Amendment to encourage those who live nearby to travel by bike. In 2022, we added an additional bike station by our ticketing area, and in 2023 we added additional areas to promote the city of Grand Rapids’ Lime Mobility program. 

    – Add angled parking spaces along Valley Avenue. 

    John Ball Zoo would support this effort if the city of Grand Rapids decided to implement this change. However, this would not meaningfully impact the current parking needs. 

    – Incentivize the use of public transportation.  

    Nationally and locally, the vast majority of Zoo guests do not use public transportation to get to the Zoo. With more than 70% of the Zoo’s attendance coming from outside the city of Grand Rapids, this mode of transportation is not feasible for many of our guests and would not meaningfully impact the current parking needs. There is a Bus Rapid Transit station at the Zoo, and we did assess incentivizing the use of public transportation in the past, and participation was extremely low. 

    – Share parking with nearby parking lots and operate a Zoo shuttle  

    In 2023, H2R Market Research* carried out a parking concepts study for John Ball Zoo, focusing on and testing multiple options for offsite parking with remote shuttle services. The results of this study showed that offering offsite parking with shuttle transportation could result in a 30% decrease in guest attendance.  

    *H2R Market Research is an international award-winning research consultancy that specializes in providing customized market research services in the Travel, Destination, and Attractions Industries and other areas impacting consumer quality of life. 

    – Continue to use the field along Valley Avenue for overflow parking instead of adding more lots.  

    Following neighbor feedback from our community engagement sessions, we were asked to move the parking further away from homes. The 2023 Amendment directly incorporates this feedback. 

    – Continue to use street parking in the neighborhood. 

    During our community engagement sessions, many neighbors shared their frustration about Zoo and park visitors consistently parking in spaces near their homes, resulting in no consistently available spots for homeowners or their guests. 

    We’ve also received complaints from Zoo guests who needed to park in the adjacent neighborhood due to the Zoo’s overcrowded parking lots. This results in a significantly negative guest experience and a barrier to access the Zoo. 

    – Use green pavers.  

    The use of green pavers in certain areas of the design has been considered. It has been deemed impractical for large areas due to the challenges to mobility and stroller use as well as the poor performance in high traffic areas.

  • What was done with feedback from people during the previous engagement sessions in 2018, 2019, and 2023? 
    John Ball Zoo’s Master Plan Amendment is a community plan that was informed by our neighbors and redesigned based on their input and feedback. The 2023 Amendment improves safety, addresses parking, and creates usable green park space for the community — all things that our neighbors have asked for in our sessions with them. The current approved 2015 Master Plan shows paved parking lots in closer proximity to many of our neighbors. Following neighbor feedback, we moved the parking away so this area can become usable green space. We are very proud of our years of working alongside our neighbors to come to a solution that works better for the community, John Ball Zoo, and Kent County as a whole. 

  • Has there ever been a discussion to move the Zoo outside of a residential neighborhood? 
    Yes. In 2004, Kent County residents voted to keep the Zoo at its current location. 

  • Could we pave behind the Zoo where there is a golf course? 
    Because this isn’t our property, we cannot use this area for additional parking. The golf course is not owned by Kent County, and therefore our Master Plan cannot cover this area. 

  • How will the 2023 amendment and the 2015 approved master plan affect our home values? 
    While we at the Zoo focus on saving wildlife and wild places, we understand that questions about the impact of the 2023 Amendment and the already approved 2015 Master Plan on home values are outside our expertise. We recommend reaching out to your local government offices, urban planners, or real estate professionals who can provide more accurate and specific information on this matter.

  • Is there anything in the updated master plan to better maintain the two playgroups on the zoo site? 
    In the 2023 Amendment, the areas around the playground will be enhanced, providing greater ease of access for families. We are proud that the playground, which was built based on feedback from the neighborhood, has provided a place for play groups and families to enjoy. 

  • Is there information on how the reduction of on-street and in-neighborhood parking improves public safety? 
    The 2023 Amendment will eliminate more than 200,000 cars from exiting directly into the adjacent neighborhood per year. It will improve safety where children play, where neighbors walk and where people park their cars. 

  • How many jobs will be added, and how many additional people will attend, should the additional parking be added? 
    We are projecting an additional 50,000 guests in 2024, on top of the more than 700,000 guests who visit John Ball Zoo each season. With each additional 10,000 guests, 12 jobs are created in Kent County. During construction of the 2023 Amendment, 100 local jobs would be created. 

  • How much parking space is planned in the 2015 Master Plan versus the 2023 Amendment? 
    In total, there is approximately 12 acres of paved parking space in the approved 2015 Master Plan. There is about 10 acres of paved parking space in the proposed 2023 Amendment.

Check Back Often For Updates

If you have questions, reach out to [email protected]

Shopping Cart

Great Lakes Rare Turtles

Great Lakes Conservation
About

Turtles are in trouble around the world and locally. The Great Lakes Rare Turtle Program addresses on threats that are existential and widespread for Blanding’s, Spotted, Wood, and Box Turtles. The John Ball Zoo is working wth partners to study head starting as a conservation tool, protecting nesting habitat for Wood Turtles from raccoons, and researching the distribution and status of Spotted Turtles in Southwest Michigan. The zoo partners with local community scientists to indentify road crossings that pose a threat to Blanding’s and other species of turtles.

Partners

Poweshiek Skipperling

Oarisma powesheik

Facts
Habitat

Grassland, Wetlands (inland)

Threat Range

Critically Endangered

Region

Extant (resident) - Canada (Manitoba); United States (Wisconsin, Michigan), Possibly Extinct - United States (South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa), Extinct - United States (Indiana, Illinois)

Screenshot 2023-02-15 at 10.34.14 AM

Mitchell's Satyr

Great Lakes Conservation
About

The prairie fens of southern Michigan are a stronghold for the Endangered Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly. We are working with Michigan State University, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, and the Kalamazoo Nature Center to develp to propagate this rare butterfly. Offspring reared in the program may be used to supplement wild Mitchell’s Satyr populations.

Partners

Freshwater Mussels

Great Lakes Conservation
About

Freshwater Mussels are one of the most fastenating groups of animals. Unfortunately they are also one of the most imperiled groups on animals with more than 70% of North American species listed as Threatened or Endangered. Our own Grand River is home to an impressive 32 different species, 19 of which are listed. The John Ball Zoo is working with scientists at Grand Valley State University to evaluate Grand River Mussel populations. During the 2023 field season, the team documented over 1,000 individuals from 27 different species. This includes the Endangered Snuffbox Mussel.

Partners

Habitat Hero

Community Science
About

The Habitat Hero program is focused on creating better urban pollinator habitat by giving away native plants to west Michigan community members. By giving away native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, we are inviting community members to provide crucial nectar sources for pollinators as well as become more involved in pollinator conservation in their own yards and gardens.

Partners

Kestrel Nest Box Monitoring

Community Science
About

American Kestrels are one of North America’s most abundant raptors, but their populations have been steadily declining since the mid 1960’s. This year we have begun participating in the American Kestrel Partnership, run by the Peregrine Fund, to monitor local kestrel nest boxes and help better understand Kestrel population trends and biology.

Partners

Grand River Sucker Monitoring

Community Science
About

Suckers are a very important, and often overlooked, group of migratory fish that inhabit the Grand River. Every spring they migrate upriver from Lake Michigan to spawn in tributaries of the Grand River. We are joining a project started by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to determine how changes in temperature and flow of the streams impact the spawning behavior of the suckers.

Partners

Turtle Road Mortality Surveys

Community Science
About

One of the major threats to turtle populations is mortality associated with roads and vehicles. We have a team of trained volunteers who survey predetermined road crossing sites and report the number of turtles they find at these locations. We plan to use the data to assist in conservation decision-making regarding roads and turtles in west Michigan.

Partners

Michigan Butterfly Network

Community Science
About

As part of our pollinator conservation work, we want to understand how native butterfly populations are changing over time. By training community members to use the Michigan Butterfly Network monitoring protocol, we are offering passionate people the opportunity to help contribute to our understanding of butterfly populations in west Michigan.

Partners

Bat Surveys

Community Science
About

West Michigan is home to several species of rare and threatened species of bats. This summer we will have a group of volunteers collecting bat occurrence data by driving predetermined routes and using special recorders and software to identify bat species. The data will be submitted to the North American Bat Monitoring Project as part of their ongoing analysis of bat abundance and occupancy across North America.

Partners

Massasauga Rattlesnake

Great Lakes Conservation
About

The Massasauga is Michigan’s only venomous snake and plays an important role in the ecosystem. Unfortunately, these snakes are declining in numbers and are listed as Threatened. The John Ball Zoo helps to educate the public on the plight of the Massasauga and helps conservation biologists study them in the field. Currently, we are assisting Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, Grand Valley State University, and Sarett Nature Center develop new technologies to monitor this secretive snake species.

Partners

City Nature Challenge

Community Science
About

The City Nature Challenge is one of the world’s largest annual community science events. Started by iNaturalist in 2016 as a friendly competition between the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, this bioblitz has grown into a global phenomenon with over 500 cities participating. Taking place over the last weekend in April each year, the City Nature Challenge is all about getting outside and documenting the biodiversity in and around our communities while building and strengthening relationships with other people who are passionate about conserving local species. The West Michigan City Nature Challenge is Michigan’s only City Nature Challenge event, and encompasses Allegan, Barry, Kent and Ottawa Counties. We are excited to partner with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and many other local organizations to engage our communities in four days of exploring our biodiverse outdoor spaces.

Partners

Michigan Area

1 of 12 2 of 12 3 of 12

Freshwater Mussels

4 of 12

Habitat Hero

5 of 12

Kestrel Nest Box Monitoring

6 of 12

Grand River Sucker Monitoring

7 of 12

Turtle Road Mortality Surveys

8 of 12

Michigan Butterfly Network

9 of 12

Bat Surveys

10 of 12

Massasauga Rattlesnake

11 of 12

City Nature Challenge

12 of 12
Get Involved!