Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new arctic exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo on Wednesday morning were anything but polar.
Inside, a celebration was under way as public officials, board members and zoo staff gathered to mark a milestone for the third oldest zoo in the country: the successful completion of a $14 million fundraising campaign to build a new exhibit called Arctic Edge.
The new arctic center will feature interactive displays on the effects of global warming and ways to help prevent it.
But Buffalo deserved every degree of the warmer temperatures that brought families to the zoo in droves Wednesday. Lines were forming by 10 a.m. at the entrance, with mothers and fathers pushing strollers and leading toddlers by mittened hands.
Kristen Armstrong of Allentown brought her children, Milo, 5, and Bennett, 16 months, to visit the animals.
“It’s not negative 2. It’s not snowing, and it’s sunny,” Armstrong replied when asked what brought the family to the zoo.
Zoo President Donna Fernandes wore a smile brighter than the sun. “County Executive [Mark C.] Poloncarz and the members of the County Legislature were among the very earliest supporters of Arctic Edge,” said Fernandes.
Poloncarz acknowledged the county’s contribution of “the first $3 million.” He also praised members of the community for their involvement, but he stressed the real fundraising leaders were Luna and Kali, the cubs who became the campaign’s poster bears.
Luna was born at the zoo in November 2012, one of three polar bear cubs born in a zoo that year.
Kali, who will remain in Buffalo until at least spring 2015, was orphaned in Alaska after his mother was killed by a hunter.
Throughout 2013, the “bear fund” was built up:
• The City of Buffalo came forward with $550,000 in zoo funding and then topped it this year with $650,000.
• State Sen. Mark Grisanti in July announced a $400,000 donation from Albany.
• In October, Assemblyman Sean Ryan matched it with more state money.
• In November, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the state will provide the final $750,000 in funding from the NY Works program.
The 1.5-acre exhibit will include arctic wolves, Canadian lynx, American bald eagles – and polar bears. It will cover the area of the old polar bear pits.
The zoo worked with a team of architects from Foit-Albert Associates of Buffalo, and Pat Jankowski Architects & Landscape Architects of Seattle to design the exhibit.