A Malayan Tiger names Hakim lies in his exhibit at Sunset Zoo.

A Malayan tiger named Hakim lies in his exhibit at Sunset Zoo in April. Hakim and the zoo’s other Malayan tiger, Malik, have lived at the zoo for seven years. The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday took a step forward with the Expedition Asia project.

It has taken awhile, but the Expedition Asia project at Sunset Zoo is moving forward.

The Manhattan City Commission Tuesday unanimously approved accepting raised money and a funding agreement with the Sunset Zoological Park and Wildlife Conservation Trust for the exhibition project.

It includes construction of three new exhibits for tigers, sloth bears and leopards, an elevated overlook pavilion and a new ADA-circulation path, said Scott Shoemaker, zoo director.

“I think it’s going to be a dynamite addition to the zoo, to the city, to the community,” he said.

The path will make Sunset Zoo 100% ADA-accessible, Shoemaker said.

The project began seven years ago when donor Chuck Jackson contributed $500,000 to the zoo.

“We’ve been talking about this agenda item for awhile, and I know the hills and valleys and mountains you’ve had to climb for this,” said Mayor Usha Reddi. “But it just shows the dedication and commitment from our Manhattan residents to dedicate not just the financial commitment to this project, but also your motivation and dedication and the expectation you have for our zoo. And that’s what makes Manhattan special.”

Several people spoke in favor of the project and thanked commissioners for their support.

“We worked hard to bring this to fruition,” said Bev Fulton, Sunset Zoo Trust president. “And we’re very, very excited. I do think it’s going to bring a lot of revenue to the city of Manhattan. The zoo is already one of the main attractions and there is no exhibit like this anywhere. I think this will do wonderful things for the city, and we need that right now, our revenues are down.”

Commissioner Wynn Butler emphasized this project is not funded by property taxes as donations and a special sales tax reserve are funding it.

“I just want to make absolutely clear that, you know, that money is not coming out of your property tax or any place else,” Butler said.

Officials said the city has $2 million in the 2006 Quality of Life sales tax fund and $2.2 million from the Sunset Zoological Park and Wildlife Conservation Fund.

The total raised funds from donors and sales tax for the project is $4.29 million. The maximum price for the project is $4.2 million, officials said. KBS Constructors of Topeka, the lowest bidder, is the general contractor.

Shoemaker estimates the project will begin in the next 30 days. The construction timeline is 11 months, so fall 2021 is when he expects the exhibits to be finished. He said the animals have to acclimate to the new exhibits before opening them up to the public.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners:

  • Heard an update from the Flint Hills Regional Council. Executive director Christy Rodriguez said the 2021 membership dues total cost is at $31,369, which the city pays. These dues are based on the 2010 census population, she said. In addition, Rodriguez said the organization’s website and branding is getting a revamp as well.
  • Approved 3-2 extending the city’s mask ordinance until Dec. 31 in a second reading. Commissioners Wynn Butler and Mark Hatesohl voted against it as they did last month during the first reading last month. Commissioners approved this measure through the consent agenda; they did not discuss this item further.