Metroparks announces long-term project to renovate and expand RainForest, create Primate Forest

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and CrossCountry Mortgage (CCM) yesterday, Tuesday, March 22  kicked-off a long-term project to expand the zoo’s  popular 140,000-square-foot RainForest attraction to create what will be the Primate Forest—a larger indoor destination that will transform and expand the zoo and create a new home for the gorillas and orangutans, as well as other animals. 

Conceptual rendering of CrossCountry Mortgage Forest Gallery“We’ve been working on a 10-year capital campaign with CrossCountry Mortgage, and a key piece of that is the renovation of the Rainforest,” says zoo executive director Chris Kuhar. “It will include building habitats for gorillas and orangutans, and renovations to existing space.”

While the project is in its beginning stages, both with budget and project details, Kuhar says the goal is to have the project completed by 2032—the zoo’s 150th birthday. The budget and time frame are still being worked out. He says they hope to break ground by the end of 2023.

“We really want to go through the planning process,” he says. “This project is going to be much bigger, as opposed to a couple renovations every couple years and opening withing a year.”
The initial expansion will be centered around the two-story CrossCountry Mortgage Forest Gallery, a new entranceway to the Primate Forest that will immerse guests in the wonders of the natural world through interactive technology, multi-story play structures and more.
The Primate Forest will incorporate state-of-the-art technology and the latest research on animal care and conservation. In addition to the new CrossCountry Mortgage Forest Gallery, the Primate Forest will add two new expansive, multi-story habitats for gorillas and orangutans.

“What we’re excited about is the great animal husbandry work, the great research work we now do behind the scenes,” says Kuhar. “We’re going to bring that process forward with a better animal husbandry presence and better animal surroundings. I’m excited about the way [guests will] experience animals at the zoo. It will be positive for Northeast Ohio.”

In 2021, the zoo celebrated the birth of both a baby gorilla and baby orangutan, two of the world’s most endangered primates. The Primate Forest will also incorporate the more than 10,000 plants and more than 600 animals that currently live in The RainForest through additional enhancements.

The Metroparks Zoo became one of the region’s most visited year-round attractions when The RainForest first opened in 1992 and has drawn over one million visitors nearly every year since then.

In 2021, the Zoo attracted over 1.3 million guests, the highest visitation in a decade, following historic animal births including the baby gorilla, Kayembe, the opening of new Eagle Zip Adventure, and record-breaking community events like Asian Lantern Festival and Wild Winter Lights.
“It has been exciting to watch this partnership take shape,” CCM chief brand manager Laura Soave said in a statement. “We are proud to support one of the zoo’s most significant enhancements in several years and look forward to welcoming Northeast Ohio to what will truly be a world-class experience of discovery.”

Other recent capital campaign projects include the 2020 installation of an ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) foof on the RainForest, which allows light to pass through. “It sort of feels like you’re outside in a tropical indoors in January,” says Kuhar, who adds that a new zoo entrance is also part of the future capital campaign plans.

In the meantime, he says the Primate Forest plans will be announced as they unfold. “Stay tuned, as we get this project underway,” he says. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.