This article originally ran in "Tales from the Morgue" May 2, 2008.
The idea had been under wraps for several years, but in August 1970, City Parks Director Gene Reid announced plans for a new 850-acre regional park along the Santa Cruz River. Included in those plans was a new, modern zoo to replace Randolph Park Zoo.
At the time, the existing facility that began with those prairie dogs in 1965 was on 6 acres and included about 500 animals and birds. Even with a proposed expansion of 12 acres, Reid stressed there was not enough space to properly accommodate the inhabitants and over one million annual visitors.
“It’s simply not enough room to put in the more modern barless natural habitat enclosures for the animals like those used at the San Diego Zoo,” Reid said. “We should have a lot more animals at the zoo for the children of Tucson.”
So, when plans for a new park were drawn up, they included 90 acres for the zoo. The park site was at the southeast corner of Silverbell Road and an extended Sweetwater Drive. A 27-hole golf course was also part of the plan.
Reid predicted it would take a decade to complete the zoo as planned and about $1 million to finish the first stage. Financing could be from private donations, fund drives or city-backed bonds. He proposed a petting zoo would be retained at Randolph Park.
He also emphasized that the city administration had not indicated it would go along with the new site or that they favored financing it with bond money. The council apparently did not approve the new zoo, but the park is home to the 18-hole Silverbell Golf Course.