New Funding Brings Penguins to Detroit

Penguins are certainly not native to Detroit, but a new family of penguins could be making their way to the Motor City soon. The William Davidson Foundation Fund just announced a $3 million grant to the Detroit Zoological Society to build the Polk Penguin Conservation Center. The fund, named after the former Detroit Pistons owner, is a fairly new one. Launched in 2005 and active since 2009, the foundation has been focused on creating jobs and promoting economic success in Detroit. However, it seems to be taking a broad view on what that means.

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center is, according to the Detroit Zoo, the largest project the zoo has ever undertaken. The facility will cost $26 million and include a 326,000 gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area for its new inhabitants. The exhibit will educate the public about Antarctica, its inhabitants, and the conservation issues involved. It will also create jobs and bring money to Detroit.

Current estimates say that over 100 design, engineering, and construction jobs will be created for the two years it takes to build the conservation center. Once built, the penguins are expected to bring in an additional 100,000 visitors each year, leading to a regional economic impact of several million dollars. The facility will include rough waves, snow, and ice crevasses to create the feel of a natural environment, ensuring the penguins' welfare and encouraging wild behavior such as diving, porpoising, nesting, and rearing baby penguins.

In the past, the William Davidson Foundation Fund has focused on STEM education, research and entrepreneurship, and health care (see IP’s Post). The new penguin center shows, however, that a conservation project with a good economic argument behind could be eligible for funding. The foundation’s website is pretty simple to date, but perhaps that won’t stop it from shaking up Detroit. In 2012, the foundation gave over $42 million across 45 grants.