ROCKWELL, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A 15-year-old Rowan County nonprofit zoo could soon be getting a makeover.
On Sept. 25, the Rowan County Planning Board voted to recommend approving park renovations that would move Tiger World’s entrance off Cook Road and onto Highway 152, as well as move and expand its parking lot.
Tiger World President and Founder Lea Jaunakais acknowledged Cook Road was never meant to sustain commercial traffic. She says the zoo has also outgrown its current parking lot, which was inherited from the old Charlotte Metro Zoo.
“Our first year, we only did about 15,000 people. It was about $150,000 of annual revenue,” said Jaunakais. “Now, 15 years later, we’ve done over 100,000 people per year. The amount of growth is substantial.”
As it currently stands, zoo attendees must drive through Cook Road’s residential neighborhood to access the entrance.
Some neighbors told Queen City News they love waking up to roaring lions and tigers, but the traffic on their narrow two-lane road has become a safety hazard.
“Particularly on weekends or holidays, there is an exceptional amount of traffic on this street,” said neighbor Candice Carter. “You would not expect it at all. But I’m telling you, we have yard sales out here, and they are just hopping because so many people are out this way.”
Jaunakais says moving the entrance and parking lot will also allow easier access for large buses and trucks often coming to the zoo.
“We get 30,000 school kids a year that comes to Tiger World. With all those kids, they’re transported to the zoo in buses. It’s definitely a big challenge,” said Jaunakais.
Jaunakais says the expansion will cost around $800,000, and they’re hoping to fund most of it through grant money.
Now that the planning board has cast its vote, the project will need to be approved by Rowan County Commissioners. Jaunakais says she hopes to break ground on the project next year if that happens.