Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bello proposes $121 million expansion of the Seneca Park Zoo

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, delivering his 2022 State of the County address on Thursday night at MCC in Brighton.
Randy Gorbman
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, delivering his 2022 State of the County address on Thursday night at MCC in Brighton.

Seneca Park Zoo will undergo a $121 million expansion in the years ahead, complete with what Monroe County Executive Adam Bello promised would be the largest indoor tropics exhibit in the U.S.

The announcement – which previewed a new rain forest exhibit and aquarium – came during Bello’s State of the County address delivered Thursday evening at Monroe Community College.

“Our eyes are on the future. It’s time to re-envision Monroe,” Bello said.

Bello touched on workforce training and retention, infrastructure investments, and the arts. He spoke of a “future filled with opportunity.” And, borrowing a phrase from former Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards, he said it was “time to focus … and finish”

Here are five takeaways from his speech:

Zoo expansion: A previously announced Trail Side Café should open in the coming weeks. And design of a new front entry complex and conference center will begin in the coming weeks.

The expansion Bello talked about will add a 220,000-gallon aquarium with at least two types of sharks. For comparison, the zoo’s reef tank currently holds about 560 gallons. New indoor and outdoor habitats will house lemurs and orangutans as well as bearcats, Chinese alligators, Clouded Leopards, Komodo dragons and the island flying fox, which is a unique species of bats.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $42.5 million in state funding for the project back in March.

Job training: The county must lead in workforce development, Bello said. He noted a previously announced $2.5 million set aside for those efforts, saying the first grant – for some $400,000 – will assist a nonprofit called YAMTEP that provides manufacturing skills training to young adults.

Bello also is proposing a new $35 million Applied Technology Education Center be built on MCC’s campus, relocating operations from an outdated facility on West Henrietta Road.

“Skilled trades workers are in short supply. The economy needs them now, and companies are willing to pay good money for them,” Bello said, precision tooling, HVAC, automotive technician and growing fields like solar. “The anticipated infrastructure investment made by government and (the private sector will require skilled workers to build our future. So let’s have them trained already, and let’s keep them here.”

Retaining workers: Bello is proposing a pilot program to improve the county’s retention of college graduates. Fewer than 35% of those who receive four-year degrees from local colleges stick around after graduation. The RETAIN program, he said, would pay a $2,000 “bonus” to graduates in high-demand fields who stay in Monroe County at least one year.

Citing staffing shortages within county government, he also pledged a 2% across-the-board salary increase for county employees, as well as retention incentives, some to be paid quarterly, totaling up to $3,000.

Public safety: Bello reiterated a proposal he had announced earlier in the day to commit $8.5 million over five years, hire 11 additional sheriff deputies and target gun trafficking and gun violence. The spending will support investigations, patrols and tracing illegal gun networks, Bello said, and assist Rochester police in responding to shootings.

Arts: A program called JumpstARTS, launched during the pandemic to assist arts groups, has provided $900,000 in emergency relief to 64 organizations, Bello said. But he committed to go further, saying the county next month will open applications to an additional $500,000 fund available to qualifying small and mid-sized arts groups for continued operational support.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you tonight that the state of Monroe County is strong,” Bello said, as well into its recovery. “We have unlimited possibilities before us.”

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.