For over one hundred years, Como Park has played a vital role in meeting the recreational needs of residents of Saint Paul and surrounding communities. Inspired in part by the landscape designs of H.W.S. Cleveland, Frederick Nussbaumer, Superintendent of Parks from 1891 to 1922, worked tirelessly to create an outdoor haven for the area’s urban population. Nussbaumer strongly advocated for a wide variety of free or reasonably priced recreational activities, services, and educational opportunities for all park visitors. The park as we know it today continues to carry out this original vision.
Today Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is operated by the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department. The zoo features a seal island, a large cat exhibit, a variety of aquatic life, primates, birds, African hoofed animals and a world class polar bear exhibit. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has two acres under glass with a number of different wings dedicated to a variety of plant life including bonsai trees, ferns, orchids and seasonal flowers. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory also features many outdoor gardens.
In 1994, the initial program planning and design concept was completed for the Como Education Resource Center (now the Visitor Center). $3.9 million in state bonding passed for the building in 1998, and in 2000, $16 million in state bonding passed for Como Education Resource Center Phase 2. In 2002, Mayor Randy Kelly provided a city guaranty so that bidding of the Como Park Conservatory Restoration and the Visitor Center could go forward.
The Visitor Center at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, developed by architectural firm HGA, opened for education classes in January of 2005 and celebrated its public opening in February 2005. The Visitor Center is 65,000 square feet and features meeting rooms, classrooms, and event spaces, in addition to a large auditorium and the Zobota Cafe. The Visitor Center links to the Como Zoo and Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, serving as the primary entrance to both.
On November 17, 2006, the Tropical Encounters exhibit opened in the Visitor Center. This exhibit is an immersion experience of a Central/South American rainforest and is the first exhibit to feature animals from Como Zoo and plants from the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. It features turtles, frogs, fish, free-roaming birds, leaf-cutter ants, spiders, an anaconda, and Chloe the Sloth. It also highlights more than 700 plants.
The Zoo & Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is open year round. During the winter, the zoo and conservatory are open from 10AM until 4PM. During the summer, hours are extended until 6PM. Admission is free to the public, however a $3 donation is suggested for adults and $2 for children.