SOUTH BEND - The first phase of what could be a $40 million makeover of the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend has received a boost. The state's oldest zoo is looking to spend $3 million -- boosted by $450,000 in funds just approved from the state's Regional Cities Initiative -- to redevelop its entryway into what officials say will be a state-of-the-art pavilion. Attendance at the zoo has risen more than five percent per year since 2014 and Executive Director Marcy Dean says the proposed long-term improvements will continue the momentum.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Dean said the new entryway is just the beginning of a more "guest-friendly" experience. "Our current entrance is extremely out-dated. It does not support the 240,000 visitors a year that we get," Dean said. "We want to bring people closer to nature and that's what's going to happen with the new entrance."

The full scope of the master plan, first unveiled in 2015, will involve several new exhibits, new animals and improved homes for multiple endangered species. "We're not only bringing in new to bring more people in, but taking care of these valuable animals that we have here now and making sure we do right by them." The result, Dean says, will be a local and regional draw and increased attendance, revenue and regional economic impact.

The 23-acre zoo was founded in 1902. Front entrance construction is slated to be complete by the spring of 2020.

View the full master plan released in 2015: