Simplified: The Great Plains Zoo and the Butterfly House & Aquarium are teaming up under one board. It'll bring the butterfly house and a much larger aquarium to the zoo campus. Here's what you need to know.

Why it matters

  • The butterfly house has known for nearly a decade that it'll need to expand. The most recent expansion plans were put on pause with the pandemic, CEO Audrey Otto-Pepper said, but conversations reignited when Becky DeWitz took over as President and CEO of the Great Plains Zoo.
  • Though it'll take a couple years, the merger also means both the butterfly house and the zoo will be in one place. That gives visitors more year-round activities to do all in one spot, Otto-Pepper said.
  • The eventual plan is to create a large aquarium and a larger butterfly house on the zoo's 45-acre campus, though first the now-combined organizations need to do some master planning and design.
"We are very complementary to each other, and together we can be so much more strong," DeWitz said.
"Every step along the way has been a very clear green light," Otto-Pepper said.

Tell me more about what this will look like

Right away, the average visitor won't see a difference, but the long-term goal is to make the zoo a destination.

Mayor Paul TenHaken mentioned that Sioux Fallsians can get "a bit of an inferiority complex" comparing our zoo to the one in Omaha, but this will "step up this place tremendously."

"You don't have to travel to see a world-class zoo," TenHaken said.

Both nonprofits will continue to operate business-as-usual, while behind the scenes the now-combined board – known as the Sioux Falls Zoo and Aquarium Board of Directors – will be planning next steps.

It's not exactly clear where on the zoo's campus the new butterfly and aquarium facilities will be.

"A lot of our land is not developed, which is fantastic," DeWitz said.

There is talk of offering some sort of combined membership pass, though specifics have yet to be worked out, Otto-Pepper said.

What about in the future?

There are some big dreams for a future aquarium, Otto-Pepper said. This includes:

  • A walk-through aquarium – with sharks – that give visitors an immersive experience,
  • a jellyfish gallery,
  • aquarium tie-ins to the butterfly house space.
"This is going to allow us to build a space that will be a regional draw and part of the quality of live for Sioux Falls residents," Otto-Pepper said.

What happens next?

The merger is effective Jan. 1.

The board will first focus on planning and design for what the new aquarium facility and butterfly house will look like, and it likely will be another two or more years before we see those projects completed.

There's also a fundraising campaign launching in 2023 to help raise the costs needed for construction.

It's too soon to say what the future is for the existing Butterfly House & Aquarium facility, TenHaken said.