08 Sep ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO ANNOUNCES INITIATIVE TO EXPAND DINING FACILITY AT ESSEX COUNTY TURTLE BACK ZOO New Zoo Café to have Larger Dining Area and Second Floor Outdoor Terrace to Accommodate Growing Attendance and Special Events


West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced plans to renovate and expand the Zoo Café at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Tuesday, September 8th. The upgrades will expand the capacity of the building to accommodate the large crowds at Turtle Back and create space for birthday parties and special events.

“We have set new annual attendance records at Turtle Back Zoo in each of the last 11 years, with our number of visitors exceeding 600,000 in each of the last two years. What’s even more exciting is that this year we are on track to surpass 700,000,” DiVincenzo said. “Turtle Back has become a dynamic destination because of the natural habitat themed animal exhibits, our education programming and the attractions that keep visitors engaged and excited about returning again and again. In order for us to continue to provide a first-class experience, it is necessary to provide more dining areas to accommodate the large numbers that come here. Our expanded dining facility will provide us with flexible space that can be used as a dining area and for special events,” he noted.

Elected leaders and officials from Turtle Back Zoo voiced their support for the project and said they were looking forward to the new facility opening.

“Families come here; children have one-of-a-kind experiences here. This is because County Executive DiVincenzo has created an attraction that is generating revenue,” former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said.

“I am proud to be part of this project and watch our county executive as he comes up with projects that continue to make Essex County a destination for families and attract tourism,” Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake said.

“I am thrilled at how far we have come with Turtle Back Zoo and happy that so many people visit and find joy here,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “Joe DiVincenzo is continually finding new ways to make Essex County a better place and people really look forward to what he has planned for the Zoo,” she added.

“We are very excited about this project and are looking forward to moving into a first-class facility,” said Nick Centrone from Aramark, which provides concession service at the Zoo. He noted that Aramark would be hiring a certified chef and the menu would be expanded to include more healthy and bistro-type options in addition to the regular concession menu.

“I am amazed at this recreation complex and how much it has been transformed. This new addition is greatly needed and will enhance our visitors’ experience at the Zoo,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

“It is our sense of community and goal to provide the best possible experience that drives us to undertake projects like this,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said. “We thank our County Executive for his support and his vision to transform Turtle Back,” he added.

“The Zoological Society is committed to supporting exceptional guest experiences at Turtle Back Zoo and, with the growing attendance, it is clear that more space is needed. We are looking forward to this project,” Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said.

The current one-story, 5,000-square-foot building will be enlarged into a two-story structure with more than three times the available space. The existing kitchen will remain and the first floor dining area will be increased in size to about 9,125 square feet. The second floor will consist of an enclosed 2,000-square-foot dining area and an outdoor terrace that will be approximately 5,125 square feet. The expanded facility will provide additional space for more dining tables, larger areas from which patrons can order food, reduce congestion and create less crowded areas to walk.

New bathrooms will be constructed on both the first and second floors. The facility will be equipped with an elevator and the entire building will be handicap accessible. The outdoor space in front of the cafe will be renovated with new landscaping, a decorative snake retaining wall and an outdoor patio for dining.

Greg Comito Associates from Newark received a $295,000 contract to design the new Zoo Café. John O’Hara Co., Inc., from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $6,661,907 to construct the facility. The Essex County Department of Public Works will monitor the project and answer questions so delays can be avoided. The building is being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget. The Café is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016.

The ongoing development of natural habitat exhibits has transformed Turtle Back Zoo into a destination. In each of the last 10 years, new annual attendance records have been established. Last year, the Zoo welcomed 688,359 visitors – the second consecutive year in zoo history that annual attendance eclipsed the 600,000 mark. In 2015, the facility is on pace to draw over 700,000 visitors.

Turtle Back Zoo recently earned its second five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which sets the gold standard for animal care and management, has been named best zoo in the state by NJ Monthly magazine four times, and received TripAdvisor.com’s Certificate of Excellence the past three years.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

 Currently under construction is the Giraffe Exhibit, which will feature five Masai and Reticulated giraffes. The habitat created for the giraffes will resemble three acres of the African Savannah and will have multiple viewing areas for the public, including areas where the public can view the giraffes feeding. A climate-controlled barn approximately 200-by-100-feet in size to house the giraffes during the winter will be attached to the exhibit. To make the exhibit visitor-friendly during the winter months, closed circuit cameras will be installed in the barn so the giraffes can be viewed on a video screen in the Zoo Café. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.

Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing a new Educational Building, the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo (Wachovia Bank), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.


Anthony Puglisi


Lauren Shears