Aviary's $23 million upgrade features bird-show theaters

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A new open air rooftop theater for birds-of-prey programs, expanded exhibit and classroom space and an indoor theater for free-flight bird shows are part of the National Aviary's $23 million expansion and renovation project announced this morning.

The project aims to revitalize the 56-year-old aviary by improving interactive programming and visitor amenities and establishing a stronger connection to Allegheny Commons in West Park, where it is located on the North Side.

"Through this new theater experience, visitors will see, hear and feel the presence of birds, nature's most colorful and dynamic representatives, furthering the National Aviary's goal to inspire positive and respectful connections to nature among educators, students and visitors," said Mike Flinn, aviary board chairman.

The major makeover includes a new public cafe, classrooms, new exhibits and a new main entrance facing Arch Street designed to improve accessibility for school groups, tours and individuals. The new indoor theater will have high-definition video screens and moveable stages for the bird shows.

"The new building creates an iconic front and welcoming front door that reflects its function as a building that houses and celebrates birds and the nature of birds," said Paul Rosenblatt, principal of Springboard Design, which is overseeing the project. "Overall, our goal is to create a more experiential environment, one that stimulates visitors' imaginations about birds, nature and the world around us."

The aviary has raised $16.9 million for the expansion project from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Eden Hall Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the Colcom foundation, the Hillman Foundation and the state.

"It's one thing to tell a class that vulture populations in India have declined by 90 percent, and that extinction could occur within the next decade," said Linda Dickerson, aviary president and chief executive officer. "(But) pair that information with a live vulture flying inches overhead against footage of vultures in the wild, and you hopefully will inspire a lasting love for nature and perhaps even a commitment to protect these magnificent creatures for future generations."

Design plans will be submitted to the city's Historic Review Commission on Nov. 5, and the city Art Commission on Nov. 21. If the commissions approve, construction will begin in the spring and the project completed in June 2010.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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