After reviewing proposals from three firms, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officials have chosen Randall Gross/Development Economics to study the economic feasibility of building a hotel on zoo property.

After reviewing proposals from three firms, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officials have chosen Randall Gross/Development Economics to study the economic feasibility of building a hotel on zoo property.

The contract still needs the approval of the Delaware County commissioners and is expected to be on their May 27 agenda, said Gus Comstock, the county's economic development director.

The zoo is in Delaware County and the commissioners agreed to pay up to $25,000 from its Community Development Block Grant revolving loan funds for the study.

Randall Gross, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Johannesburg, South Africa, was the low bidder at $18,900.

In its proposal, the company stated it will produce two economic impact reports, "one detailing the impacts of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the other describing the impacts of the proposed hotel" on the county and the surrounding area.

Both will be done by July 1, Comstock said.

A consultant last fall recommended that the zoo proceed with plans to build a resort-type hotel.

The economic impact study is the next step toward that goal.

It will elaborate on the findings of last year's market feasibility study conducted by David Sangree of Cleveland-based Hotel and Leisure Advisors, Comstock said.

That study looked at the hotel market to see if it would be better to build a hotel now or wait, said former zoo director Jerry Borin, who is heading the project.

In his report, Sangree said the zoo and its adjacent water park and golf course had become a destination, so a hotel on the site made sense. He recommended a 175-room themed resort hotel, along with meeting and party space, a themed restaurant and other amenities.

He also proposed that the zoo build 25 tented bungalow units in the African savannah development, which is in the zoo's future plans but not yet under construction. Those units would be seasonal.

The commissioners contributed $10,000 in block grant funds for that study.

Zoo director Dale Schmidt called the economic impact study "the next step but not the final step." Zoo officials will proceed prudently to make sure any project undertaken is a success, Schmidt said.