A consultant last fall recommended the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium proceed with plans to build a resort-type hotel on the zoo's property.

A consultant last fall recommended the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium proceed with plans to build a resort-type hotel on the zoo's property.

Zoo director Dale Schmidt took a step toward that goal on Feb. 22 by asking the Delaware County commissioners to pay for a study to evaluate the economic impact a hotel would have on the county and the surrounding area.

The commissioners will vote on the request at their meeting at 7 p.m. March 1. County economic development director Gus Comstock said he expects the study to cost $10,000 to $15,000.

The commissioners said they will vote on granting up to $25,000, using money that has been received from Community Development Block Grant Revolving Loan Funds.

The study 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 was 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 CDBG funds for that study.

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

The zoo also plans to identify partners who would assume some, if not all, of the cost for a hotel, he said.

"We will not run it (the hotel)," he said.

The zoo had record attendance in 2009 with 2.2-million visitors.

"We are the premier zoo in Ohio," Schmidt said.

There is no question in his mind that the zoo has become a destination for visitors, he said. A small marketing campaign in West Virginia last summer brought three times the number of visitors zoo officials had expected, he said.

"I am excited to see what is happening at the Columbus Zoo," commission president Tommy Thompson said. "It has become a destination with people spending two or three days there. ... We are pleased to have it in Delaware County."

Schmidt said he expects the economic impact study to take two to three months to complete. Borin said he is seeking bids from firms specializing in this type of study.

cpreston@thisweeknews.com