ASHEBORO, NC - Three days of successful meetings concluded Thursday involving experts with two consulting firms, North Carolina Zoo staff and representatives from Randolph County and Asheboro City governments on the potential for a third continental exhibit region at the state zoo.

Representatives from New York-based AECOM and Grant Leisure of Moniecito, CA, are conducting the $160,000-feasibility study. Both consulting firms are considered world leaders in attractions development and economics having served as consultants for such well-known sites as Disney World, Graceland and the NASA Visitor Center. Funds for the study have been provided by the zoo, Randolph County and Asheboro City as well as the local Tourism Development Authority and Economic Development Corporation.

The three-day conference held at the zoo included discussions with zoo staff on concepts for an Asian exhibit region. The zoo currently includes exhibits representing Africa and North America. In addition, the consultants are looking at the potential for development of hotel and convention facilities and another complementary attraction to the zoo on 273 acres adjoining zoo property recently acquired by the N.C. Zoological Society, the zoo's non-profit support organization.

Local government representatives joined in the discussions on Thursday as the experts also considered current and future highway access to the site, how to best route visitors into a new Asian exhibit area and the potential for private support for the new developments.

According to Zoo Director Dr. David Jones, development of a third continental exhibit will encourage visitors to stay more than a day to see the entire zoo. That, along with other attraction elements, will result in the development of hotels, restaurants and other support services that could create more than 600 new jobs in the future and provide a significant boost to the area economy.

After meeting with the zoo and local government representatives, the consultants will develop a comprehensive report on the potential for the Asian region as well as rough plans for its design. Their completed report is expected by the end of November.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee A. Freeman, Secretary; Beverly E. Perdue, Governor.