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The Buffalo Zoo today embarked on a path it expects to lead to the construction of a new "state of the art" facility housing marine species as well as the present collection.

Plans to seek consultants for the massive zoo and aquarium project were announced during a news conference at the 122-year-old Delaware Park zoo, whose aging infrastructure forced Zoological Society leaders to pursue the move.

The consultants will study potential sites and the feasibility of paying for the new park, which would cost $90 million to $100 million and most likely would be located on or near the Lake Erie waterfront.

"The number one question is, where will it go? Number two is, how will we pay for it?" said Brian P. Brady, who head's the zoo board's Planning Committee.

But after contemplating the institution's future since last spring, zoo leaders seem undaunted by the size and cost of the job ahead.

They fully expect consultants to endorse the proposed move and the zoo's ability to raise the money.

"We would not be standing here if we did not think it was going to be feasible," Brady said.

Moreover, they want the new facility to be a sure-fire, year-round tourist draw, noted Donna M. Gioia, board president.

"The institution we envision would offer visitors and animals a 12-month experience," she said. "It will recognize -- even feature -- the best and most challenging of our region's weather and further the zoo's mission in ways that would amaze the community." Moving, she added, offers the chance "to achieve something truly remarkable for the Niagara Frontier. . . . If our vision is realized . . . we will create an amazing experience not yet found in a zoo or aquarium anywhere."

Funding likely would come from government sources, as it has for other new zoos and aquariums around the nation, noted Thomas E. Garlock, executive director.

Garlock said the zoo expects to line up the consultants next month and to have the feasibility studies in hand by spring.

If planning moves forward as expected, he said, construction could begin as soon as late 2000 and be completed by 2003.

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