South Bend’s Potawatomi Zoo region’s first project to use 100% of its READI funds

Ribbon cutting at Potawatomi Zoo Bear Lodge opening

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (April 5, 2024) – South Bend’s Potawatomi Zoo Concession Lodge and Black Bear Habitat is the first of 17 capital projects receiving READI 1.0 funds in the South Bend – Elkhart region to draw down all of its READI award. The new Lodge Café expands dining options at the zoo, while allowing guest to dine while observing the bear habitat.

“Receiving READI funds for this important phase of our Master Plan is a true testament that our community zoo is now become recognized as a regional destination,” said Josh Sisk, Executive Director of the Potawatomi Zoo. “Being the only Zoo in the region, we have become an economic engine, attracting outside talent and adding value to our regions quality of life.”

The project is part of phase 3 of the zoo’s $37 million Master Plan. This new café will accommodate increased attendance exceeding 350,000 annually – an increase of 150,000 visitors since pre-COVID. The project received $1.07 million in READI funds towards the $6.2 million cost.

The South Bend – Elkhart region was the recipient of $50 million in Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative – or READI – 1.0 funds in 2021. In 2022, the Northern Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) awarded $40 million in to 17 of Quality of Place projects and $6.4 million in funding to 11 programs, resulting in an estimated $448 million in additional private and public investment. Gov. Eric Holcomb included the additional $500 million in READI 2.0 funds as part of his 2023 Next Level Agenda. It was approved by the Indiana General Assembly during the 2023 legislative session, and the RDA recently submitted its application. Regional allotments will be announced April 11.

The first resident of the bear habitat is a male Andean bear named Muniri. The species, also known as spectacled bears, are native to the Andean Mountains of South America. Considered vulnerable to extinction, Muniri was moved to the zoo on the recommendation of the Andean Bear Species Survival Plan, a cooperative population management program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“The Potawatomi Zoo is a gem in the South Bend – Elkhart region,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “This new café and bear habitat is a phenomenal addition to not only better serve guests but bring bears back to the zoo after decades. Indiana’s oldest zoo is evolving, with recent lion and giraffe additions – I can’t wait to see what comes next.”

For more information on the Potawatomi Zoo, visit


About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually. For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit

About the Potawatomi Zoo
Since its humble start, the Potawatomi Zoo has become a premiere destination for fun and educational activity in the South Bend region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1987, the Potawatomi Zoo is home to more than 400 animals and exceeds the standards for zoos in animal care and quality of life, conservation, and education programs. The Potawatomi Zoo staff strives to provide guests with a unique and meaningful animal experience that is memorable, up close, and personal; protect and preserve the diversity of species on Earth; and be responsible and respectful of the animals, facilities, and resources entrusted to the Zoo. Learn more:

About the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA)
Formed in 2015, the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA) represents the three Indiana counties of Elkhart, Marshall, and St. Joseph. The RDA is overseen by a five-member board, each appointed by the mayors and commissioners of member counties and municipalities. The RDA is committed to the continued improvement of the South Bend – Elkhart region and receives staffing support from the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership, the lead regional economic development organization for the region. For more information about RDA, click here.