Building a new visitor centre at Monarto Zoo will unlock millions of dollars of private investment in the tourist attraction, the head of Zoos SA says.
Chief executive officer Elaine Bensted reviewed the plans with federal MP Tony Pasin and Intro Architecture director Terry Boxall on Wednesday.
The federal government will contribute $11.25 million to the project, the state government will put in $4.55 million; Zoos SA and its partners will provide another $1 million.
Those figures would be dwarfed by the scale of what was to come, Ms Bensted said, though she declined to reveal who Zoos SA was dealing with as it planned a range of safari-style accommodation at Monarto.
"I look forward to announcing something soon," she said.
"It will be very exciting."
Mr Pasin said the federal government understood the zoo's importance to the Murraylands' tourism offer.
Combined with The Bend Motorsport Park and the Gifford Hill racecourse, the region would increasingly become "the place you go for fun and good times", he said.
Mr Boxall said the visitor centre's design, resembling two interlacing curves, was intended to represent the interface between the Australian culture of its setting and African culture of the zoo's residents.
Its facilities - including a meeting space, cafe, shop, bathrooms and nature playground - will better cope with the number of visitors the zoo now receives each year, and with further growth expected in the near future.
Twenty-one years ago, when the current visitor centre was built, the zoo welcomed 15,000 visitors each year, Ms Bensted said.
That number was now 160,000 per year, and expected to grow to 220,000 or more within five years.
Five architectural firms were invited to present designs for the visitor centre after being briefed on Zoos SA's ethos and the challenges unique to the site - such as Monarto's infamously hard limestone.
"It was, for us, a really clear decision," Ms Bensted said.
"We saw the video (produced by Intro Architecture) and fell in love with it."
Construction work on the new building is due to start within months and be complete by mid 2021.
It will eventually house a restaurant likely to be open to the public for lunch and dinner, outside the zoo's opening hours.
The current visitor centre will be kept as a secondary cafe and, potentially, a base where school groups may be able to have sleepovers.