The start of work on a $16.8 million visitor centre at Monarto Safari Park was celebrated with a sod turning by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Friday, February 26.
Set for completion by the coming summer, the visitor centre will create 136 jobs during construction and 89 ongoing positions, and is part of the park's upgrade which will make it the largest safari experience outside of Africa.
The federal government has put $11.25 million towards the centre build, while the state government has given $4.55 million.
Mr McCormack was joined by SA Premier Steven Marshall, Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Bensted, Member for Barker Tony Pasin, Member for Hammond Adrian Pederick, and Rural City of Murray Bridge Brenton Lewis for the ceremony.
"Monarto Safari Park is set for major redevelopment, with the visitor centre being the first stage," Mr McCormack said.
"With this investment, the visitor centre will be able to attract new visitors to the region, create ongoing jobs and cement the safari park as a must-see tourism attraction."
Mr McCormack, who is also the federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, said this project would boost the region in terms of jobs and visitor numbers.
"In addition to the creation of 136 jobs during construction and 89 ongoing positions, this will enable the safari park to be better equipped to really pounce on the rapid growth in visitors they have seen in recent years," he said.
Ms Bensted said that South Australian company Mossop Construction + Interiors, who won the tender to undertake construction of the centre, would complete the build by February 2022, but hoped they could work together to have it open in time for Christmas.
"This is a very exciting moment in the incarnation of Monarto Safari Park into one of the largest safari experiences outside of Africa," she said.
"Work began in January and we cannot wait to see the building rising from Monarto's ground."
The Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation undertook a cultural study last year so work could get underway this year.
About 160,000 people from all around the world visit Monarto Safari Park in a normal year, and it is expected this centre would entice an extra 55,000 visitors to the attraction.
Local architectural firms Intro and studio-gram designed the building so it celebrated both Indigenous land and African fauna.
Among the facilities will be a cafe, retail space, children's play area, meeting rooms, staff and volunteer office space, and a park big enough for about 900 cars.
Mr Lewis said Monarto Safari Park's expansion was a "game-changer" for the region, and he was "honoured" the council could contribute to the project by building a new slip lane entry from Monarto Road.
"We look forward to welcoming visitors eager to discover the magic of our region and the significant economic stimulus it will bring," he said.
"Our rural city is a thriving regional centre and it's exciting to see projects like this emerge as more people start to recognise and capitalise on the tremendous opportunities for growth and investment here.
"It's great to see the Murraylands have another major project - we've had a run of them and we hope they never stop."
Mr Pasin was excited to see work on the visitor centre underway, as a result of the partnership between Zoos SA, and local, state, and federal governments.
"This is a classic example of what we can do when we work together," he said.
"This state of the art visitor facility coupled with other exciting developments will transform the Monarto Safari Park into a world-class tourism experience, bringing many thousands of first-time visitors, including international tourists, to the Murraylands which will benefit both the state and local economy."
He said with big projects like the Monarto Safari Park, Gifford Hill, and The Bend Motorsport Park, the Murraylands was "quickly becoming a place to come and play".