It is a well-honed pitch, as much true-believer's sermon as Wharton-slick spiel.
And Dewan, the zoo's deft CEO for the last six years, knows where to aim the money shot.
"See that?" he says outside the main entrance, pointing to the clogged off-ramp where westbound I-76 empties, ostensibly, onto 34th Street. Cars are backed up like a herd of antelope trying to squeeze through a rock fissure.
"We're going to fix that."
On Friday, Dewan, along with the zoo's board chairman, Jay Calvert Jr., and the city's deputy mayor for environmental and community resources, Michael DiBerardinis, are set to announce the biggest, most groundbreaking, most zoo-life-altering development of them all.
Improved traffic patterns and a four-story, 683-spot parking garage.
Working with the state Department of Transportation and the city, the zoo has succeeded in re-engineering traffic patterns to smooth out the snaggletooth intersections that drive visitors, commuters, and residents crazy.
A new traffic light at the bottom of the westbound ramp will be timed to allow cars to exit the Schuylkill smoothly. Around the corner, where eastbound I-76 meets Girard Avenue, the ramp will be aligned directly with the zoo's garage entrance. A new left-turn lane will allow entry to the garage from westbound Girard.
And to make life even easier, Dewan says, electronic signs will inform drivers about where to find empty parking spots.
The new garage, dubbed the catchy "Centennial District Intermodal Transportation Center," will cost $24 million, funded by federal, state, and city grants, and private zoo loans. The garage, surrounding streetscape, lighting, and other "green" improvements are scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2013 (about the same time as the new children's zoo).
Even though the garage will double current car capacity, Dewan says, "There will never be enough parking." His dream for the zoo - and for its neighbors in Mantua and Parkside - is to reestablish the train station that served the area until 1947.
"We are having some deep conversations with Amtrak," he said. The company owns the tracks that run along the zoo's western frontier. But there are too many obstacles - engineering, real estate, timing, cost, and politics - to expect a solution any time soon.
At 57, his curly hair still dark and thick, his impeccable business suit set off by a discreet animal print tie from a prodigious collection, Dewan looks like a Wall Streeter who has wandered off course among the stroller-pushing parents and elementary school classes.
But it becomes clear how much he belongs when he stops to admire Batu, the three-year-old Sumatran orangutan, wrapping her long arms around her mother, Tua, and taking a ride along the new outdoor ropes course that opened to them a few weeks ago. And when he interrupts his discourse on the federal, state, and private funding for the $32.3 million capital investment to say hello to Storm, the red-capped Mangeby who is taking a break on the new treetop trail to scratch a haunch and watch the passersby.
One of the zoo's most important objectives, and by inference his own, he says, "is to create the next generation of stewards of this planet."
The children's zoo, he explains, will not just be a place where toddlers can pet sheep. Extensive educational programs will be instituted, geared for middle school classes and students studying for advanced placement biology as well as those in elementary grades. Computers will connect children and teenagers with researchers in the field in other countries.
The zoo has also worked with advocates and specialists in autism and schools for the blind and the deaf, to make programs accessible and comfortable for all kinds of learning styles. Parents and teachers can obtain materials to prepare children in advance so they know what to expect and, during their visit, use designated quiet spaces away from the bustle.
"We want to provide different access for different learning styles," Dewan says.
Then he excuses himself. He has to leave for a meeting.
Near the exit, Christine and Chris Alburger are chasing their 2-year-old son, Brandon. "We thought it would be empty," says Christine, a homemaker, but on this Tuesday afternoon, they were surprised to find the parking lots full and the paths filled with visitors.
"We never come on weekends," says Chris, an accountant, who grew up in Philadelphia but never came to the zoo with his parents when he was a child. Brandon, though, is a regular. "What's your favorite animal?" his mother asks.
He beats his fists against his chest.
"The gorillas," she interprets. "Let's go see them." And off they go. For the moment, without a GPS to guide them.
Contact Melissa Dribben at 215- 854-2590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.