Why Moving Zoo Is a Bad, Costly Idea

The Board of Commissioners of BREC is expected to meet at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 22 to consider whether to authorize the closing of the Baton Rouge Zoo south of Baker and construction of a new zoo on Airline Highway near the Ascension Parish line.
The March 22 meeting will be held at BREC headquarters on Florida Boulevard.  The meeting is open to the public.
Interested parties who are counting votes say that, at present, only two of the nine commissioners are likely to vote no, although about half the commissioners are from the north part of East Baton Rouge Parish.
The cost of the move is estimated by BREC to cost $110 to $150 million dollars, although budget details have not been announced.  Neither has the projected income and expenses of the new facilities.  So far, the public has been kept in the dark about exactly what is being proposed.
Unless it can find another means of financing the project, BREC seems likely to propose a new property tax to fund the $110 to $150 million project. Ultimately, the cost of financing would likely double the cost.
Moving means abandoning the existing zoo, which has 218,000 visitors a year.  A recent online poll showed visitors to the zoo gave it a rating of 4.3 on a 5.0 scale.
Mayors of all four municipalities in the parish — Baton Rouge, Baker, Central, and Zachary — have expressed opposition to moving the zoo.
Central Mayor Jr. Shelton said, “Moving the zoo, is an economic mistake reaching into the cities of Baker, Zachary and Central. Reinvest in the area and protect the jobs and livelihoods of the citizens in the northern part of the parish. This move will cost the citizens, where they cannot afford it, in their taxes. It is easy to say move it. The reality can become a disaster in all phases.”
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said, “Moving the zoo or any other main attraction out of north Baton Rouge would be taking a step backwards. Let’s move forward with a concept that keeps the zoo at its present location.”
They and many residents of North Baton Rouge argue that the zoo is the only major recreational attraction serving the northern part of the parish. To move it would deprive the taxpayers of one of the few benefits they currently receive from BREC.
It also plays into the hands of those in Baker, Central, and Zachary who have spoken for years about the need to pull the north part of the parish out of BREC, so that taxes paid in the north will stay there.
In 2008, Sen. Bodi White introduced a bill to transfer BREC facilities and taxes to a new entity for North Baton Rouge.
BREC is actually a state agency, governed by the state, and not a local agency as most people probably believe.
Supporters of moving the zoo cite crime in North Baton Rouge as a major reason.  However, crime is low in Baker and especially in the area around Greenwood Park and the Baton Rouge Zoo.

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