Votes may be lined up for further exploration of zoo move

A plan by BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight to explore new locations for the Baton Rouge Zoo appears to have the firm support of a majority of the BREC board of commissioners, which will vote Thursday whether to authorize McKnight to proceed with the plan.

Board Chairman Lloyd Benson III says he hasn’t counted noses of his fellow commissioners per se, but he is confident support exists to allow the administration to explore new sites and, perhaps even negotiate with property owners.

“I think everyone is in support of giving them the opportunity to explore options,” Benson says. “I think it would be foolish for us not to explore every possible opportunity.”

Seven of the nine BREC commissioners co-authored an Aug. 4 letter sent to more than a dozen elected officials in East Baton Rouge Parish, including the four mayors, who have gone on record opposing the move. The letter acknowledges the officials’ opposition but asks anyway for their help coming up with  “any public or private funding support or ideas.”

Benson says those seven signatures could be interpreted as an indication those commissioners will vote Thursday with the administration.

“That would be a fair assumption,” he says. “But the general public needs to understand that Thursday is just a vote to let us explore options.”

Davis Rhorer and David Tatman are the only two commissioners who didn’t sign the letter. Rhorer declines to comment on how he will vote. Tatman says he is still undecided.

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome says she received the letter, which reads in part, “Whether you decide to remain resolute in your support of the zoo remaining in its existing location or choose to support the consultants’ recommended path forward, we hope that your public standing and recommendation will be accompanied by financial and community assistance.”

However, Broome says the letter hasn’t changed her opinion on the matter.

“I’ve been consistent on that and I continue to support keeping it in its present location,” she says. “If they decide to move, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The BREC Commission meets at 5 p.m. Thursday at 6201 Florida Blvd. A public hearing on the matter will precede the vote.

—Stephanie Riegel

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