BREC’s McKnight may hold off asking for vote on zoo relocation plan

A spirited debate over the future of BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo is expected at tonight’s meeting of BREC’s Board of Commissioners. But Superintendent Carolyn McKnight now says she likely won’t ask the board this evening to give her the green light to pursue relocating the zoo to a new location.

Several commission members were taken by surprise Wednesday afternoon when McKnight added an agenda item requesting permission to further explore the controversial relocation proposal and come up with a detailed funding plan for it. At the time she said commissioners had ample time to study the idea.

Her position apparently changed after talking to several board members Wednesday afternoon and evening, and now says she doesn’t think the board is ready to move forward.

“I’m sensing they want to hear a little bit more from the public so I’m going to slow it down,” she says. “I don’t think I’m going to go with it tonight. I’m still waiting to hear back from three members but at this point, I’m leaning toward waiting.”

For nearly three years, McKnight has been talking up the need to move the nearly 50-year-old zoo from its north Baton Rouge location to a more commercially viable area elsewhere in the parish, at a cost of at least $110 million, according to a 2015 study.

Opponents of the proposal say taking the zoo out of north Baton Rouge would further harm an already economically depressed area of the parish. To address those concerns, McKnight is proposing a $40 million transformation of the zoo’s home in Greenwood Park into a regional attraction with adventure playgrounds, a water park, horseback riding and soccer fields.

But critics of the plan say the money could be better spent by both updating the zoo in its current location as well as renovating the park. McKnight says there is not enough land to do both.

In May, McKnight formally presented her proposal for Greenwood Park to the BREC commission. In the four weeks since, BREC has been gathering public input via an online survey and at a June 15 public meeting. So far, public opinion on the proposal is split fairly evenly, she says.

BREC’s Board of Commissioners meets at 5 p.m. at BREC headquarters, 6201 Florida Blvd.

 

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