BREC to break ground Dec. 8 on $40M Baton Rouge Zoo, Greenwood Park project

The $40 million first phase of renovations planned for BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo and Greenwood Park—which includes relocating the zoo’s entrance to the adjacent park—is scheduled to break ground Dec. 8.

Baton Rouge’s parks and recreation agency is fronting the entire cost of the project’s first phase which, in addition to a new visitor’s entrance and orientation center at Greenwood Park, will include new animal exhibits, such as an underwater hippo expo and a giraffe feeding station, new stormwater and sewer systems and a zipline through the surrounding park. A promenade will link the zoo to the park.

Specifically, BREC will pay for the project using $5 million from the Imagine Your Parks II Strategic Plan fund, which voters approved in 2014 and brings in $9 million a year on average.

The agency will dip into its substantial reserves to fund the remaining $35 million.

BREC has a total of some $60 million in restricted and unrestricted reserve funds, according to BREC spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet. 

“We don’t completely spend the millions that come in each year, so it builds up a reserve, and a good bit of that $35 million is coming from rollover capital improvement money from previous years,” says Reed Richard, BREC’s assistant superintendent. “Each year, we only budget the amount we anticipate will be expensed for the project, and we’re looking at spending $18 million in 2021.”

However, BREC does not expect to be able to fund the entire project, which Richard estimates will total some $300 million over time. 

Richard says BREC is still soliciting potential outside funding sources—federal, regional and local—to help cover expenses for the remaining phases. He’s generally confident some of these prospective partners will step in, though he couldn’t say which ones or when.

Overall, phases one through four are expected to take 15 years to complete. Subsequent phases could take another 10 years.

“In the first phase, we’re focusing on green infrastructure and it will be immersive, showing what a 21st century zoo looks like,” Richard says. “It should create a good bit of momentum to show that we’re serious about making this happen and we have skin in the game.” 

The groundbreaking ceremony will take place immediately after BREC’s quarterly staff meeting, which should wrap by 10:30 a.m. Construction on the initial phase is expected to last anywhere from 18 months to two years.