Wilson faces many challenges as new BREC superintendent

The young Malayan tiger cubs at BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo.

As BREC’s new superintendent, Corey Wilson will have his work cut out for him.

Though the 44-year-old New Orleans native has six years of experience with BREC, serving as chief of business and management services under retiring superintendent Carolyn McKnight—who was his mentor and boss—Wilson will face a couple of unique challenges that will define his tenure at the helm of an agency with a $95 million annual budget.

Specifically, he’ll be overseeing the master planning process for a new Baton Rouge Zoo and a reimagined Greenwood Park, which is home to the zoo in north Baton Rouge. Design teams were recently selected by BREC to come up with plans for the two related projects.

But once those plans are completed, which is expected to be in the late summer or early fall of next year, it will be up to Wilson to help sell them—and the hefty price tags sure to come with them—to the BREC commission and to the public.

In conjunction with those efforts, Wilson also will have to help the zoo regain its national accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The AZA pulled the prestigious designation from the local zoo early this year largely because of the its deteriorating physical condition.

Following this morning’s unanimous vote by the BREC Board of Commissioners to offer the position to Wilson, Zoo Director Phil Frost said it would be at least 2022 before BREC will be able to reapply for accreditation—and that’s provided funding for the new master plan comes through and construction begins between now and then.

“It does us no good to reapply if we haven’t done some of the construction they say we need to do,” Frost says. “It’s not what we say we are going to do. We have to show them we have done it.”

BREC Commissioners say they are confident Wilson has what it takes to lead the agency through such challenges.

“I felt confident in him because of his ability to lead and his experience in being here,” says commissioner Larry Selders.

Adds commission member Davis Rhorer: “He was quite impressive in his presentation. .. and is quite knowledgeable about all of the issues in East Baton Rouge Parish.”

For his part, Wilson says he hopes to continue leading the parks system in the direction McKnight and her predecessor, Gene Young, who conceptualized the Imagine Your Parks plan in the early 2000s, have set it upon.

“BREC started 70 years ago and we’ve been on an upward course since Eugene Young,” he says. “Carolyn certainly kept us going up and I plan to do the same.”