‘Business Report’ Publisher: Baton Rouge and BREC need to think different on zoo location


As the battle continues over the location of the zoo, ideas continue to surface. One sent to me was to raze part of Cortana Mall and build it there. Some urban zoos occupy as little as 10 acres and are in the middle of the city. Another idea proposed to me by a diner in a local restaurant (a successful businessman and native of Baton Rouge) was to return the zoo to City Park and tie it in to the redevelopment plan of the lakes. He told me that is where he went to the zoo when he was growing up—and it is right in the heart of the city. He was excited and proclaimed it could be fabulous.

I began to think about the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, which is nestled in a residential area near the Garden District between St. Charles Avenue and the river. The zoo covers 58 acres. It is near Tulane and Loyola University. Our City Park is a beautiful site with hills and trees sitting on the lakes near the Garden District and LSU. City Park has the Baton Rouge Gallery and the new Knock Knock Museum opening soon. The golf course site covers 25 acres and could host a very attractive and affordable zoo—on the site where the zoo used to be—with accessibility and visibility from the Interstate.

Now we just need to have BREC consider the site for the “highest and best use” with the elimination of the pitiful 9-hole golf course. It is a money loser and of poor quality. Webb Park, an 18-hole course, is less than 5 minutes away and could easily handle the additional golfers.

Our recent cover story on BREC and the zoo shows the facts around BREC golf, and it’s not pretty. The trend is clear and is a national one—golf is dying. Attendance at BREC golf courses went down 16% from 2011 to 2016 (over 20,000 less). At the same time, you, the taxpayers, are spending more. Expenses were up 12% ($600,000) over six years while revenues reported from 2011-2016 were down 12% ($400,000). Do the math.

As I have pointed out here before, Austin, Texas, with a metro population of 2 million people has six public golf courses. Baton Rouge, with 830,000 people, had, until the recent closure of Howell Golf Course, seven public courses. Based on population alone, compared to Austin, we should have 2.5 golf courses. So losing 9 holes has little impact on availability. It makes sense. It takes courage. It should be done. It’s time.

But do we have the vision or the will? Can we THINK DIFFERENT? That’s always been the problem in Baton Rouge, few like change. The status quo crowd—who are sometimes small but loud—want to keep it “the way it’s always been before.” And Baton Rouge misses out on a great opportunity. Here is one knocking … what will BREC do?  And what will YOU do?

Note: If we can’t agree on the site and don’t want to spend $110 million, what if we create the first virtual reality zoo where we sell concessions, use IMAX high-definition screens, and you take a stroll. Or, sit in a recliner and put on Oculus Rift with glasses and imagine you are in the natural habitat of the animals going from the jungle to the glaciers. It will be air-conditioned so no one sweats, there are no cages to clean or tigers to feed—and the animals live forever. Why not?

John White and BESE

Recently, District Judge William Morvant tossed out the absurd and political lawsuit trying to remove State Superintendent of Education John White from office. State Sen. John Milkovich was driving this train and represented the plaintiffs. The BESE attorney who is having to waste time arguing this case described the suit to The Advocate as a “smear campaign” against White. White said, “It’s time to shift our attention from the courtroom to the classroom, where it belongs.” I hope Milkovich will listen.

Prior to the judge’s ruling, two different national organizations praised Louisiana’s education improvement efforts (our policy for following the federal Every Student Succeeds Act) led by White and BESE, with the input of many. The Alliance for Excellent Education described it as “one of the most promising in the United States.” And the Collaborative for Student Success noted its strong vision and high expectation for results. The report also said that it would ensure stakeholders “will have a clear understanding of how schools are serving all children.”

I hope Gov. John Bel Edwards and the legislators will read the reports—and offer their congratulations to White, BESE and all who worked hard on ESSA for a job well done—and the positive praise for our state. I am glad John White remains at the helm.

Congratulations

• Building and growing a business is hard. So breaking into the ranks of the TOP 100 Private Companies in the Capital Region is quite an accomplishment. We congratulate all of the businesses featured in this issue, their executive leadership and employees on their success, and contributions they make to our economy and our community.

• We also know that customer satisfaction, great service and a quality product add up to success and a strong brand. We want to congratulate all those businesses who won the “Best of 225 Awards” this month from our sister publication, 225 magazine.  These awards are based on votes by 225 readers and the public. See the 2017 winners at 225batonrouge.com

• Hats off to LSU baseball for finishing second at the college World Series (and No. 2 final ranking) and to the Tigers softball team for making it to the Women’s College World Series. The teams, coaches and fans made us all “LSU PROUD.”

Celebrating the Journey

Whether you are a Baton Rouge native or a newcomer in recent years, it is evident all around that the Capital Region is growing and changing. Business Report began covering that growth and telling the stories about local businesses in 1982. The journey for our business community over more than three decades has been eventful. We will celebrate the journey and reflect on the stories on September 12 with a special commemorative 35th anniversary issue for you, our readers. We are enjoying the journey and greatly appreciate the support from our readers, advertisers and community as we strive to make an impact every day.

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