BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With BREC commissioners set to hear an update on the feasibility of moving BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo to the State Fairgrounds, some folks already against the plan are now raising new questions over whether that location is still suitable if St. George moves forward.
"Now that they have all the good toys, they want to leave the playground," said EBR Councilwoman Chauna Banks.
"We're talking about moving the zoo almost in the heart of it," said Eugene Collins. "I mean, you don't have to be a genius to know something ain't right with that."
A look at the updated map proposed by St. George supporters shows the BREC park on Airline Highway falls within the potential city's boundaries. The Airline Highway spot was taken off the table after heavy flooding back in August of 2016, but like the St. George effort, it has recently been revived. Critics like Collins are now question the timing.
"With this zoo thing, something stinks about it," said Collins. "We don't need to lose the zoo and we can't let the zoo get wrapped up in politics."
Zoo officials told 9News in February they are reconsidering the State Fairgrounds because meetings with engineers suggest the area may still be usable. BREC spokeswoman, Cheryl Michelet, confirms they have 19 workable options, but so far have only moved forward with one feasibility study at the Airline location. "Right now everything is looking very good," confirmed Michelet. "The Airline Highway location is the one that has had the most extensive look just to see if it's feasible. Right now, everything is looking positive."
When asked about the concerns, Michelet says it has nothing to do with the St. George effort, but admits sales taxes from the zoo could go to the new city if both efforts are successful.
Becky Bond considers the move risky and believes a decision this big cannot move forward without more information from BREC and St. George organizers. "It's not really something that you can take a look at and say, 'Oh, yeah, well this is going to be totally viable' and then add this other complex project on top of that and say, 'Sure the whole thing is viable.' I think the whole thing would have to be evaluated further," said Bond.
Banks is once again launching a series of public meetings to spread the word about her growing list of concerns over the proposal and says moving the zoo anywhere but its current location at this point is just not acceptable. "None of that is really more important than the initial concern and the irresponsibility with the desire to move the zoo at all from its current location," said Banks.
Meeting times are as follows (all meetings will be held at 6 p.m. by Chauna Banks and the Keep the Zoo at Greenwood Park group):
- Thursday, March 8: Zachary Branch Library
- Tuesday, March 13: Baker Branch Library
- Thursday, March 15: Central Branch Library
- Tuesday, March 20: Scotlandville Branch Library
Regardless of where they move the zoo, BREC leaders say their goal remains to support everyone in the parish. Banks says that goal sounds great, but she's not convinced. "It's an anomaly that you would say that and do this," said Banks. "It just doesn't make sense."
WAFB's Scottie Hunter reached out to the city's finance department, which confirms the zoo is exempt from sales taxes, but that further information is confidential. BREC says sales taxes on admission are not collected, but taxes on purchases made at the zoo other than admission are collected, which totals roughly $45,000 for the city/parish.