Area mayors join list of critics of plan to move BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo

EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The future of BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo is still in question as a fierce debate on the zoo's location continues across the parish.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome joined leaders of Baker, Zachary, and Central for a briefing on the matter on Tuesday, March 20. Broome has been a staunch supporter of keeping the zoo where it is. This is the first time the mayors have come out collectively opposed to the move, and they did not hold back on their stance to stop the proposal.

"I would implore our commissioners to vote 'no' on relocating the zoo," said Broome.

"You're going to take an economic driver out of a city that desperately needs it," warned Central Mayor Junior Shelton. "You're going to cut them off at their knees."

While the debate has simmered for years, Tuesday seemed to mark a turning point. It was the first time there has been such a concentrated effort from parish leadership to keep the zoo in place. It's something longtime opponent of the effort, Becky Bond, says sends a message that cannot be ignored. "Enough is enough," said Bond. "It's time to start doing something for all of our community."

Greenwood Park, located in the northern part of the parish, is the current home of the zoo. Some leaders like Baker Mayor Darnell Waites believe moving it to the state fairgrounds on Airline Highway is irresponsible. He uses the fact that the site flooded in August of 2016 as proof. Waites also believes the Airline location does not offer anything more than the zoo's current home. It's why he says he's confused about why the idea is still being considered.

"We don't want it to move and our people don't want it to move," said Waites. "I hope the commissioners think about it and slow this thing down."

None of those commissioners were at Tuesday's news conference, despite Broome's office sending out an announcement Monday. BREC spokeswoman, Cheryl Michelet, confirms to 9News they found out about it the same way reporters did, through the release.

WAFB's Scottie Hunter reached out to BREC for comment on the area mayors' harsh criticism of the move. BREC leaders said they were working on a response as of late Tuesday afternoon.

"I hope that the commissioners are listening," said Broome.

BREC is set to present a feasibility study Thursday on whether the Airline site could work before commissioners vote. BREC leaders say they've had a lot of support to relocate.

Kristi Behrnes has a membership to the zoo. She and her foster kids were visiting Tuesday morning as elected leaders took a tour of the facility's grounds. She said she also supports keeping the zoo in place. "I hope that it stays here," she said. "I mean, I don't mind driving out here."

Behrnes lives in Walker and says while she thinks the facility could be better, overall, the location is not one of her complaints about the current zoo. "It's well established over here," Behrnes said. "People know where it is. People are comfortable with it over here, so definitely, if you want to make improvements, make improvements, but don't move it."

With a decision closing in, leaders say they hope commissioners will take their concerns to heart before they vote.

"Be conscious about what you're doing here. Listen to what we're trying to tell you," Waites said.

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