BREC commissioners unanimously reject zoo relocation; leaders respond

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In a shocking decision, BREC commissioners put to bed the years-old question of whether to move the Baton Rouge Zoo Thursday evening, voting unanimously to keep at its current home in Greenwood Park.

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome called it nothing short of a victory.

"Well it was certainly what I was hoping for and praying for," Broome added.

Her prayers and the wishes of an overwhelming number of people who spoke out against moving the attraction were answered and now she says the real work can begin.

"We want to work with BREC," said Broome. "I have said that I a willing to work with BREC to make sure that we have a first class facility in its present location."

Only two commissioners voted against the move back in August when the group decided to move ahead with finding a potential new home for the zoo. Since that time, what started as a grass roots effort to put the brakes on the plan has exploded into a full-blown movement, with local mayors, state lawmakers and community groups working together to stop it.

Davis Rhorer, who also voted against the move in August calls Thursday's vote historic.

"They have made a difference and that's what's historic about tonight just to see so many people weigh in on this is great," said Rhorer.

"That was really surprising. I didn't expect it but I'll take it," said State Representative Barbara Carpenter (D) Baton Rouge.

Though the vote was historic for many, Carpenter says she will stand behind a bill she is currently pushing that would make it illegal to move the attraction from Greenwood Park.

"Even though this vote is so positive tonight, I think there's some things that we can still put on the table to be sure that we don't find ourselves in this situation any longer," she added.

Moments after commissioners fully shot down her proposal, BREC superintendent Carolyn McKnight could be seen throwing up her hands. She later told reporters she was fine with the outcome.

"I'm excited," she explained. "I'm not unhappy at all."

McKnight has come under fire recently with some saying she has not been transparent with the process. Just hours before the vote, a BREC employee even leaked secret recordings of a prior staff meeting where she can apparently be heard slamming her opponents and even the zoo's current location, saying it would die a slow death unless it moved.

"If we don't make the proper investment, what I said is true," warned McKnight. "What I heard tonight though is that I have some support from people who are willing to step up and help me."

While the debate has gotten heated at times, McKnight and other leaders say they are willing to work together to re-imagine an improved zoo at Greenwood Park.

WAFB's Scottie Hunter asked McKnight if the vote Thursday was a turning point and if leaders could put the negativity behind them and move on.

"My commissioners heard the voice of the people tonight and we're moving forward with what we heard," said McKnight.

Broome said leaders will have to get creative in order to prevent having to rely on taxpayers to foot the bill but it's a challenge she said she is excited to take on.

"I believe that the will is there not only from government but from the people of this community so it's a great day for our parish," Broome added.

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