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NAACP says zoo plays important economic role in its current location

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BATON ROUGE - Baton Rouge Zoo officials announced two places to potentially relocate the zoo to after a consulting firm, Schultz & Williams, was hired to study improvements to the public attraction.

The firm has recommended moving the zoo from Thomas Road to BREC’s Airline Highway Park and or “Nicholson Corridor Zone,” which is an expanse of undeveloped land near Louisiana Highway 30 and Bluebonnet Boulevard.

According to officials, 10 pieces of property were considered and the firm has assessed the zoo and potential locations for the past nine months.

Read the full zoo study recommendation here.
 
“This planning project has focused on defining how the new Zoo can provide the best and highest use to the largest and broadest audience,” Schultz & Williams vice president Rick Biddle said.
 
Thursday, the BREC Commission accepted the proposal and will now begin going over the document with a fine-toothed comb. BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight says there is no time-line on this decision.

"I don't know yet," she said. "That's honest, I just don't."

Consultants say the zoo would be better in one of two other locations but the decision is ultimately up to the Commission.

"We've heard both sides and that's what we're working to figure out," said McKnight. "What's the best thing to do for this community as a whole."

The Louisiana State NAACP says the zoo is vital to its current location, citing a lack of business in the area.

"North Baton Rouge needs that economic engine far more than anything that is needed in the southern part of the parish," NAACP general counsel Alfreda Tillman Bester says.

Either way, recommendations for improvements, which Schultz & Williams say are necessary, will cost about $110 million. The money will primarily be raised. Since 2005, about $8 million has been spent upgrading the BREC Baton Rouge Zoo.

These improvements, whether at the current location or a new location could include zip lines, a sky lift, splash pads and animals moving between exhibits.

Schultz & Williams says moving the zoo would have a lot of potential and could double the number of visitors. Attendance at the current location has fallen flat at 250,000 visitors. BREC says February was one of the best months for the zoo on record.

McKnight says before a decision is made, a series of meetings will take place.

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