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NAACP warns BREC about fight over any plans to move zoo

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BATON ROUGE - The city's NAACP is gearing up to fight any plans to move the zoo from its current location in North Baton Rouge.

BREC has not officially said it wants to move the Baton Rouge Zoo from Thomas Road, but some have suggested a new location as the city's parks department looks at ways to improve the experience of the public attraction. In 2015, Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo hired a consulting firm to examine ways the facility could be improved. The consultants made several recommendations, including the possible relocation. Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo is a citizens group that supports the zoo.

"The [NAACP] opposes and will actively fight to prevent the relocation of the Baton Rouge Zoo," an attorney for the group said in a letter to Carolyn McKnight, BREC superintendent.

The letter, written by Alfreda Bester, blasts BREC for what the NAACP believes is pandering benefiting white, affluent people.

"BREC has cited a lack of financial resources for virtually every request that has been made for improvement of facilities in the African American Community. Imagine our confusion when the lack of resources has not even been raised in a meaningful way in you discussions of the relocation of the BREC Zoo - a project that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars."

The cost of upgrading or moving the zoo is estimated at $110 million. Researchers said making proposed changes could raise attendance from 250,000 visitors to 375,000 each year and contribute $24 million annually to the local economy.

In a statement Tuesday, BREC said the study paid for by its Friends organization assisted in an expensive task relating to the strategic planning process for the Zoo.

"This is a great example of the value of public/private partnerships and how they leverage taxpayer funds with private funds to accomplish much more than what we can accomplish through the use of taxpayer funds alone. We stand with the NAACP on wanting a Zoo that serves all people in the East Baton Rouge Parish. The Zoo today is in a position that requires significant investment to remain financially sustainable and to ensure the highest quality care for our animals. To achieve long-term sustainability, the Zoo must transform its experience to attract more visitors and provide greater diversity of guest experiences. Therefore, the Zoo must secure significant private and public dollars to support that transformation at any location," a spokesperson for the zoo said.

Zoo admission: Adults/Teens: $8.75; Seniors: $7.75; Children ages 2-12: $5.75; Children 1 & under: Free. Guests can enter the zoo from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

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