Consultants Present Final Results of Study of BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo

March 24 2016

ADDITIONAL ARTICLE RESOURCES

Schultz & Williams, zoo consultants, present their final report and recommendations to the BREC Commission tonight regarding the potential to fund, implement and sustain a new $110 million Zoo in Baton Rouge. Recommendations include removing the Zoo’s current Greenwood Park location from consideration as a future site, updating the feasibility study conducted in early 2015 and launching a formal plan for community input. Schultz & Williams Vice President Rick Biddle will present the findings.

The original feasibility study, released in May 2015, was conducted as part of BREC’s 10-year strategic plan. The study determined that while there was interest from community leadership in a totally re-imagined zoo, there was also significant doubt from potential donors on the long-term viability and security of investment in the Zoo’s current location on Thomas Road. For the past nine months, Schultz & Williams and CLR Design have thus undergone a full assessment of both the current Zoo site and several other potential sites within East Baton Rouge Parish. The Conceptual Facility and Site Planning report released tonight is the result of that research.

“After the findings of the original feasibility study, we felt it was critical to do our due diligence and further explore whether it would be in the best interest of the Zoo to stay or to move,” said McKnight. “Even though the Zoo is publically funded on a very small level, there is no way a project of this magnitude could happen without the support of additional public funding, private donors and other business and philanthropic organizations. In any major initiative like this, and when you’re talking about this kind of money, it is BREC’s duty to the public to thoroughly research and explore all the possibilities and opportunities presented.”

The Conceptual Facility and Site Planning report included on-site inspections of the current Zoo and several alternative sites; sample surveying of the surrounding community; market analysis and meetings with BREC and Zoo staff, Zoo Steering Committee members and Friends of the Zoo Board of Directors.

Its two major recommendations include:

  • Removing the Zoo’s current site on Thomas Road from consideration as a future site for the Zoo.
  • Continuing to research the two sites included in the report, as well as any other alternative sites that may meet the criteria.

“This planning project has focused on defining how the new Zoo can provide the best and highest use to the largest and broadest audience,” said Biddle. “The right location is critical for achieving the tremendous community and economic impacts the new Baton Rouge Zoo can have on the Parish.”

The two alternative site locations identified in the report as viable and sustainable options and meet the Zoo’s criteria for success are BREC’s Airline Highway Park and the “Nicholson Corridor Zone,” which is an expanse of undeveloped land near Louisiana Highway 30 and Bluebonnet Boulevard. The criteria for success used in assessing each site included available acreage; fundability of needed investment; number of unique impressions; connectivity to donors; the site’s strength in being an asset to the region; synergy with partners; timeframe to achieve full buildout; proximity to core audiences and the level of operational and guest disruption. The report stated that if these criteria were fully met at an alternative site, the Zoo could see its annual attendance reach 500,000 visitors or more over a five-year buildout, versus an estimated 375,000 visitors over a 15-year buildout if the Zoo remained at its current site.

“When we started looking for other possible sites, there were about 10 pieces of property that were brought to our attention and that we evaluated,” said Frost. “As we assessed each one against our criteria, we were able to narrow those down to the two very promising sites presented in this report. Based on the business pro formas completed by our consultants, these sites are both projected to have long-term success at a significantly greater level than our current site. That all being said, no decisions have been made yet on whether we will move, much less where, so if there are individuals out there who know of other pieces of land that fit this criteria and should be part of our discussion, we would certainly encourage them to share those with us.”

At tonight’s meeting, the Commissioners will be asked to accept the report as it has been presented to them by Schultz & Williams. No formal acceptance of the report’s recommendations or vote on whether to move the Zoo has been requested at this time.

“We certainly hope that BREC ultimately accepts our recommendations” said Biddle. “Baton Rouge deserves a great Zoo and what we’ve found in the past year of research is that the vision is well within reach, as long as there is willingness by leadership to make that vision a reality. BREC has an opportunity right now—to embrace change and position the Zoo for a dynamic, sustainable future that will play an even larger role for East Baton Rouge Parish and the region as a whole.”

Once the report is accepted by the Commission, BREC staff will be tasked with developing a final recommendation to the Commission based on its findings. Before that final recommendation is developed, Schultz & Williams suggested in their report that staff:

  • Update the original feasibility study by re-engaging community leadership on their willingness to invest in a newly imagined Zoo at an identified alternative site
  • Solicit the support of an external marketing/public relations partner to lead the significant communication needs and initiatives going forward
  • Gather input from community members through town hall meetings, surveys and events

“I’m very grateful to the staff, community members and supporters who have helped us get this far in our strategic planning process,” said McKnight. “Now that this chapter is complete, we will continue moving at a deliberate pace in reaching out to the community as a whole for their input, as well as working internally to determine our next steps and how to make our Zoo the best one it can be for the entire region.”