BREC Commission Approves Master Plans for the Baton Rouge Zoo and Greenwood Community Park
The BREC Commission approved master plans for the Baton Rouge Zoo and Greenwood Community Park. This vote comes after a robust community engagement process that began immediately after the BREC Commission voted in March of 2018 to keep the Zoo in its current location and reimagine it using a phased approach. It included public meetings in every area of the Parish, online surveys and a parish wide statistically valid scientific survey. Following those meetings, consultants took the input from the community and created master plans that were revealed to more than 700 people including elected officials, community leaders and residents from across the parish at a “Party in the Park” celebration. The Party in the Park gave attendees the chance to walk through a virtual rendering of the renovated park and to celebrate reaching a major milestone in the effort to completely reimagine the Zoo and to fully integrate it into the park.
Now that the plans have been approved, BREC’s Planning staff and consultants will immediately begin the pre-design and design process for phase one which includes more detailed site assessments and data gathering, refining the master plan through the design development process and then through construction plan phase, agreements with a construction manager to lead the projects and a groundbreaking celebration which should occur around this time next year.
“I want to thank the Commission and the East Baton Rouge Parish community for all that they have done to get us to this point in the process,” said BREC Superintendent Corey Wilson. “This is the most extensive planning project in BREC’s history, and we have been fortunate to work with two nationally renowned consultants highly respected in their fields of Zoo and park design. They worked deliberately to ensure they understood the desires of residents and the history of both locations. The plans they created highlight the natural beauty of the largest park in BREC’s system and I am confident they will lead to the creation of unique attractions unlike any other in the region,” Wilson said.
The centerpiece of the first phase will include a new 30,000 square feet entry complex building in the heart of the park. The entry building will include a new gift shop, expanded space for camps, party rentals, and educational programs and will be accessed off Highway 19 using the same road currently used to access the park rather than the current entry from Thomas Road, as requested by the community. The entry road will also be improved and lead to a new 500-space parking lot that will service both the Zoo and the park. After entering the Zoo’s new entrance, a new orientation plaza including a splash pad will welcome visitors. Phase one will also address all repairs outlined by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to ensure BREC will be able to reapply for, and regain, accreditation which the zoo held for 40-years. Those projects will create a giraffe feeding station and new pygmy hippo exhibit with underwater views for the public.
The most requested feature by the community for improvements to the park is also included in phase one and features a new one-of-a-kind, nature-themed adventure playground. A promenade along Cypress Bayou connecting the waterfront area of the park and the Zoo as well as significant improvements to J.S. Clark golf course are also included in the first phase. BREC will also incorporate nature-based stormwater management design strategies that are more adapted to the landscape and distributed throughout the park to increase storm water holding capacity for added flood protection to the surrounding community.
Exact costs won’t be known until construction drawings are commissioned, but this first phase is estimated between $25-million and $35-million. Superintendent Wilson announced last month that BREC will utilize the $5-million allocated for improvements to the Zoo in the Imagine Your Parks 2 strategic plan approved by the public in 2014 with the remainder coming from its fund balance. This phase is being deliberately planned to ensure that BREC’s initial investment will be followed by funding from other sources to complete the additional phases of the master plans, including public-private partnerships, grant funding, other state and federal funding sources and philanthropic donations. The complete build out of the master plans could take 25-years as is standard with projects of this scope and size undertaken by universities, hospitals and parks across the country and puts both attractions in position to receive ongoing periodic improvement for years to come with the first set of improvements scheduled to be completed by winter of 2021 or spring of 2022.
To see the master plans for the Baton Rouge Zoo and Greenwood Community Park, please visit brec.org/ReimagineZooGreenwood.