IMCAL looking into possibility of zoo in SW La.

By By Justin Phillips / American Press

Putting a zoo in Southwest Louisiana

sounds simple. They seem to be all over the place. The oldest is New

Orleans’ Audubon

Zoo, which opened in 1914. The one in Alexandria opened in the

1920s. The Baton Rouge Zoo welcomed its first visitors in 1970,

and Zoo of Acadiana, right outside Lafayette, opened its doors in

the early 1990s.

The idea of a zoo is simple. Turning

that idea into reality, not so much. The Imperial Calcasieu Regional

Planning and Development

Commission has led a number of discussions recently about the

possibility.

Jerry Jones, a member of the commission, talked a little bit about how the process is going. The earliest steps included the

commission reaching out to Calcasieu Parish officials and city officials in Lake Charles and Sulphur.

“As of right now, we’re kind of at a hold. We’re still trying to see how local officials feel about the project in general,”

Jones said. “Before we do anything, we want to make sure we hear everything the elected officials in the area have to say

about the idea.”

The general concerns center around how much money the zoo would generate and how much it could cost taxpayers, Jones said.

As far as funding goes, a pair of

nearby zoos provide examples of two different methods. For the

Alexandria Zoo, the last

few years have been harder than others. The city relied heavily on

annual transfers from other city funds to make ends meet.

In fact, to help alleviate some of the stress from those yearly

transfers, Alexandria voters will decide whether to pass a

property tax in May that would partly fund the zoo.

On the other end of the financing

spectrum is Zoo of Acadiana. A nonprofit called Friends of the Zoo of

Acadiana plays a major

role in generating financial support for the zoo. The nonprofit

makes it possible for the zoo to have special projects, animals,

exhibits and events.

Even though the idea of putting a zoo

in Southwest Louisiana is still in its infancy, the fact that it is

being discussed

publicly by officials in Sulphur and Lake Charles makes it a

possibility somewhere down the road. Still, there are countless

questions to answer and scenarios to consider.

In the end, the hope is that the attraction would not only bring in visitors from all the way out in east Texas, but it would

improve the quality of life for local residents. For Jones and the other members of IMCAL, the goal is to come up with the

ideas that start conversations about development.

“IMCAL is just the place where the idea

starts,” Jones said. “Here, we’re behind any idea that will advance

Southwest Louisiana.”