The Jackson Zoo is going under, and the state leaders’ lack of support for the park is troubling. Last week, the Sun asked three lawmakers about their thoughts on moving the zoo and whether the state should support it.
The park is nearly 100 years old, and is an integral part of the city and state’s cultural fabric. It has drawn millions of people to West Jackson to look at local and exotic animals, ranging from elephants to water moccasins.
However, in recent years West Jackson has deteriorated, and the zoo has suffered along with it. Since 2003, attendance has dropped from 180,000 to just over 100,000. Revenues have dropped as a result, and a recent study shows potential donors are unwilling to give, citing the current location and financial condition.
Moving the zoo to a new, more family friendly location like the LeFleur Museum District, is the obvious answer. However, doing so is a costly proposition. Executive Director Beth Poff said building a new zoo could cost $2 million an acre. The zoo currently sits on 54 acres, meaning that a move could take at least $108 million.
Local lawmakers seem unwilling to provide much more than tepid support for the idea. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said he supports a move, but hopes mostly private dollars can be used to fund it. District 25. Sen. Walter Michel, who serves Northeast Jackson, said he hadn’t heard about plans to move the zoo, and wouldn’t support paying for it. “(We) have much more pressing needs as a state,” he said. District 29 Sen. David Blount said the state has provided funding for the park in the past, but said the zoo is “primarily a city issue.”
Lawmakers’ attitudes toward the zoo are disappointing.
True, the state has helped Jackson in recent years, with laws allowing the one-percent infrastructure sales tax and the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID).
However, those laws only provide funding for infrastructure. Quality of life is equally important. People and businesses look at cultural opportunities as well as infrastructure when moving to an area.
If the zoo is allowed to wither and die in West Jackson, the city and the state will take a major hit. Jackson deserves the zoo, and the state needs to step up to the plate to help support it.