There needs to be a long-term plan put in place for the Jackson Zoo, which could be a crown jewel for tourism in Jackson. It is in many other cities, like Memphis and Birmingham.
The state Bond Commission recently approved the sale of $199 million in tax-exempt bonds for which the Jackson Zoo will receive $1 million.
Several other local projects received bond money as well. The Mississippi Children’s Museum will receive $750,000; $250,000 is going to the Mississippi Crafts Center; $500,000 to Lovett Elementary School in Clinton; $1 million for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge; $1 million for Lake Harbour Road; $100,000 for Parham Bridges Park; the University of Mississippi Medical Center will receive $31 million for a new medical school.
Spending that much money for anything in this day and age should be scrutinized, but a reasonable case can be made for the funding of all of those projects except the Jackson Zoo in its present location.
Last year, the Legislature supplied $1.3 million for the zoo; the year before was the same. Yet, the same problems continue to crop up — year after year.
Just to be clear, this is not an indictment on zoo supporters, staff or fundraisers. Those are all people who work hard for an entity the Capitol City should have in some form or fashion.
Jackson is better off having a zoo. For that, there is no question. But the 110-acre site has outlived its usefulness.
There are those that would argue the zoo is historic. We would argue it is old and in a high-crime location for zoo-goers; many people don’t visit the zoo simply because of that.
It wasn’t that long ago that stray dogs attacked and killed zoo animals. In one instance, five flamingos were killed and two were injured. That was one week after dogs killed two young gazelles.
One of the biggest blows to the zoo’s reputation, though, was the loss in 2011 of two African elephants, Juno and Rosie, which were relocated for financial reasons.
For 87 years elephants had been a staple at the Jackson Zoo.
In a more recent move, the zoo has spent $230,000 and built a splash pad for children to play in, but there is so much more that needs to be done.
The bottom line is there either needs to be a concerted effort to develop the area around the zoo or move it to an area that can attract more funding.
One location local parents have suggested for relocation is the Lefleur’s Bluff State Park golf course, along Interstate 55 and Lakeland Drive. That would expand on an already thriving tourist destination
Taking away a nine-hole golf course is hardly a problem, considering there are nearly 50 golf courses in or near the Jackson area.
LeFleur’s Bluff offers nearly 150 acres of land which could be developed for a zoo, and the location along the interstate and next to the Mississippi Museum of Natural History, the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum as well as the Mississippi Agriculture Museum would be perfect for tourists traveling through the Jackson area.
We understand this idea is not perfect as there is a lot more money to be spent by moving the zoo to another location. Zoos are expensive to upkeep, let alone designing and building one from scratch.
But, at least, moving the Jackson Zoo to the LeFleur’s Bluff location would be an investment in the future with a clean, clear plan that takes advantage of the area’s built-in strengths.
If there are better plans out there, we are willing to listen. We are for a better Jackson and a better Mississippi.
With so much competition for tourism dollars, residents and tourists demand quality and the zoo is not providing enough. When Jackson failed to provide a quality location for a minor league baseball team, Pearl swooped in and provided one and, in turn, provided an economic boost to the suburb.
Now is the time to have vision and make a change before another city decides it is a good idea.
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