Lawmakers work to bring alcohol to the Memphis Zoo

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two local politicians are sponsoring bills that, if approved, would allow for the sale of alcohol and beer at the Memphis Zoo.

Under current legislation, alcoholic drinks can only be sold and served after receiving a permit, and only during fundraisers and special events.  The new bill, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey and Rep. Karen Camper, would allow for sales during normal operating hours.

“The Memphis Zoo is one of the top zoos in America,” said Kelsey. “Revenue from alcohol sales will allow it to upgrade even more of its world-class exhibits. I’m happy to work with the zoo and with my colleagues from Shelby County to help this treasure of our community."

The move would mean a substantial boost in revenues, anywhere from half a million to $1.5 million, zoo officials say.

Nick Harmeier, chief marketing officer, said the Memphis Zoo is only doing what many zoos and aquariums across the country, including Nashville and Knoxville, are already benefiting from.

"As a non-profit, the more revenue we can bring, the more things we can do here at the zoo," he said. "We have a lot of things we want to improve here at the zoo. That extra revenue added to the bottom line would help out quite a bit."

Memphis Zoo officials say they are looking at how other zoos and aquariums handle alcohol sales. Whether consumption would be limited to a “beer garden” or whether patrons would be allowed to walk freely are issues being considered.

Similar legislation was passed in Knoxville last year.

“The Memphis Zoo is one of the great educational and entertainment resources in our city,” added Camper. “I am glad that with this bill we will be able to expand opportunities for our businesses and citizens to enjoy the zoo in new and exciting ways.”

Reaction from zoo visitors Wednesday was mixed.

"I think it would be good selling point for the zoo to be able to bring in more revenue for their upkeep. I don't see a problem with it," said Julia Goff of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Randy Keel and Megan Jones,  first-time Memphis Zoo visitors from East Tennessee, said they wouldn't have a problem with it.

"If they're going to do it on special events, might as well do it daily. Just keep it away from the kids."

The Tennessee General Assembly will be back in Nashville for a new year on January 14.

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