KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There has been a lot of buzz about the zoo alcohol bill currently working its way through the state legislature.
The bill recently passed the Senate. If it is passed in the House, the bill will allow Zoo Knoxville to serve alcohol during normal operating hours and give them unlimited access to serving booze at after hours events.
Many of you have a lot of questions and concerns and shared them on our Facebook page. We took your three most common questions to the zoo to clear things up.
1. Why does the zoo need to sell alcohol at all?
Currently, the zoo has a limited number of after hours permitted events where they can sell alcohol, and it is almost at its cap for 2019 already, according to Zoo Knoxville president and CEO Lisa New.
"Our intent with this bill, should it pass, is that we would have an unlimited opportunity for fundraising events after hours but also to sell alcohol in our eating establishments in cordoned off areas," New said.
This detail is crucial. Zoo Knoxville is not going to let you grab a cold one and stroll around. During the day, you can only drink in the restaurants.
2. What about the zoo's family atmosphere?
This question had a mixed bag of reactions on Facebook. Some were supportive of being able to take a sip or two while trying to keep up with their kids.
Others were concerned serving alcohol at the zoo would send a negative message to the kids running around or diminish its family-friendly appeal.
New pointed out that plenty of other family-friendly locales like movie theaters, sporting events, Chuck E. Cheese and even Disney serve alcohol to adults.
She also said the zoo is drawing on the advice and experience of establishments like these to develop a plan for best practices.
"We can offer a safe environment where people can opt in or opt out without impacting their own individual experience," New said.
Remember, just because the alcohol is served does not mean you have to drink it.
3. How is the zoo going to manage potential risks to guests and animals?
This question is valid in light of recent events where sober people have hopped zoo fences and were injured.
However, New said the zoo will develop policies and procedures to mitigate the risks.
They already do not allow people who are under the influence to enter the zoo, and New said their serving staff would be trained according to Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) laws to make sure guests are not over-served.
"When individuals, grown adults, make poor decisions to cross barriers and put themselves at risk, we do as much as we can to mitigate those opportunities for our guests, but the risk is always still there," New said. "I do not see whether the zoo serves alcohol or doesn't serve alcohol as contributing to those poor choices."
She said, above all, the safety of guests and animals alike is the zoo's top priority so they have been reaching out to other accredited zoos nationwide that serve alcohol to see what they do.
"We value everyone's opinion. Everyone's concern has worth and has merit," New said. "This really, for us, solidifies that they can trust Zoo Knoxville to do this in a safe manner, in a completely legal manner and in the most unobtrusive way as possible for the enjoyment of all our guests."
Finally, for those of you who expressed concern about the animals getting drunk, don't worry they are not allowed in the restaurants so they cannot be served alcohol.