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VOL. 122 | NO. 247 | Friday, December 28, 2007

Changes Likely in Store for Shelby Farms in '08

By Bill Dries

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HOLIDAY TREAT: A boy feeds a pony at Shelby Farms on Christmas Day. In 2007, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy began the development of a master plan for use of the public parkland that is expected to be completed in 2008. -- Photos By Bill Dries

The year that passes in four days has been one of change for Shelby Farms. The coming year could see even more changes - in how the 4,500-acre park is run to actual changes in its landscape.

The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy signed on the dotted line in July with County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. for the group to take over management of the park. By July, the conservancy board should be voting to approve one of three master plans being developed by three planning firms competing for the project.

Shelby County employees working in the park became conservancy employees this month and contracts with vendors in the park are being negotiated.

Still to be decided by state officials is the path and design of a Shelby Farms Parkway that would connect Walnut Grove Road to Whitten Road. The north-south roadway to be built by the Tennessee Department of Transportation will be a major change for the park no matter what plan is eventually selected by the state.


Highway to heaven - maybe

At a public hearing earlier this month, those on the parkway advisory panel and T-DOT officials heard a common sentiment from several citizens as they looked over three options - each a roadway through parkland.

TIMES CHANGING: Shown here is a north gate at Shelby Farms.

"I don't see the need," one parkgoer told Laura Adams, chair of Friends of Shelby Farms and a member of the advisory panel. "Why does there need to be a road?"

Adams, who is also interim director of development for the conservancy, tried to emphasize the positives.

"Farm Road goes away, though," she told the critic.

Later, Adams said traffic count projections of 36,400 vehicles a day between Walnut Grove and Sycamore View by 2030 were a factor in her group's decision to support a roadway but to also try to minimize its impact as much as possible. The 17-member advisory panel is recommending what is called a "trumpet-style interchange" of circular ramps for traffic onto and off Walnut Grove from the proposed parkway. They hope it can be moved to the south of Walnut Grove to run over an old landfill. The designed speed would be 40 mph with trucks barred.

"Because the county and the city stand to grow to the north and the east of the park, it's put a lot of pressure on the existing roads. The traffic counts that were being projected - they were establishing there was going to have to be some sort of solution that included a road," she said. "Friends of Shelby Farms did not want a road to go through the park. We talked it over with an attorney that specializes in such things. His opinion was that it would be better to try to get a compromise that you can live with."


Cultivating Contributions

Meanwhile, Larry Papasan, the interim executive director of the conservancy, told county commissioners in late November the organization is preparing to raise millions of dollars once it has a master plan this summer.

"We have been doing cultivational calls. We haven't been asking people for money ... because we don't think that we should ask people for money until they know what they're buying."

The conservancy raised $756,000 from private donors and got $200,000 from the Shelby County Board of Commissioners for the process of coming up with a master plan.

Papasan estimated the conservancy can raise $50 million to $100 million.

"Believing and doing it are two different things," he told commissioners. "But we have confidence that we can raise that kind of money to fund the first phase of the master plan.

"We are hopeful that the major donors can do $30 (million) to $40 million. We're going to go to the state of Tennessee and try to get the state of Tennessee to fund $30 (million) to $40 million to match what our major donors give. That will leave us $30 (million) to $40 million to gain from smaller givers."

County government is not giving up all responsibility for the park. It will continue to pay expenses including the salaries of employees and fuel for equipment. It comes to approximately $600,000 a year.

"If we decide that we want to build a new building in the master plan, that money will come from charitable contributions," Papasan said. "We will let those contracts as a part of the conservancy."

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