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VOL. 126 | NO. 204 | Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Overton Park Conservancy Delivers Tentative Plan

By Bill Dries

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The private group seeking to establish an Overton Park conservancy similar to the organizations that oversee Shelby Farms Park and the Memphis Zoo has sent a tentative management agreement to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

The city of Memphis would continue to own the park, but the conservancy would run it and maintain it with an estimated annual subsidy from the city of $150,000, less than half what the conservancy estimates the city’s expenses currently are to operate the popular Midtown park.

George Cates and Gary Shorb, who are leading the group of private citizens that has explored a conservancy for more than a year, briefed Memphis City Council members on the plan Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Cates and Shorb said $4.23 of private money would be spent for every $1 of city money.

“We’ve simply followed the model that has come before the council before,” Cates said. “We didn’t try to break any new ground. … There’s nothing radical in it.”

The conservancy would spend close to $2.3 million on capital improvements over five years. Of that total amount, $1.8 million would be private money raised by the group. The remaining $416,000 would be a city match over the first four of the five years.

The largest single item of the 14 on the capital improvement list is $500,000 over three years to convert the area for city general services vehicles near Poplar Avenue and East Parkway back into parkland. New restrooms in the picnic area and rehabbing the restrooms by Rainbow Lake would cost $450,000.

Other items include a $225,000 irrigation system, a $150,000 dog park, $110,000 to remove privet from the forest part of the park, a $175,000 upgrade of the Rainbow Lake playground, a $50,000 walking trail around the greensward between the zoo and the Rainbow Lake playground and $120,000 for four Old Forest entry shelters.

Separate from that, Cates said the group has raised more than half of the $5 million in private funding “over and above what we are asking the city for in the coming five years.” Of that, $3 million has been committed to with another $1.3 million in commitments expected in “the next few weeks.”

Cates said he is “real confident” the remaining $700,000 can be raised over the next five years.

The conservancy’s plan does not include a plan to build a 500-space, $5.5 million parking garage the Memphis Zoo is seeking to build on its property. But Cates said the conservancy backs the garage.

“That’s the only way that we can get 500 cars off the greensward which is the heart of the park,” Cates said. “It’s a big, big problem.”

Long term, Cates said the group backs not only returning the general services area as parkland but also the eventual move of the Memphis Fire Station on East Parkway. And the group calls for the Overton Park Golf Course to include water retention measures the city originally proposed for the greensward area of the park, which drew instant and vocal opposition.

The conservancy would not run the entities in the park including the city-run golf course, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis College of Art, the Levitt Shell or the Memphis Zoo.

The conservancy’s board would have 20 to 30 members.

The proposal is being reviewed by Wharton and city attorney Herman Morris, and Cates and Shorb stressed there could be changes as a result. A final proposal agreed to by the administration and the private group to form the conservancy would go to the council for approval.

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173