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VOL. 126 | NO. 205 | Thursday, October 20, 2011

Overton Park Conservancy Delivers Tentative Plan

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and City Attorney Herman Morris are examining a tentative management agreement for an Overton Park Conservancy to run the Midtown landmark that would remain under city of Memphis ownership.

George Cates speaks with Judith Hammond about a master plan for Overton Park during the first of two public meetings at the Memphis College of Art to reimagine the park. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Their due diligence and any possible adjustments to the agreement are likely to center on the terms for running the park and dollar amounts to be put up by private citizens and foundations as well as the city of Memphis and other government entities.

But the citizens group that has spent a year putting together that technical and fiscal framework has also included in its 18-page “case for Overton Park” a glimpse of a future Overton Park.

It includes not only a 500-space $5.5 million parking garage on the north side of The Memphis Zoo, but a north entrance to the park off North Parkway.

And curb parking on the south side of North Parkway by the northern border of the park and zoo could join the bicycle lanes soon to come to the parkway.

The report estimates curbside parking between East Parkway and McLean could create an additional 177 spaces.

The conservancy’s fundraising plan does not include the zoo garage. But Cates said the conservancy group backs the garage.

“That’s the only way that we can get 500 cars off the greensward which is the heart of the park. It’s a big, big problem,” said George Cates, who along with Gary Shorb, is leading the group of private citizens who put together the proposal and report on Overton Park. 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.

The group also recommends a “permeable porous perimeter walkway” on three of the four borders of the park – North and East Parkways and Poplar Avenue.

“This needs to be a city infrastructure improvement project,” the report reads. “And it has our enthusiastic endorsement.”

Separate from that and the 14 item CIP list, Cates said the group has raised more than half of its $5 million goal 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 turf would be approximately 190 acres or 54 percent of the park area. The conservancy would not run the separate 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 Old Forest area would be managed by the conservancy in partnership with the state of Tennessee since the forest is now a state natural area. An Old Forest management plan is now being reviewed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and would also guide the use and development of the area as well.

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
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BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173