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VOL. 132 | NO. 73 | Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Council Brokers New Zoo Parking Compromise, Abolishes Beale Authority

By Bill Dries

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The Memphis City Council went back into the terms for an expanded Memphis Zoo parking lot Tuesday, April 11, just nine months after brokering and approving a compromise on the project between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy.

The new terms that move up a deadline for each side to raise or get pledges for the anticipated $3.3 million total cost of the project but reduce the size of the parking spaces came during a busy council day at City Hall that included a council vote to abolish the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority.

The zoo refused to put up $250,000 -- its half of funding for design and engineering work -- on the reconfigured zoo parking lot that is to create 415 additional parking spaces for the zoo. The conservancy had its half of the $500,000 ready to put up.

But the zoo insisted that the conservancy should also put up half of the estimated $3.3 million total cost including construction at the same time. The zoo board also voted earlier in the stand off to shut down any move to finance some of the parking lot reconfiguration expense by using zoo parking lot revenue, an idea floated by the administration.

The OPC hasn’t raised its share of the construction funding yet and insisted it was never in the July agreement to put up the money all at once.

The compromise agreed to by both sides Tuesday effectively reopened the 2016 agreement. It gives both sides until June 19 to raise or have pledges for their shares of the total cost of the project. The conservancy had anticipated raising its share of the construction costs around the fall after the design work is done. But the zoo’s refusal to put up its half of the design money left a frustrated council mediating another agreement between the two sides again.

Council member Reid Hedgepeth moved to delay the turnover of the $500,000 for the design work in lieu of raising or having pledges for the total amount by both sides in mid-June. The compromise also changed the size of the parking spaces in the reconfigured zoo parking lot from 10 feet by 20 feet to 9 feet by 19 feet.

The larger parking space size pushed by the zoo would have taken up an extra acre of the Overton Park Greensward. The smaller size still includes some encroachment on the western and northern edges of the greenspace by the additional parking spaces. Those areas will be blocked from view by berms and trees.

The point of the compromise approved by the council last July was to end zoo overflow parking on the greensward by 2019.

“It’s irresponsible not to have the costs and plans to raise the funding,” OPC board chairman Eric Barnes, who is the publisher of The Daily News, told the council. “That’s not a good way to raise money.”

But he also acknowledged that the smaller parking spaces would make fundraising easier for the conservancy as he ultimately agreed to move ahead with the compromise.

Council member Kemp Conrad questioned Barnes closely.

“It’s not a skyscraper. It’s a parking lot,” he said at one point, adding some misgivings that “this is never going to end.”

Zoo president Chuck Brady said the zoo accepted the terms of the compromise.

The Beale authority, approved by the previous council at the end of 2015, goes through a liquidation or wind down process in which any assets are turned over the city. The process means the authority isn’t just suspended. It is wiped from the books of the state.

There was no council debate about the move and no one from the authority was present. City Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland supports the council action.

The action means the Downtown Memphis Commission will continue to oversee the entertainment district for the city – an interim assignment the DMC took on starting in 2014 for what was expected to be a short period until the authority hired a permanent management firm. That never happened during the time the authority was in existence.

In other action, the council gave final approval Tuesday to new rates for on-street metered parking that drops the original idea of a $10 flat fee for on-street parking during special events at FedExForum and the Orpheum.

Council chairman Berlin Boyd amended the proposal to instead extend the hours to pay for on-street parking an extra four hours, to 10 p.m. weekday nights and to Saturday. The rate per hour goes from $1.25 currently to $1.50 and those parking at the meters in the entertainment district have the option of buying up to four hours of time at the $1.50 an hour rate.

The council also approved the change in ownership of the Sheraton Memphis Downtown convention center hotel from Host Hotels & Resorts LP to LMS Real Estate Investment Management LLC, a newly-formed joint venture.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. approved another part of the transfer in ownership involving the tax abatement the current owners have with the CCRFC.

LMS has said it expects to close on the deal next week. And leaders of the joint venture told council members the hotel will remain a Sheraton despite earlier talks about returning a Marriott flag to hotel that is connected to the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The council also got its first look Tuesday at four options the city’s Public Works Division is considering for solid waste garbage pickup.

The options, outlined by Public Works Division director Robert Knecht, at the council’s executive session are:

-- Keeping the city’s $22.80 a month garbage fee and requiring that everything for pickup be placed in a cart. The city would charge an additional $5 a month for each additional cart beyond the first one. There would be no pickup of items on the curb outside containers and Memphians would have to take those items to drop off locations.

-- A garbage fee of $25.05 a month that includes a once a quarter pickup of curb items outside containers.

-- A fee of $28.05 a month for monthly curbside pickup of everything up to eight cubic yards.

-- A fee of $32.80 a month for weekly pick up of everything up to eight cubic yards.

The council took not votes on any part of the plan Tuesday but scheduled more committee discussions in two weeks.

Daily News publisher Eric Barnes is the chairman of the Overton Park Conservancy board. He did not participate in the writing or editing of this story.

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