VOL. 132 | NO. 117 | Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Overton Park Conservancy Meets $1M Goal in Parking Compromise
By Bill Dries
The Overton Park Conservancy raised $1 million by the June 11 deadline to move ahead with the Overton Park-Memphis Zoo parking compromise. The conservancy announced Sunday afternoon that it met the goal with hours to spare.
“This did not go the way we expected it to when we first launched the campaign,” said Tina Sullivan, director of the Overton Park Conservancy. “I think everyone assumed a few major donors would step up and cover that amount for us. But we were able to access a really broad base of support. That was what was both surprising and gratifying.”
The Overton Park Conservancy and the Memphis Zoo met separate fundraising goals to design and build a new lot that will end parking on the Overton Park Greensward. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
The zoo already had raised its $1.5 million, which includes its half of planning and design as well as construction, and insisted that the OPC raise its entire half when the conservancy had raised $500,000 for the planning and design. That was with the understanding that the rest would be raised later, once donors could be shown the design for the expanded parking lot and what the Overton Park Greensward will look like with it.
The revived controversy wound up back before the Memphis City Council, which at its April 11 meeting set the June 11 deadline for all the money to be raised. In the process, the parking spaces in the new lot will no longer be the 10-by-20-foot spaces the zoo insisted on; instead they will be 9 feet by 19 feet.
Sullivan said the reduced size of the parking spaces was a factor with donors, who had been keeping up with the details of what has become a three-year controversy. It started in the spring of 2014 when a small group of high school students began protesting the zoo’s use of the park greensward for overflow parking, which it had been doing since at least the early 1990s.
“It was a vote of confidence that we’re on the right track with this solution and that a large number of Memphians really want to see this project go forward and this controversy put behind us,” Sullivan said.
The two-month fundraising effort drew more than 1,000 donors from every U.S. state except South Dakota.
The next step is for the zoo and the conservancy to return to the city council with the money.
“The council will have to vote to accept funds from the Overton Park Conservancy and the zoo,” Sullivan said. “And then after they have that resolution in hand, then city engineering can sign the contract with Powers Hill Design. And at that point they can begin work.”
That could happen as early as the next city council session on June 20.
The reconfiguration and expansion of the zoo parking area by 415 spaces would end zoo overflow parking on the greensward by 2019.
Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, is chairman of the Overton Park Conservancy Board. He did not participate in the writing or editing of this story.