VOL. 132 | NO. 184 | Friday, September 15, 2017
City Hall Stands Ready to Assist Brooks Museum
By Bill Dries
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s first and only home is owned by the city of Memphis, and the institution is the state’s largest art museum. Those two facts make city government more than an interested onlooker in what happens next as the museum’s board explores possibly moving out of Overton Park to a newly built facility elsewhere in the city.
The Brooks’ board announced the possibility this week in a letter to donors and supporters of the 100-year-old institution, keeping on the table several earlier options for expansion of the existing museum and retrofitting later additions.
City chief operating officer Doug McGowen said the city will offer whatever support the board needs in its search.
“We have no specific site in mind, but we are pleased to be able to support them to make them successful,” he said. “We are happy to engage with them to find the best fit for the museum and hopefully grow visitorship there. Whether they stay or whether they move to another site, they are incredibly important to us.”
At least for now, the city isn’t stating any preference for whether Brooks moves to a new site or stays in Overton Park. And McGowen said he and Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration will be watching the options the board gets from its experts.
“We want to see what all of the options are and determine what the best fit is. How do you get the most bang for the buck from the largest art museum in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “We haven’t dug into it that far yet to determine what those are. We’ll rely on the experts in that world to tell us what the operational needs are to make that happen. We are just standing by to help support in whatever way we can.”
The city has some property that could come into play, including a city maintenance lot and facility on the East Parkway side of Overton Park as the city general services division is moving the facility elsewhere.
The area is larger than the Brooks’ current footprint. Private backers of a proposed William Eggleston museum and photo archive had talked about the lot as a possible site for such an institution.
The tentative plan for the Eggleston museum was outed several years ago in the early stages of the controversy over the Memphis Zoo using the Overton Park Greensward for overflow parking. Zoo officials suggested using the maintenance yard for parking, with a shuttle or tram running through the Old Forest State Natural Area. Strickland himself suggested using the maintenance yard as parking for a zoo shuttle that would avoid going through the Old Forest.
Ultimately the city council negotiated an agreement between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy that did neither but instead reconfigures the zoo’s current parking lot and expands it by 415 parking spaces.
McGowen said the last he heard about plans for an Eggleston museum on the site was about a year ago.
“The idea is that that should become another usable part of the park,” he said of the land. “I think that should be part of the consideration for how we use that, and what kind of amenities are over there would be part of the planning. I know (the Overton Park Conservancy) is getting ready to do some master planning and hope they would take that into consideration.”
The conservancy oversaw a review of the park’s traffic flow, parking and space usage by design firm Looney Ricks Kiss in 2016 during the zoo parking controversy. LRK’s recommendations and suggestions included options for altering the nine-hole golf course with two holes between the museum’s southern border and Poplar Avenue.
The city’s role in what happens to the existing Brooks Museum is more direct since it is city-owned property.
McGowen said the administration is flexible depending on what offers come through if the Brooks does decide to move. And he believes there will be interest in the space with historic significance.
“Certainly it would be prudent to keep that intact. I don’t have anything close to a use that I would even begin to think about until a decision is made,” he said. “We understand the value of the historic nature of that facility. I think there are additions added on that may or may not have as much significance there. Certainly it’s an opportunity should they decide to move.”
The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes is chairman of the Overton Park Conservancy board. He did not participate in the reporting or editing of this story.