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VOL. 133 | NO. 75 | Friday, April 13, 2018

City Makes Changes in Approving Final Zoo Parking Plan In Overton Park

By Bill Dries

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The final design for the expansion of Memphis Zoo parking will move the entrance to zoo parking further north of where the tentative design earlier this year put it. And the final plan announced Thursday, April 12, by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland will move 37 parking spaces on the north side of the Prentiss Drive entrance off McLean and create a 3-foot-high berm that eliminates any pedestrian walkway entrances between the zoo parking and the Overton Park Greensward.

Construction on the addition of 415 parking spaces and the reconfiguration of the existing zoo parking lot is now slated to begin in November. City officials said previously that the construction would take the city past its pledge to end zoo overflow parking on the greensward by January 2019.

But Strickland said Thursday once completed it will “forever end Greensward parking.”

(Submitted by City of Memphis)

“When I ran for mayor, I promised to end this once and for all, and that’s what this solution does,” he added. “This is a compromise, which means both sides had to give a little.”

The compromise also includes an enhanced zoo entrance on North Parkway that had a trial run for 15 days last year. City chief operating officer Doug McGowen said the zoo will add further enhancements to the entrance starting in June.

The entrance is used primarily by those patrons using the on-street parking on North Parkway that has created more than 240 additional spaces in the last two years.

On street parking on the other side of North Parkway by Snowden School when school is not in session will also be available for zoo patrons and has recently had signage added indicating that.

The three-foot high berm separating the greensward from the new parking lot will get its height from excavating the drive aisle that runs by the berm so that the cars are lower and on the other side of the berm.

“There will be some excavation,” McGowen said. “There will be about three foot berm there for a visual as well as physical barrier.”

Construction is expected to take about 18 months with the park and zoo and other attractions including the Levitt Shell and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art remaining open during that time.

“It is certainly a compromise,” McGowen said. “But most good plans end up being a compromise of some variety. It delivers what the council directed in its resolution – 415 additional parking spaces inside the parking lot, another 200 on North Parkway. It addresses technology. It allows users to know where the parking is before they get there. And forever ends the parking of vehicles on the greensward.”

The footprint for the zoo parking does not change with the amendments the city administration made from a tentative February plan.

Some of the changes including eliminating pedestrian access between the zoo and the greensward came from the public hearings earlier this year. Some critics of the plan were suspicious that the pedestrian entries could be used for cars.

“Their thought was people would come from the park and walk up that path or vice versa. … The reaction was, ‘We don’t think we’ll use it in that way,’” McGowen said. “It would cost money to put something like that in and if it’s not going to be used and if people object to it, if there is no client for that then we would be foolish to put money into that and particularly if it was inflammatory for certain individuals. That was never the intent of the design team and it wasn’t requested by anybody. It was an amenity they thought would tie together the two.”

As the administration gets construction documents and specifications ready for bidders and sets a timetable leading up to the start of construction in November, the city and Overton Park Conservancy continue to develop a master plan for the entire park. And McGowen said that includes the addition of 13 acres of parkland where the city once had a general services maintenance and vehicle area on the East Parkway side of the park.

“The city is making a deliberate investment to move its general services out of the southeast area of Overton Park,” he said. “Our job now is to determine how best to use that 13 acres of new parkland that’s being added.”

The Overton Park Conservancy, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said once the reconfigured parking area is completed, it will undertake remedial work on the greensward.

"We feel this loss deeply, while acknowledging that a permanent resolution to this issue required compromise from all parties," the written statement says referring to the loss of 2.4 acres in the parking expansion. "What Overton Park gains in return is the permanent protection of approximately one-third of the Greensward that’s been used for parking for decades—recreational space that is currently inaccessible to the public for more than 60 days every year."

The conservancy and the zoo as well as the Overton Park Alliance – a coalition of groups concerned about and involved in the park – were briefed about the changes Thursday morning.

”Everybody’s passionate and that’s clear,” McGowen said of the reaction. “I think it’s fair to say everybody understands this is a compromise and they don’t get everything they wanted. … We’ve done our level best to make this work as best as we can.”

After 30 years of the zoo using the greensward for overflow parking during the spring and fall peaks of park and zoo attendance, several years of protest in the park and several attempts at mediation across two city administrations, the Memphis City Council approved in July of 2016 a resolution to create 415 additional parking spaces in a reconfigured zoo parking lot.

The zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy each raised and put up $1.5 million of the $3 million to pay for the project. The terms changed some including smaller dimensions of 9 feet by 19 feet for the parking spaces when the zoo balked later at putting up its $1.5 million half of the funding until the conservancy put up all $1.5 million of its share for both planning and construction at one time.

Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, is chairman of the Overton Park Conservancy Board. He did not participate in the reporting or editing of this story.

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