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Dear Chuck Brady ...

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If Memphis City Council chairman Kemp Conrad has his way, the council will postpone immediate action on the compromise plan for the Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Greensward announced last week by Mayor Strickland.

Memphis Zoo CEO Chuck Brady
  • Memphis Zoo CEO Chuck Brady

We think Conrad's motion is appropriate, and we hope the other council members utilize the two-week pause to give the plan the careful appraisal it deserves.

With gratitude, we see most of the contending parties responding positively to Strickland's well-considered approach to solving a civic debate that has festered far too long. Regrettably, however, zoo director Chuck Brady continues to be adamant in resisting the compromise plan.

We do not fault Brady for wanting to maximize his advantages or to enhance the appeal and ease of entry to the zoo or to upgrade the facilities there (as, to give him his due, he has consistently managed to do during his tenure). Brady also has expressed concerns about the effect of Strickland's plan on the zoo's revenue levels. All these are reasonable concerns for the zoo's CEO, and you would find few in Memphis who would dispute the institution's value to the community and as a tourist attraction.

But Brady needs to understand that as the CEO of a public/private enterprise using public land, he also has the obligation to consider the bigger picture. Compromise is the way forward, here.

The city of Memphis and its citizens and its public land are what nurture the zoo and provide the larger context for the tourists who come to visit, to spend money, and, upon their departure, to spread the good news about their time spent here. They do not come here with blinders on. The health and charm of Overton Park and its Greensward are the immediate context of their zoo experience in Memphis. What enhances one element enhances the other.

Strickland seems to comprehend this. His plan constitutes an effort both to shore up the park that serves as the zoo's home and protect it from the ravages of automobile traffic. The plan increases the zoo's access points and its parking footprint. Properly imagined and outfitted, the shuttle portion of the plan could even be an enjoyable add-on to the zoo experience.

In any case, for the director of any major urban attraction to express a desire to carry on with the "status quo" at a time when the great majority of objective observers can see that change is called for is disappointing, to say the least.

We're puzzled as to how Brady hasn't seen that there has been a significant change of mind among key members of the city council coalition that voted to give the zoo board absolute authority over the Greensward. He reminds us somewhat of a Japanese soldier discovered on a Pacific island, years after World War II is over, unaware that the battle has long been lost.

The Strickland plan is a compromise, as any enduring solution to a long-running controversy tends to be, but in its own right, it is an intriguing proposal to diversify and conjoin two marvelous urban attractions that are — and ought to be — complementary to each other, rather than at cross purposes.

Chuck Brady, come aboard! It's time to end this pointless set-to and work together.


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