The Greensward parking issue was reviewed briefly by a Memphis City Council committee Tuesday morning and while questions regarding funding and the proposed museum for photographer William Eggleston were clarified, no formal action on any plan was taken.
Council member Reid Hedgepeth brought the issue to the council’s budget committee seeking clarification on the amount of public, council-approved funds go to both the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) and the Memphis Zoological Society (MZS), which operates the zoo for the city.
He was told OPC gets $150,000 annually to manage city-owned Overton Park for the city. MZS gets about $3.1 million annually for operations (though the figure has been as high as $3.9 million in the past) and it gets $250,000 each year for maintaining zoo grounds and buildings.
Hedgepeth (along with then Mayor A C Wharton) asked city council attorney Allan Wade to issue on opinion on the zoo’s use of the Greensward for parking. Wade opined that the zoo does have legal authority over the part of the Greensward that officials use for overflow parking.
Hedgepeth said that the trees planted on the Greensward in a protest this weekend (which he incorrectly said was the work of OPC) was not authorized by the resolution that allows OPC to manage the park. (The protest was organized and executed by two citizen-led organizations, Citizens to Protect our Park and Greensward advocates Get Off Our Lawn.)
Still, Hedgepeth wondered why nothing was done about the unauthorized tree planting and those who did it.
“[Planting the trees] is something that puts all of us in a bad position,” Hedgepeth said. “Because we put up resolutions and approve resolutions and what we approve doesn’t give anybody any…it does not let them do these types of improvements either to the park or to the Greensward without city permission.
Yet, they’re allowed to go and do that and the administration has the documents right here in our resolution that says no improvements be done unless they’ve been reviewed by the city engineer, by the administration, and approved. Now, this has happened and we’re all receiving 150-200 emails over it and nothing was done.”
Hedgepeth said after the meeting that he believes Wade's opinion on the Greensward gave zoo officials the full, legal right to remove 27 trees from the Greensward last week.
Hedgepeth wanted to know who authorized the planting of the three trees on the Greensward this weekend. Brian Collins, the city’s chief financial officer, said he wasn’t aware that any group sought permission from the city to plant the trees. Hedgepeth said officials can't allow Overton Park to become “the wild, wild west.”
Council member Berlin Boyd asked Collins if there was any new information on the proposed museum to be built for the works of Memphis photographer William Eggleston. Talks so far have put the museum on a lot on the park’s south east corner now used as a city maintenance facility. Collins said new Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has not reviewed the plan.
Boyd offered this “simple solution:” Move the Eggleston museum to the site of the former Walter Simmons housing project in south east Memphis and use the general services lot for zoo parking. Or, he said, the museum could relocate to piece of property near the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
“[The] museum would be close to the zoo and the Greensward would not be a factor,” Boyd said. “It makes more logical sense to me.”
Collins said Strickland “intends to think globally” about Overton Park and that he is keeping his options on the issue open.
Strickland was set to meet with zoo and park officials at Memphis City Hall Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Strickland asked zoo and park officials to agree to a mediation process for the parking issue Tuesday, according to a statement from the mayor's office. They are expected to talk to board members and report back in a week.
Here's Strickland's statement:
"Today, Memphis Zoo president/chief executive officer Chuck Brady and Overton Park Conservancy executive director Tina Sullivan met with city chief operating officer Doug McGowen and me regarding the zoo parking situation. Both of these assets are very important to Memphis, and we all agree that there is a parking challenge.
I have asked both sides to voluntarily agree to a mediation process that we expect will produce a road map of solutions that will accommodate present and future needs for everyone in the park and the community. Both parties agreed to talk to their respective boards about that and respond to me this week.
In the short-term, the Greensward will continue to be used for parking on those days in which regular parking is at capacity. The Greensward is always a parking option of last resort for the zoo.
A parking study for the entire park has been commissioned and we would ask for people with all perspectives to provide meaningful input that can help us reach solutions we can all live with. The parking study results will help guide the mediation process.
I continue to ask for your patience as we work diligently to find a long-term resolution that benefits all involved — most importantly the citizens of Memphis, who use these great assets every day."