The Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) has until Sunday to meet its $1 million fundraising goal set by the Memphis City Council for the construction of the Memphis Zoo’s new parking lot and while the group still needs $150,000, a conservancy official feels confident the goal will be met.
Last year, the council approved a plan that would end parking on the Overton Park Greensward. That plan would reconfigure the zoo’s main parking lot to yield hundreds of new parking spaces. The zoo and OPC were to split the costs of the project.
Earlier this year, zoo officials threatened to pull out the project because they said that while they had the funds in hand to pay for it, OPC did not. OPC did have $250,000 in hand to pay for its share of the design costs but it didn’t have $1 million to cover construction costs.
Memphis City Council members gave the OPC two months to raise $1 million. That two-month period is over Sunday and, so far, the group said it has raised $850,000 from 700 donors in 30 states and 28 Memphis-area ZIP codes.
“It's time to sprint to the finish line, and the Hyde Family Foundations (HFF) are helping us do just that,” reads a recent email alert from OPC.
The Hyde Foundation is tripling all donations for the project, OPC said, until the $1 million goal is met.
Melissa McMaster, OPC’s director of communications, said the support they’ve gotten shows that people are ready to have the issue resolved. Also, McMasters said her group has “no doubt” that they will meet their goal.
How has the effort gone so far?
We’ve had great support from the moment we announced the campaign. I think people are ready to see this issue resolved and to get their park back.
It was a long road to get to a solution that would add permanent zoo parking and end encroachment onto the Greensward, and the people donating to this campaign traveled that road with us.
We’ll probably wind up with about 800 individual donors to this campaign, which is remarkable for a nonprofit of our small size and young age.
Have you been constantly busy going to fundraisers and meeting with potential donors?
We’ve attended some terrific events put on by community members, including the Park Friends cookout that raised over $12,000 in two hours. It’s been a lot of fun connecting with our neighbors. (OPC executive director Tina Sullivan) and our board members have been spending a lot of time securing larger gifts as well.
Did you think you’d get such wide-ranging support from across the country? Also, has anything surprised you during this effort?
I’m going to answer these two in tandem, because the thing that has surprised me the most is the nationwide support. The demand for removing cars from the Greensward has been getting stronger in Memphis over the last few years, but I never expected it would resonate so widely.
We’ve had gifts from 35 states so far, and the motivation has been wide-ranging: Memphians who have moved away, friends and relatives who have invested in this issue through Memphians talking about it, and people who have seen articles in national conservation publications and websites.
Will you meet your goal?
We have no doubt at this point that we’re going to get there. Hyde Family Foundations is tripling all gifts until we reach the $1 million goal. We’ve raised about $13,000 since last night (which nets us an additional $26,000 from Hyde), so we just need $37,000 more from the public to hit that goal by Sunday.
What is the next step after the fundraising deadline?
We’ll be ready to present city council with the results of the campaign at the July 20 meeting. Our understanding is that by showing we’ve secured $1 million toward the project, we’ll then be able to present city council with $250,000 right away so that the Powers Hill team can get started with design and public engagement.
Will you and the OPC be able to breather a little more freely after the deadline?
There’s no rest for the weary! Because we’ve poured everything we have into this campaign over the past two months, we’re 50% behind where we need to be in raising money for park operations.
We just had tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of storm damage last weekend, so we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. It’s not as exciting as a two-month deadline, but those are the dollars that impact people’s experiences every single day!