Parking on the Greensward would not end on January 2019 and establishing a new timeline will likely be weeks away, according to city officials and those designing a new parking lot for the Memphis Zoo.
Officials with Powers Hill Design, the firm hired by the city to craft the zoo’s new lot, delivered their most recent plan to the public Wednesday evening at a meeting at the Pink Palace Museum. They said the delay on the project comes as Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland wanted to ensure the public had time to comment on the design.
“The mayor wants to make sure we don’t jump before the public has the opportunity to engage and comment on this latest version (of the zoo lot)," said Nisha Powers, president of Powers Hill.
Powers said comments will be accepted on the design for one week after Wednesday evening’s public presentation of the plan. Those comments will be posted on the city’s website. The mayor’s administration, then, “ultimately has to say this, or that, or the other thing will move forward.”
The mayor’s decision process will “determine how we move forward and what that (construction) schedule looks like,” Powers said. Kyle Veazey, deputy director of communications for the mayor, predicted a new timeline would be available in early March. Construction on the project has long been predicted to end — and end Greensward parking — in January 2019.
The new design delivered Wednesday was driven primarily by the Memphis City Council’s July 2016 resolution that mandated 415 news spaces for the zoo, screening zoo parking from the Greensward, and, ultimately ending parking on the Greensward altogether.
The rest of the design is from a mix of forces, from public and stakeholder comments, to better managing traffic as it rolls into the park and into the zoo lots and beyond. In the end, Powers called it a “compromise plan,” meaning “we win some really important things on this and we lose important things.”
One thing lost will be 2.4 acres of parkland. Powers said her team, as much as possible, drew boundary lines that respected the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) management line. Also, she said they designed the lot to an existing ridge line that separates the Greensward from the zoo lot.
“Our directive — very clearly from day one — was this ridge line and we met that,” Powers said. “So, whose is what is not something that we focused on. It was more, ‘meet this requirement and stay on this side of the ridge line’ and we did that. If we did anything else, it would have been taking sides, instead of just following instructions per the city requirements.”
The permitter road, or the “ring road” as some call it on social media, remains in the plan. However, Powers Hill was able to move it away from the Overton Park’s Formal Gardens and Veteran’s Plaza. An earlier iteration of the plan had the drive within nine feet of the plaza and into the gardens. The new plan moves the drive 38 feet away.
Though, moving the drive would mean removing a 100-year-old oak tree. But keeping the oak and the earlier plan would have meant moving 30 to 40 parking spaces somewhere else, likely deeper into the Greensward, Powers said.
Preserving trees was a major element of the design, Powers said. In all, her team surveyed 719 trees around the area and found 390 of them would be impacted by the project. Of those, 159 will have to be permanently removed and 188 could be relocated. The plan calls for 150 trees to be newly planted or relocated back into the area.
Another major part of the plan focused on more-quickly moving zoo traffic in and out. To get there, Powers Hill proposes an automated pay-on-entry system.
Two lanes of cars would feed into the zoo and would pay (with cash, cards, and possibly smartphones) at a kiosk set close to the zoo’s current entryway. (A third lane would open up for buses to move through.) A new entryway, set closer to the zoo’s front gates, would allow for expedited parking for zoo members and those who have pre-paid for parking.
The new plan allows for more pedestrian access. A path for walkers and more would be built where a gravel driveway allows zoo visitors to park on the Greensward. Powers said they want to “whatever we can do make it not drivable.” New sidewalks vein the entire area from the Prentiss Place lot close to McLean to the eastern-most areas of new parking lots.
The new plan has a new area for dropping off and picking up visitors taking Lyft, Uber, and taxis. No new bus stop for Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) is proposed for areas inside the park. Though, Powers Hill officials said existing bus stops on Poplar and Cooper already service the area.