City of Memphis
The final plan for the Memphis Zoo's new parking lot, which will end parking "forever" on Overton Park's Greensward.
A city official said Wednesday that construction on the new, reconfigured parking lot for the Memphis Zoo is set to begin in November and should wrap up about 18 months after that.
On Wednesday, Doug McGowen, the city’s Chief Operating Officer, unveiled the final plan for the zoo’s new parking lot. The plan adds 415 new parking spaces for the zoo and, when finished, will permanently end parking on Overton Park’s Greensward.
McGowen said Wednesday the plan is built on compromise, has had more “public input than just about any project” he’s worked on, and will still make some unhappy.
“I know some people will be unhappy; that is clear,” McGowen said. “We’ve heard them from day one and they won’t be happy with any additional hard surface parking. We’ve tried to be as thoughtful as we can be and we’ve put together as many of the needs of all the park patrons that we can.”
The plan will convert 2.4 acres of what is now green space into some kind of hard surface for cars. That acreage includes a portion of the current Greensward, which is now 12-13 acres, and a portion of a swale around the north east corner of the Greensward.
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Big changes were made to the plan after public comments were collected from a hearing in February. McGowen said the advisory team overseeing the project got thousands of suggestions from the public.
Many of those suggestions, he said, were used to change the final plan.
Tina Sullivan, executive director with the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC), said she and the her board approved of an earlier version of the plan from designers Powers Hill. They were further grateful for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland for putting the design through another iteration and including public feedback, she said.
“If we just kick all the cars off the Greensward and not provide them somewhere else to park, it would choke the park and the surrounding neighborhoods on so many more days than we currently have congestion,” Sullivan said. “People would not be happy with that solutions, either. This is a good compromise.”
A drive aisle, what some Greensward advocates called the “Ring Road,” was moved north and re-routed. The driveway now mostly aligns with zoo’s current entrance and flows through the center of the parking lot.
An earlier version of the plan moved the entrance south, very close to the park’s Formal Gardens. The driveway flowed around the outside of the lot, close to the Greensward’s border.
A pedestrian connector that linked the Greensward to the the zoo entrance plaza was erased in the final plan.
McGowen said plan designers Powers Hill originally brought the element to the plan. But it was removed, he said, after numerous people said they didn’t think park visitors would use it that way. Also, he said, some feared the surface could be used in the future as a driveway for cars from the lot onto the Greensward.
“Our thinking was that if there’s no client for [the pedestrian connector], we’d be foolish to put money into something that wouldn’t be used and is particularly inflammatory for certain groups of people who thought it could be used as a driveway,” McGowen said.
The final plan includes a three-foot berm in places that will physically and visually separate the Greensward from the zoo lot. Further, the zoo lot will be excavated somewhat to put the it lower than the surface of the Greensward.
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The final plan also eliminates 37 on-street spaces from Prentiss Place. McGowen said, it was feared that traffic into and out of the zoo would be slowed by cars parallel parking in the spots. Those spaces were configured into a separate coral on the south end of the lot.
All of the four entrances into the zoo will have tech that enables them to accept pre-payment from a smartphone app, read member cards, accept debit and credit cards, and show how many spaces are available (and where they are) before guests arrive at the zoo.
Zoo officials are investing in new kiosks to install at its new north entrance on North Parkway, McGowen said, making it more permanent. Seven parking spots along North Parkway there will be eliminated to make way for a dedicated drop-off location for the entrance.
Here is a full statement on the final plan from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland:
“For some three decades, this issue has been a source of controversy for people who love two great institutions: the Memphis Zoo and Overton Park. When I ran for mayor, I promised to end this once and for all, and that’s what this solution does.
The solution accomplishes three things. It forever ends Greensward parking. It accommodates the Zoo’s needs. It is funded by the Memphis Zoological Society and the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC), allowing us to prioritize dollars for core services like police and fire.
This is a compromise, which means both sides had to give a little. But I am grateful for the support and input of the OPC, Memphis Zoo, and Overton Park Alliance, whose input helped shape the solution you’re seeing today.”
McGowen said, too, that city officials are now at work with the OPC on a master plan for the park. Part of that plan will be to review how best to use 13 new acres of parkland that will soon open on the park’s southeast corner once the city’s general services division is relocated.
“That’s 13 acres of light industrial that will be converted back to parkland,” McGowen said. “We’re looking at the park as a whole. We understand (the Greensward) is important but the new 13 acres are, too.”
The city has $3 million — paid equally by the zoo and OPC — to build the new lot. McGowen said he won’t have a real, final tally on the cost until the project is put out for bids, which is expected in the coming weeks.
The new timeline, which is still a rough one, McGowen said, pushes the project's completion to mid-2020. Designers said earlier this year the project would likely be complete by 2019.
OPC's Sullivan said the updated timeline "doesn't make much difference when you look at 30 years of Greensward parking."
Here are the rest of the documents about the plan released by city hall Wednesday:
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