It’s the beginning of the end for parking on the Overton Park Greensward.
Construction is slated to begin Monday on a project that will reconfigure the Memphis Zoo parking lot, adding an additional 415 parking spaces. Those spaces are expected to end the decades-long practice of parking cars on the Greensward, the grassy field adjacent to the zoo’s parking lot.
The first phase of the project will focus on the Prentiss Place parking lot, on the northwest side of the zoo. Work there will take about three months, and during that time, the lot will be completely closed. Once complete, the new Prentiss Place lot will have gained 108 parking spaces.
Prentiss Place is expected to stay open as a two-way street for most of those three months, though some closures are expected to complete pedestrian crossings and on-street parking.
Construction crews will then begin work on the main zoo lot, just south of the zoo entrance. That work is slated to start this fall and winter, an optimum time to transplant many trees, which officials have said is necessary to the project.
During it all, the zoo’s North Parkway entrance will be staffed and open on busy days when overflow parking is expected. This will give access to the zoo from the nearly 200 on-street parking spots on North Parkway.
“By executing on this project, we’ll fulfill [Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s] promise to put 30-plus years of controversy behind us by permanently ending parking on the Greensward, as well as accommodating the growth of one of the nation’s top zoos,” Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We will surely have some growing pains as we work through the construction, but we’re committed to strong communication to make sure park visitors, zoo patrons, and neighborhood residents know what to expect.”
New zoo president and CEO Jim Dean said he was “very happy” to have the “strong” support of the Overton Park Conservancy, Overton Park Alliance, and the city of Memphis.
“The Memphis Zoo has been a part of Overton Park since 1906,” Dean said. “We have grown quite a bit since then and have faced some challenges.
The hotly contested battle for the Greensward
“We’re happy this resolution will, once complete, end parking on the Greensward. We are also excited about strengthening and growing our partnership with the Overton Park Conservancy and the Overton Park Alliance to continue to make Overton Park one of the best parks in the country.”
Tina Sullivan, executive director of the Overton Park Conservancy, said community support made the project possible and “is a testament to Memphis’ love for Overton Park.”
“We look forward to the day very soon when park visitors can look from the Doughboy statue to Rainbow Lake across a beautiful Greensward that is free of cars,” Sullivan said.