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OPC's Tina Sullivan Discusses the Zoo Parking Controversy

Overton Park Conservancy's executive director on the challenges facing the park.

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Overton Park held the city spotlight again this week as the battle for the Greensward hit Memphis City Hall, a battle that could get national exposure as the park will soon be featured on a new, national PBS series called 10 Parks that Changed America.

In January, Mayor Jim Strickland requested the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) and the Memphis Zoo enter into a mediation process to resolve the dispute about the zoo using the grassy area for overflow parking. Council members were to be updated Tuesday on the mediation process and to consider a resolution to give control of most of the Greensward to the zoo. That vote was scheduled after press time.

The Greensward parking issue boiled over in January as the zoo removed some trees in the area to make way for easier access to parking ahead of this spring's opening of the zoo's new Zambezi River Hippo Camp exhibit. That action sparked protests from citizens and a lawsuit from the zoo to establish its right to control the Greensward. OPC answered that suit with its own claim for Greensward rights.

Meanwhile, OPC conducted a traffic and parking study of the park, and its consultants issued options, ranging from new bike lanes to a new smartphone app, to alleviate pressure.

Expect the park to get more attention — with or without the continuing imbroglio — after it appears on 10 Parks that Changed America, scheduled to debut on WKNO on Tuesday, April 12th. We sat down with OPC executive director Tina Sullivan to discuss it all. — Toby Sells

Tina Sullivan
  • Tina Sullivan

Flyer: What are your thoughts on Overton Park's current controversy?

Tina Sullivan: This is an issue that's been in the background for a while now, and what we really have here is an opportunity to get it right. If the park institutions and the community can unite around implementing some of the solutions identified through the planning process, we will be on our way to creating a great user experience for all our guests.

What solutions do you like?

We can easily do a much better job of coordinating communications among all of the park institutions, so that we're pushing the same messages out about peak events. ... We were very hopeful when we were discussing with the city parks division last summer about reconfiguring the zoo's existing lot. ... And, of course, improving park entrances and park roads for people on foot, on bicycles, or in wheelchairs will greatly enhance the visitor experience.

OPC recently filed information to the Shelby County Chancery Court that counters the zoo's claim that it, not OPC, controls the Greensward. Do you think the new legal information will help your case?

We're very confident that our management agreement is unambiguous, and the documents we've provided make our case clearly.

What makes the park significant enough to be included in the new PBS film?

The park's prime location has made it a target for development through its entire history. It has been protected only through people standing up and asserting that green space, whether that be the Old Forest or the Greensward, has value to the community.

The national spotlight will soon be on Overton Park again. What story does our city want to tell? Do we want to invest in our treasured public assets? Or do we want to let them slide further into decline by implementing poorly planned, make-do solutions?

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