Memphis Zoo Responds to City’s Proposals for Parking Alternative - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Memphis Zoo Responds to City’s Proposals for Parking Alternatives; Zoo Offers Alternative to Best Serve Its Visitors

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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Visitors to the Zoo will soon experience great difficulty in accessing the Zoo on busy days. This difficulty is the result of Overton Park Conservancy’s and the City of Memphis’ faulty options for parking Zoo visitors. The City is cutting the Zoo’s parking capacity by 33% which will lead to 80,000 people, mostly City residents, being turned away from Overton Park each year.

If the Mayor’s proposal stands, it will lead to the demise of the Zoo as we know it today.

A small group of protestors recently blocked access to Zoo parking for the last several Saturdays and Sundays at Overton Park. The group numbered 15 activists at the most and as few as three. The group’s mission is to force the Zoo off the greensward by the end of 2014. This parking agreement between the City and the Zoo has been in effect for 23 years.

Due to Mayor A.C. Wharton’s decision to join with the protestors’ mission, thousands of visitors have already been turned away from the Zoo and excluded from Overton Park, a trend that will worsen with time.

 

The Zoo is one of the very few entertainment and educational facilities in Memphis which is both available and attractive to all Memphians from all areas of the community, as well as out-of-town guests. The Zoo has a 70-million-dollar impact on the City’s economy on an annual basis.  The effect of the Mayor’s suggestions is to restrict access to the Zoo to a much smaller and more exclusive group of people while excluding the majority of citizens.

Based on the data and historical use of greensward parking, a large number of those visitors will be turned away during the Zoo’s “Free Tennessee Tuesday” program. This program allows Tennessee residents to enjoy the Zoo free on Tuesday afternoons, a program that has allowed many citizens to visit the Zoo who might otherwise not have the means to do so. Approximately 98% of the Zoo’s Free Tuesday visitors are inner city residents. Of the large number of school groups and parents who will be affected by this in the spring, 64% are from City schools and Head Start programs.

The City’s Proposal

After a brief assessment by the City, the Mayor has determined what he considers to be three alternatives to parking on the greensward. The Zoo never received any communication from the Mayor’s office prior to his releasing this information. The first is a short-term, experimental shuttle service to the Overton Square Garage. The second is a temporary parking area off East Parkway where visitors would be required to walk through Overton Park forest to enter the Zoo near Teton Trek. The Mayor’s third suggestion is a 400-space parking garage on Zoo property at a cost of $5 million. The City has made it very clear it will provide no funding for any of these alternatives, despite the Zoo’s contract with the City which cites it will provide the Zoo with the support and land needed for parking.

Below is the Zoo’s response to each of these alternatives:

1) The Overton Park Conservancy proposes two shuttles to provide round trip rides for the 2000 displaced Zoo visitors each day. At 20 passengers per shuttle, they can move 120 people per hour. Assuming the best case scenario, it would take almost 17 hours to bring that many people to the Zoo. The Zoo has no choice but to remove its sponsorship of the Overton Square Shuttle Service due to the misleading claims by the Overton Park Conservancy regarding the feasibility and capacity of the shuttle service,

“We cannot support something that is going to be such a disservice to our guests,” said Memphis Zoo President Chuck Brady. “The Conservancy claims the service will provide access to the Zoo to the 2,000 guests who currently use the Zoo’s overflow parking on busy days, and that just isn’t true. Guests would be frustrated at having to park so far away and being forced to wait hours for small shuttles that could not accommodate the volume of people it would need to service.”

2) The distance from the East Parkway compound to the Zoo through the Forest is 1.2 miles round trip. The City is asking that children, elderly or disabled, Zoo members and out-of-town guests walk this distance to the Zoo.

3) A 400-space garage would not be remotely sufficient for the number of guests who would need to use the Zoo on busy days. At an absolute minimum, the garage would need to be 600 spaces. The Mayor did not consider the need to move the Zoo’s maintenance facilities in order to make room for the garage. All of this makes the cost a minimum of $12 million. The Mayor’s proposal cuts the number of available parking spaces for Zoo visitors by one third.

“These proposed changes will make it extremely difficult for citizens of Memphis and tourists to visit our City’s premier attraction,” said Brady. “These are not viable alternatives. We are restricting park access for tens of thousands of citizens because of the complaints of a few. A second entrance and mandatory 1.2 mile walk for the majority of Zoo visitors so a few can enjoy the greensward is taking Overton Park back to the 1950’s.”

If the Mayor and Overton Park Conservancy’s goal is to keep 80,000 citizens out of the park, they should be honest and state, that rather than mislead the public with false solutions.

The Memphis Zoo’s Proposal

The following proposal is the only option for the current number of visitors to continue coming to the Zoo.

Due to the demand that the Zoo no longer park guests on the greensward, the Zoo is proposing the use of the southern part of the City maintenance area off East Parkway, as mentioned by the Mayor, but that will work only if the City allows trams on the existing paved roadways in or near the Forest for the purpose of transporting visitors to the Zoo. State regulations do not prohibit such activity and it would give the citizens from all around the city the chance to enjoy the park land their taxes support. Two high-capacity trams would be purchased, operated and maintained by the Zoo and could service the entire Overton Park area.

If the Zoo were also given the northern part of the East Parkway facility, then the Zoo could vacate and demolish its current maintenance compound off North Parkway, creating an additional parking lot for more than 200 cars on the east end of the Zoo immediately. This surface-area parking could lay the groundwork for a garage in the future. The Mayor seems to have chosen to give away that part of the East Parkway compound to a new photography museum, instead of accommodating visitors to the City’s existing number one attraction.

With the City’s approval of the proposed parking and tram service from East Parkway, the Zoo could comply with the demands of this small group of protestors to be off the greensward by the end of 2014, but not sooner. It would take at least that long to build the additional entrance, hire and train staff and prepare the East Parkway area for parking. 

What This Means for Visitors

As it currently stands, the City is depriving 80,000 visitors and citizens the ability to visit one of the country’s premier Zoos. Those 80,000 visitors who typically use the greensward will be turned away. Based on the alternatives presented, we have no choice but to assume that the Mayor and the Overton Park Conservancy do not wish to see visitors from outside the surrounding neighborhood have access to Overton Park which should not be the purpose of this community park.

“The limitations being placed on parking will be a constant deterrent to everyone other than its surrounding neighbors. The City isn’t solving the problem. It’s avoiding it.” Brady said.

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