Zoo Says Parking Controversy Could Affect 80,000 Visitors

(Memphis) Tuesday, the Memphis Zoo came out swinging, including at Mayor A C Wharton, over the controversy about where cars are parked on busy days.

In an afternoon statement, the zoo apologized if anyone felt its news release was a personal attack on the mayor and that it was not meant to be perceived in that manner.

Mayor Wharton responded saying he did take it personally but was glad the zoo issued an apology.

Meanwhile, the parking issue still is not solved.

While visitors can still enter the zoo, officials said with nowhere to park, it could lose 80,000 customers and $1 million in revenue each year.

For more than 20 years, the City of Memphis has allowed the zoo to use a grassy area of Overton Park for overflow parking when necessary.

Recently, a group of protestors filed complaints with Memphis Police and Mayor A C Wharton, saying the area is supposed to be used by people not cars.

Last weekend, Mayor Wharton gave the zoo up until the end of the year to stop using the grassy area for parking.

That decision led to this statement from the zoo today, “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.”

Zoo officials said they will have to turn away people from their Zoo’s Free Tuesday events, 98% of whom are inner city residents according to the zoo.

Citizens to Preserve Overton Park has been encouraging people to bring, ‘picnic blankets, frisbees, kites, soccer balls, hula hoops, etc., and help demonstrate the right way to use our park.”

A zoo news release said anywhere from 3-15 people have been blocking the overflow parking area, even when there is plenty of other space to be used.

Three suggestions for temporary and permanent parking solutions, offered by Wharton, were developed without any input from the zoo according to a news release.

The zoo said it cannot build a parking garage, because it does not have the money. The other proposals wouldn’t work due to distance and lack of space.

Zoo President Chuck Brady released the following 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.”

Wharton was not available to speak to WREG but Chief Administrative Officer George Little said nothing is set in stone, and the city will sit down with the zoo and stakeholders to come up with the best solution.

Little said he understood the zoo is an asset to the city, and the city plans on reaching a solution that continues to allow the zoo to thrive.

The Overton Park Conservancy is offering a free shuttle service from the Overton Square Parking garage to the zoo and Overton Park for a five-weekend trial period, beginning Saturday, May 24 and ending June 22.

The first pick-up will be at 10 a.m. at the corner of Monroe and Florence (the entrance to the parking garage). It will go to the park and stop at the zoo entrance, the Brooks Museum, and the golf clubhouse.

Shuttles will run every 10 to 15 minutes. Final pick-up in Overton Park will be at about 5:15 p.m.Parking at the garage is free until 6 p.m. daily.

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