Zoo Says Parking Controversy Could Affect 80,000 Visitors

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

(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.


  • Arguenot

    Once again, a few loud voices are listened to, denying the rights of thousands to enjoy the most popular City attraction, as has been done for 20 YEARS.

    People who moved into this area of Memphis knew exactly what the parking situation was, and now, based on privilege, decide that all the rest can suffer.

    This incredible Zoo is probably the only thing that has kept the Overton Park area from becoming blighted and a haven for criminals as has happened to so much of Memphis.

    Another short sighted and ignorant decision by the Wharton regime.

    • Margette

      If the Zoo has such an increase in visitors and collect money from those patrons, they can certainly spend money on building sufficient parking. People talk about denying people access to a “beautiful park.” Well, its not beautiful to go visit Veterans Plaza and stare out at a sea of cars on the grass. It is DISGUSTING. The citizens who actually LIVE and use the park on a daily basis are tired of it. There is an entire golf course, an empty lot on Vollintine, and a parking garage barely being used on Overton Square. Not parking on the grass will not affect 80,000 people. That is ridiculous. The solution is for the ZOO to solve it’s parking problem and stop encroaching on our public park. It is a park – not a parking lot.

      • ncrdbl1

        There is a lot of areas in the park that is NOT being used which the small handful of yuppies can use for their small gatherings. One of the major tourist attractions in the city is having to turn away patron so a small bunch of yuppies want to have a specific area of the park. Every generation has them. My generation made it so 90% of the park is no longer accessible to the people by closing all the roads in the park. Wake up Willie Jr, you are sacrificing major tourism dollars to pacify a small group of whiners.

    • Jack

      “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 has to be the ideal answer. The North Parkway area is the best and closest. I don’t want to take a travel trip to the zoo once I leave my car. Also, the Zoo is not an enterprise fund. It receives funding from the City in the area of 2.53 million for the current fiscal year. And with that long knife that the administration is using to make cuts in employee benefits and City services there is no question that we need the parking revenues. No question that parking revenues comes first. Unless the protesters will consent to a fee added to their utility bill to make up the difference. Hey, knock down a few trees east of that pool and create more people space. But revenues comes first.

  • whoyoukiddin

    Ya’ll continue to elect these officials so quit blaming the people. Elect someone to office who has a vision for this city instead of the idiots who have no clue what to do other than run it further into the ground.

  • Low Profile

    I used to be proud to call Memphis home (a looong time ago). Now, it’s just run by idiots who can successfully manage nothing beyond increasing property taxes to support even more stupid ideas while continuing to fix the mess.

    Our zoo is among the best (if not the best) in the entire country. We should be expanding access, not denying it. Does anyone else hear the hee-hawing coming out of our administrators’ mouths.

    I had intended to take my mother to the zoo this weekend. However, at 72, she can’t walk that far. Guess we’ll be doing something else instead. Pity.

    • Margette

      Will your 72 year-old grandmother/mother be provided a walker or stroller while walking the miles in the Zoo? CPOP has offered shuttle services to those. Why don’t you bring her to the greensward and have a picnic instead.

      • Low Profile

        Geez, what smart*** animosity. Not surprising from a Memphian… anymore. Your deep compassion and sympathy toward others is truly astounding. (Yes, that is sarcasm.) I’ll leave that picnic in that particular park to you and yours. Maybe, one of you will inadvertently get poked by one of those used syringes. Good luck.

  • michael graber

    The Park is a vital place, not owned and operated by the Zoo, yet the Zoo treats the park as its servant. Chuck Brady has been dismissive of suggestions made the the community and the city and shows a tragic, myopic type of leadership. Certainly, with this issue, there are alternatives to explore in a collaborative spirit; however, the Zoo has proven unwilling to do anything but make demands. They sent out a survey to its members–and members could only vote one way–with the Zoo leadership. This is not how a membership-based organization should conduct business.

    • Low Profile

      This zoo is a national and, indeed, international attraction, helping to put this city on the map. Overton Park is not. In fact, the last time I passed any time in Overton Park, I kept having to avoid used prophylactics and syringes scattered on the ground. Thus, it WAS the last time I spent any time there. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to do so. You don’t find that sort of thing beyond the zoo’s gates.

      And “collaborative spirit”? With City of Memphis officials of any kind? Get real. They have selective hearing and only know how to run roughshod over everything in favor of their egos and their pockets. I wouldn’t be surprised if they hound this subject until the zoo relocates… to another city… just like so many other interests. Then, watch what happens to the surrounding neighborhood, not to mention the dent in tourism that results.

      • Margette

        That’s ridiculous. There is no trash in the park, and if there is, it is from the strangers to OUR neighborhood who visit the Zoo and don’t care where they are stepping.

      • ncrdbl1

        I used to love to go to the park as a little kid, in my youth and as a young adult. We would pull our cars into the area now being discussed when it was a PARKING LOT and watch the submarine races. Years before that used to play in the small area with the slides and swing-set and spring riders. As years went by the parking lots were removed and filled in for more grass lands. Still used the park as the golf course used to be a free course. No matter what day i played or at what time i played i never saw a major crowd using the grass lands. Every once in a while you may see a game of football played north of the golf course but not that often. Had to quit playing there as you would have to watch out for druggies begging for money as you were teeing off on two. More than one person has been robed walking the path from the second green to the third tee. There is a reason why the city closed the park after nightfall.

      • Margette

        Hey, do you mind if I come park on your front lawn this weekend? Or how about I park on it everyday…until it dies.

      • Arguenot


        “OUR neighborhood” Right there. Obviously one of those entitled snobs who has now decided, that even though the Zoo has used that area for over 20 YEARS, it should now be the rights and desires of the neighbors to overwhelm all else.
        You made it clear you feel this park belongs soley to the neighborhood, who no longer cares to see cars parked here, as has been done for over 20 YEARS.

        FYI This park is NOT your “front lawn” But you know, the way Memphis parks tend to go, with the thugs who invariably take over…. I almost hope you win this battle. Then you will be crying a whole different tune.

        Oh, and while you are whining, how about collecting up the used condoms and needles that are scattered throughout the property already? Unless you are going to blame that on the Zoo too? Maybe the lions escaped and decided to party.

      • Low Profile

        langor1: Never mind Margette. She seems to have some anger issues and an obvious lack of respect or consideration for others (including the beautiful animals in our renowned zoo, and apparently, venting in a personal manner without provocation towards strangers online feels safe to her. I’m sure, deep down, she knows she would likely lose teeth if she behaved this way in person.

    • ncrdbl1

      You do realize that the same people who own the zoo owns that grass area. The Zoo is still actually owned by the City of Memphis but ran by a non profit organization. Most of that areas you are complaining about USED TO BE PARKING LOT..We used to drive to the parking lot and watch the submarine races at night. Am sick of people moving into the area and making claims not actually knowing the history of the area. That part of midtown has always been filled with selfish it is all about my wants type people for over 50 years that i know of. The latest generation is no different.

  • E Kerr

    It should be noted that the Mayor has not, as the letter from the Zoo states, chosen to “give away” land to the Eggleston Museum. The museum would lease the land and pay for the clean-up of the area. The zoo officials clearly have as little regard for the truth as they do for Overton Park.

  • Janet Nicholson Zimmerman

    This news report is badly slanted. I am a fan of our Zoo and Overton Park. Over the last 20 years, since the zoo began using the greensward for overflow parking on “busy” days, the zoo has added multiple attractions – pandas, polar bears, Teton Trek, and added greatly to the number of visitors without making ANY preparations for additional parking. A parking garage has long been needed & requested by park supporters. The green space in our city park is the only place midtown Memphians have to play frisbee, fly kites, etc. The zoo parking keeps us from having the soccer and rugby games we had regularly just a few short years ago. And the zoo gets the parking fees! Of course they don’t want to spend anything. The citizens of Memphis who use Overton Park for FREE recreation are being represented by these few protesters, but there are many more of us who have worked for a long time to try to get the zoo to rectify this situation. They have turned deaf ears.
    Thank you to the protesters for making our voices heard, apparently for the FIRST time!

    • ncrdbl1

      As some who spent the vast majority of my youth in midtown let me say this. You are completely full of it. There are at least five other parks in midtown where you can play frisbee or fly kites. Actually 6 if you add Binghampton just down the street from Overton Park which technically is not considered midtown.

  • stacey greenberg

    The fact that the Zoo is withdrawing support from the shuttle idea BEFORE it even starts speaks volumes. As does their idea to open the closed roads enjoyed by many for shuttles.There is more to Overton Park than the Memphis Zoo and the Greensward, that grassy area you refer to, was designed to be used by people, not cars. The Zoo has had 23 years to solve their parking issue. Time’s up.

    • Low Profile

      Maybe, the zoo is aware, as are most Memphians, that leaving your car at a distance means you’ll probably come back to discover a busted window and your belongings either gone, vandalized or both. Remote parking is a fool’s folly in this town. Too many little thugs raised in barns.

  • Bailey Leopard

    Since my kids are all 10+ years old, we sure don’t need a family zoo membership so much anymore, but we typically renew ours anyway to support the zoo. There’s no doubt it’s a jewel in the City’s and Midtown’s crown. However, Mr. Brady, you want to bully the City, my ‘hood and my friends on this longstanding, ignored issue? No problem. I can put that $$$ to a higher and better use. OPC and CPOP-GOOT come to mind … knucklehead!

  • Rachel

    Geez, Memphis. Support the zoo and support the park! We’ll get it figured out. What’s with painting the iconic zoo who’s helped Overton park and the neighborhood so much with negativity. It’s a problem – it’ll get fixed. Go sit in he sunshine and be thankful for how much good has been brought to our city by these two beautiful and historic attractions.

  • Courtney Miller Santo

    Overton Park does not belong to the zoo. There are more than a few people in Memphis in opposition to the zoo’s illegal use of the greensward. The entire effort has been one of cooperation and attention, and yet the zoo’s response is one of exaggeration and misinformation.

  • Arguenot

    The Zoo has been using this parking area for over 20 years. Now, between 3 and 15 people are staging themselves in this area, so hundreds a people a day (if not more) will be denied access to the Zoo.
    Obviously scores of people are standing at the ready with their frisbees and kites … smh

    Overton Park is a huge area, and I see plenty of open space here that is rarely being used. Never seen a rugby game here, but hey, I wasn’t looking for them.
    A few hundred people, at best, vs tens of thousands. Way to get your priorities straight. People living in Overton Park (who moved their knowing the situation) seem to think their “right’s” and desires are more important than those of 80,000 people.

    The Zoo: Another jewel blighted by the selfishness, ignorance, greed and insanity that is Memphis.

    • Margette

      You never see those games anymore because Zoo officials have taken the space for parking. You obviously don’t live near, or frequent the park. You must be one of those who want to trash our park to visit some caged animals.

      • Arguenot

        “live near” “trash OUR park”
        Anyone against the Zoo who is not a selfish Overton Park resident?
        No, I do not live near there, but am in the area approximately 4 times a week.
        And while the park does not belong to the Zoo (which has used that space for over 20 years) neither does it belong to the residents of the Overton Park area.

        So, you have 3 to 15 people blocking many trying to visit the Zoo…great… Where are your kites and rugby games now?

        Oh, that is right…you just want to know you can have your rugby games (as if) any time the mood might strike you? At the expense of tens of THOUSANDS of people

        You should never have moved there in the first place if the City’s finest gem was such a burden to this area.

      • John

        I’ll be sure to park on the grass next time I’m at the zoo. The Zoo does a lot for the city, what do you people do?

      • Low Profile

        Yo, Margette. Whatever you do, don’t move downtown. Within a month, you would be crusading to end MusicFest and the barbecue cooking contest, spouting venom left and right… online, that is. Maybe you should move… out of Memphis. You’ve no sense of community, only one of ownership and superiority. That zoo is the only thing that’s managed to keep Overton Park as mice as it is, which isn’t saying much. Frankly, if it weren’t for all of the good people (those so unlike your self-righteous self) that live in this city and appreciate the few treasures it plays host to, I would like to see the city mow the whole thing down and put in public housing, just to make you squirm. -teehee

  • Low Profile

    Parking at Overton Park is not merely a challenge for the zoo. It’s also a challenge for the Brooks Museum of Art and the park itself. As such, the issue boils down to yet another oversight on the City’s part in planning and maintaining its parks system, all the way around. Why should the zoo incur 100% of the expense for a garage that will be needed and certainly used by commuters who will not be entering their gates at all? Case and point, it shouldn’t. Once again, the City is trying to bully its own way into the pocketbook of another, only they’re not passing the buck but, instead, just rather blatantly holding their collective hand out… as usual.

    • Richard Billings

      You are so right! Back in 1906 the city did a really bad job of planning for the deluge of SUV’s and Minivans that would inundate the roadways. But, the Zoo did a great job of planning for new parking with the new exhibits they opened. Your logic is infallible! Thanks!

      • Low Profile

        As yours is flawed. The zoo is only the zoo, controlling only the X amount of space allotted it within the park. The city controls the park itself. And it was the city that removed the parking that had been there in the first place, right on that grassy bit that’s all the fuss now. This’s parks commission territory, not the zoo’s responsibility. The zoo did its part, made a great zoo. The city failed to pay attention and keep pace, big surprise. Hope that clears it up for you.

  • Victoria Van Cleef

    Shame on the zoo for being a bad citizen and community member. Half the time that lot near Mclean has been empty and the zoo had people parked on the grass. There are workable solutions and the zoo isn’t even willing to communicate or try. Shame on the director. I’m in a family of four and I am seriously rethinking whether I want to re up our membership because of this behavior.

    • Arguenot

      A “bad citizen”? A world class zoo in the middle of the mess that Memphis has become. The top drawing attraction in Memphis, doing business as it has for over 20 years!

      Brady has proposed what seems to be a very logical plan to alleviate parking on the Green in the last part of this article. But apparently if the local residents do not get their way, any other solution is determined “bad behaviour” smh

      You people should all go to youtube and search fights in memphis parks…. you may see that there are things a lot worse than some cars blocking your precious view.

  • KittyCat

    The zoo does not want a solution to this unless they are going to make money. If people are parking at Overton Square for free and riding a free shuttle, where is the money that the zoo would get by charging people to park on the greensward? I love our zoo – its a beautiful attraction – but someone called the “leadership” at the zoo a bully and I have to agree. Its ridiculous that a reasonable solution is being proposed and funded by someone other than the zoo and they have the stones to go to the media and try to get sympathy for their greedy cause.

  • jeff

    I drove up on one of the poor bloakes sitting in the driveway to keep people from trying to park in the grass… I found out, they WILL move when you bump them with the car

    • Kirsty Maclean

      Jeff, i do not know this species of “bloake” you are referring to, please enlighten

  • Kirsty Maclean

    The zoo and other Overton park naysayers in this forum need to realize that demand has increased both in visitors to the zoo over the last 20 years as well as those frequenting the park…I am a midtown resident and spend alot of time in wonderful Overton park, we encourage our kids to play outside with friends, enjoy sports and music (or maybe you’d prefer your kids at home in front of tv screens…bear in mind not everyone can afford a weekend at the zoo). At the moment i’m on business in London…can you imagine cars parked in all these wonderful historic parks (Hyde park, Reagents park etc)…and believe me demand was great during the olympics but extra buses and other solutions were provided…the unwillingness of the zoo to even come close to some of the solutions offered demonstrates lack of vision, future demand and planning…perhaps a quick read of the benefits of what urban open spaces can offer to a city may help, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_open_space

  • GregR

    Interesting the zoo pulled its support before the pilot program could begin. Pilots can be tweaked if not performing well and pulled if unsuccessful and then a move to an alternate plan. Lets work together to find a plan that builds a strong park and a strong zoo. Neither has to encroach on the other. Perhaps a new zoo CEO who has the ability to solve problems instead of alienate citizens is in order.

  • ncrdbl1


    Please tell me you did not just say there is no trash in the park. You lost all credibility when you try to make that claim.

    The museums, the zoo and the golf course actually pay dividends financially to the city. How much does your group pay to help cover the cost of the park?

  • Roy Tamboli

    Make the zoo a valet parking system and include the cost in admission. This would provide more entry level jobs for young people and free the park of cars.

  • Low Profile

    And, oh yeah, if it wasn’t for that pesky zoo, do realize that there would now be Sam Cooper expressway running through your precious uppity neighborhood and no park at all. How quickly they forget.

  • ChrisWilliamsJrShavesHisLegsAndWearsPantyhosee

    Wharton is an empty suit, and he displays his lack of a backbone once again.

  • Low Profile

    Proposal of new counter-protest group: CITIZENS FOR I-40 TO OLD MAN RIVER.
    With no park there at all, the problem just goes away, and everybody can shut up. The zoo can move to another city, and Memphians can twiddle there thumbs in the wake of their whining and b****ing. It would be deserved when nothing is appreciated and logic abandoned for love of battle.

Comments are closed.