MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Nearly 20,000 people are expected to visit the Memphis Zoo this weekend.
Mayor A C Wharton said today, the last thing he wants is a war over green space in Overton Park and a lack of parking at the zoo to keep people away.
Recently protestors talked Wharton into stopping a 23 year allowance of letting the zoo park overflow vehicles on an area of grass that is part of the park, “Parks are a place of tranquility and this is the last thing we need. I’m speaking to both sides.”
Protestors have blocked the grassy area in previous weeks, but could now be arrested.
Friday, city leaders sat down with zoo officials and members of the Overton Park Conservancy to find a temporary solution.
The city wants to try shuttles on weekends.
The shuttles will run from the Overton Square garage to the zoo.
That will mean no parking on the grassy area during the trial weekends.
An exemption will be made this weekend only, and on Tuesday’s when the zoo is free.
“We want to get all parking off the greensward by the end of the year. However, Memorial Day is the single biggest weekend for our zoo guests. Given we have one of the top five zoos in the country, we wanted to make sure that we accommodate those quests,” said Memphis CEO George Little.
Extra people may also show up to see a newly born giraffe.
Over the weekend, there will be two shuttles at the Overton Square garage taking about 150 people to the zoo per hour.
The shuttles will run for the next five weeks and are being paid for by the Overton Park Conservancy starting at 10 a.m.
Typically, 600 cars are parked on the grassy area which would mean it could take four hours to shuttle all the guests to the zoo.
The cost to park at the garage is $5, the same as zoo parking, though zoo members get free parking on zoo grounds.
The shuttles, however, are not handicapped accessible and the city admits, they may be inconvenient for parents with strollers.
City officials are asking zoo goers to give the shuttles a try.
The city will allow zoo visitors to park in a nearby maintenance lot on weekends, and is considering street parking along north parkway.
The city has suggested the zoo build a parking garage.
Zoo officials, however, estimate that cost as high as $12 million.
“This is not just the zoo. We have to do what we have to do to make our city great and the zoo and park are part of it, and the city is working on it,” said Memphis Zoo President and CEO Dr. Chuck Brady.