Funding issues signal possible end for zoo parking compromise

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- "It's on the skids." That's how Memphis Zoo President Chuck Brady described plans for a funding compromise to increase parking at the popular Midtown facility.

The Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy agreed in July to split the cost of the project: $250,000 each for a design plan and $1.5 million each for construction.

Tuesday the zoo announced it had raised the full amount of funds, but Conservancy officials said they only raised a small part.

“We do have some funds in reserve. We have enough to cover the $250,000 today,” said Tina Sullivan, executive director of the Overton Park Conservancy.

Sullivan said they needed the designs to get commitments from donors in time to raise $1.5 million by construction in October.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I think we'll be successful in raising the funds we need to raise,” Sullivan said.

But zoo officials feared their partners would come up short. They didn't want to waste even a fraction of time or money on plans that could fall through.

"The OPC has told us they’re not going to fund it. It’s not anything we heard. It's not hearsay," the zoo's Robert Spence said. “The zoo is ready to do it even without OPC, but it’s got to be a smaller plan, a more affordable plan. We’ll do it ourselves if we have to."

The full city council is set to vote on the measure at its next meeting on April 11.