New Memphis Zoo CEO hopes to re-establish Zoo as No. 1 in U.S.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — New Memphis Zoo President and CEO Jim Dean was introduced to the Memphis City Council on Tuesday, and he outlined some of his lofty goals and expectations.

Dean said the Memphis Zoo was ranked as the No. 8 best zoo in the United States this year after being No. 1 about a decade ago. He wants to get Memphis back to the top of that list.

“We’ve got one of the best collections of animals, any zoo in the world would be proud to have the collection animals that we have,” Dean said. “We won’t be the biggest zoo in the country, but we will be the best zoo, I guarantee it.”

Dean is a graduate of the University of Memphis and a native Memphian. He worked with Anheuser-Busch before transitioning to tourism with Busch Gardens, Seaworld Orlando and Visit St. Pete Clearwater.

He said his extensive tourism background helps him with this new position.

“Memphis is a tourist attraction, clearly,” Dean said. “It’s an international tourist attraction, and so the zoo is going to be a big part of that.”

The Memphis Zoo recently completed a Master Plan that was started in the 1980s, which included Teton Trek, Cat Country and many other renovated exhibits. Now, Dean wants to improve the rest of the zoo to “finish the job.”

He presented a new plan to City Council that outlines some of the areas he wants to improve. He said these are the areas neglected by the first mater plan, so now the entire zoo can be updated and offer a better experience to zoo visitors.

Dean said he is aware of the past issues of parking between the zoo and Overton Park. He said he has a great relationship with the Overton Park Conservancy board, and the project to expand parking will start in the middle of July and should be completed early 2020.

“We’re excites about getting that behind us,” Dean said. “It’s a compromise on everyone’s part.”

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