Flyer: Why did you get involved with this as the point man?
Ron Terry: Over three years ago, I was invited to talk at a Friends of Shelby Farms meeting and was told the last keynote speaker was the late Lucius Burch, a personal friend as well as a friend and protector of Shelby Farms. I guess it was the fact that Lucius had been the last speaker that inspired me to say yes. But I didn't find out until two weeks before the meeting that it was a meeting to oppose a road that involved a big interchange on the western side of the park. So I studied the plan, and in my talk, I called it dumb. And that led to a two-year dialogue I had with Mayor Rout ... And about a year ago, he proposed a new concept, and everyone agreed that, subject to design constraints, this one had a possibility of working.
With the road fight behind us, I suggested to the mayor we take another step and see what could be done to develop the open space further. He told me to dream a little bit and come back. I wrote a vision statement, circulated it to several dozen people whose opinion I respected, and showed him a final copy. Then we formed a partnership to put in the hands of a conservancy.
What have you learned about how things get done in Memphis?
Big things involve public-private partnerships. And there is a requirement in all of them that government and nongovernment funds and ideas be combined. It worked with the old Superfund, it worked with AutoZone Park and the Riverfront Development Corporation, and I think it will work at Shelby Farms.
Do you feel like government just can't get the job done within its existing structure and with the appointed boards we already have?
I don't fault the appointed boards. It is just that there wasn't sufficient private money being put into the partnerships. It's quite a bit different sitting on a board deciding how to spend taxpayer money and sitting on a board trying to create the synergy of both private and public sectors.
You said you contacted more than 40 potential donors and only seven responded yes. What were some of the things that concerned the others?
The amount of money I was asking for. A lot of these people are going to be willing to consider projects that come out of the master plan. I was asking for big money.
What do you hope to see happen to Shelby Farms in your lifetime?
The beginning of a 20- to 30-year program to make it suitable to become the major park in our community, which it is going to be anyway. I would refer to the vision statement.
The plan would lock the park up from commercial development. Beyond that, what is its positive thrust?
If we can succeed in making the park a major contributor to community health, which frankly is foremost in my mind, then we can build programs to accomplish that in cooperation with members of the health community. I think recreation will be a byproduct of it. I think the park is going to be a great benefit to this community over the next 20 to 30 years. And it would not have happened if Jim Rout had not substantially assisted in making it happen.
Is there a model for this anywhere in America?
No, not to my knowledge. And neither is there a model for a major urban park being eventually supported with operating funds from the private sector.
What's the matter with some intelligent commercial development in 4,000 acres that are already surrounded by commercial development?
We already have some commercial development in the park. And it uses some substantial acreage. There are leases to a major building on some of the land. And you have the headquarters of Ducks Unlimited, one of the country's major conservation operations. And most of that is going to be retained. It is all a matter of degree when you talk about commercial development. The park is generating over $2 million in annual revenue now. We intend to enhance this in the future but never at the expense of charging admission into the park. There are a few activities using portions of the park during the year for which admission is charged, but visitors should never be greeted with a toll booth.
Why build a new road when you have one now that is expandable or can be made to look more attractive like Humphreys Boulevard?
It doesn't serve the transportation needs of the community. It only runs east and west. The new concept takes care of major roads running north and south.
Some people like passive parks. Others like sports involving gasoline or firearms. Why isn't there room for everyone in a park this big?
My opinion is that it's just too hard to mix noise with a goal of quiet enjoyment.
Does the plan make a value judgment that cars are bad?
Absolutely not. In fact, I am confident that the master plan will involve getting people in cars to parking areas designed for whatever uses the master plan calls for. But what Shelby Farms planner Garrett Eckbo said 25 years ago still stands, I believe. We need a park that is uninterrupted by vehicular traffic going across it.
The vision statement talks about marketing the park. Can you explain?
First we have to brand it as a place where more people are welcome. Then we've got to build both spaces and programs that encourage greater use of the land. n
Ron Terry is the former chairman and CEO of First Tennessee National Corporation.