Monday, June 27, 2011

Overton Park Conservancy Looks Doable

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2011 at 10:34 AM

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The second informal meeting to talk about the future of Overton Park is Tuesday evening at the Memphis College of Art. The first meeting on Saturday was low-key and pretty well attended (100-150 maybe, but nobody was counting) and the proposed Overton Park Conservancy seems like a doable idea.

Establishing a conservancy would bring more private dollars to the park and possibly lower the city's financial burden, but that remains to be seen.

The conservancy would be similar to the ones that manage Shelby Farms Park and the Memphis Botanic Gardens. The group's website — OvertonPark.org — says the park "is threatened by inadequate funding and haphazard planning."

On a degree of difficulty scale, I would mark this one as "moderate." But as businessman George Cates, who is leading the effort, reminded me when I collared him before leaving, nothing is easy. He said he met with City Council members earlier and suggested this was "motherhood and apple pie," but a member politely reminded him that there ain't no such thing on the council.

I think the conservancy will happen for two main reasons.

One, the park has an embarrassment of riches that make it challenging to maintain and manage — the zoo (already under non-city management), the Old Forest and bike/walking road, the golf course, the Memphis College of Art, the Brooks Museum, the Levitt Shell, the picnic grounds, the playground, and the playing fields. The park is popular. On Saturday afternoon and evening, it was jammed for the Ultimate Family Reunion.

Two, the conservancy proponents seem to have learned from experience. If Saturday's event was any indication, less is more. Nobody spoke to the group for more than a couple of minutes. Nobody said "this is how it's gonna be." Everyone (with the exception of nattily dressed college of art president Ron Jones, who wore a sport coat and bow tie, like his predecessor Jeff Nesin) was dressed in Saturday casual clothes and came and went as they pleased and spoke to whomever they pleased. There was a big Google Earth map that Old Forest proponent Naomi Van Tol, among others, did a nice job of explaining in the context of proposed changes, including a parking garage on North Parkway. Potential adversaries seem to be working together, so far at least.

It was a big-tent approach to a big opportunity. Come to the meeting Tuesday, June 28th from 5 to 7 p.m., inside the Memphis College of Art and see for yourself. The public survey is also available online.

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