Equal access to Overton Park is at the heart of the Greensward argument for Chuck Brady, president and CEO of the Memphis Zoo.
Zoo visitors come from "every part of the city," and without Greensward parking, they'll be turned away, he said. Overton Park is not a neighborhood park for a few but a community park for all, which is basically how Brady justified the Zoo's decision earlier this month to remove some trees that had been planted on the Greensward by the Overton Park Conservancy.
The Zoo does have authority over one-third of the Greensward, according to a legal opinion by Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade. Brady said he hopes this will be made clear with a judge's order, which is why Brady said he and the Zoo's board filed their lawsuit last week. — Toby Sells
Flyer: So you felt that Wade's opinion gave the Zoo the right to take those trees?
Chuck Brady: It gave us management authority on that area, which we've always had.
To a lot of folks, it looks like the Zoo was just a bully and did this without anyone's permission.
That's the same way the trees went in. I think more importantly, you have to understand, that area is the only parking area for about 75,000 people per year. That's a big number. Those are citizens, too. But you have a small group that is saying, no, we don't want them. Everyone can call the other side a bully. But there are two sides to every story.
Another criticism I've heard about the Zoo and its future plans is that if you knew that the Zambezi River Hippo Camp was going to bring in 15 percent more visitors, why didn't you plan on constructing 15 percent more parking?
We [already] have parking that's adequate. What the push is, is to take some of that parking away.
You've said there was misleading information in the news and social media. Is there anything you want to set straight?
One of the things I saw, I think Jessica Buttermore [chair of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park] wrote a letter to the editor saying that I said that the Zoo makes a $1 million on overflow parking in Overton Park. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. We make maybe $25,000.
Do you think the Zoo is a good Overton Park neighbor?
Are we a good park neighbor in the sense that we clean up when people park in the neighborhoods? We send crews out to clean up any litter every time. We've used the Greensward for almost 30 years. It's virtually the same as it was 30 years ago. We aerate it. We clean it. I think we're a good neighbor, but I think you'll find a lot of different opinions on that.
I was going to show you one last thing. (Brady is shown a Facebook photo in which someone has cut their Zoo membership card in half with the caption: Fire Chuck Brady).
There are as many — and probably more — responses to us that say, good, we need the parking, and the Zoo is a vital part of this community. We get far more of them than we get of those. It's very vocal, but it's not the principal sentiment around Memphis. We have 27,000 members. By and large, they want what is right for the Zoo and the city, and they want equal access for all people. Nobody wants Overton Park to be a park for a few people.
Check out the full interview with Brady on MemphisFlyer.com. Brady talks about how the parking problem was created and why a parking garage is not the solution.