What's Next for the Overton Park Greensward 

Opponents of Greensward parking speak out, OPC finalizes parking study.

click to enlarge Evergreen resident Brantley Ellzey directs zoo patrons away from the Greensward and into on-street parking spaces in his neighborhood last Saturday. - ANNABEL CONRAD
  • Annabel Conrad
  • Evergreen resident Brantley Ellzey directs zoo patrons away from the Greensward and into on-street parking spaces in his neighborhood last Saturday.

The week following the Memphis City Council's decision to give control of most of the Overton Park Greensward to the Memphis Zoo was heavy on backlash but light on much else to change the game.

The move was widely criticized but not just from those booing and jeering in the city council chambers last Tuesday. Hundreds took to social media, mostly registering disgust with the move. Some were angling for a legal maneuver that could possibly reverse it.

Newspaper editors and columnists — professionals of thought and opinion prose — formalized their complaints against the move.

Memphis Business Journal editor Greg Akers called the move "appalling." Memphis magazine managing editor Frank Murtaugh laid out parking suggestions and reminded the zoo that it "is the park's guest, not the other way around." David Waters, a columnist for The Commercial Appeal, said the "wayward" city council failed to mention many things to the public in its passage of the resolution and "seemed to be in a big hurry."

As the dust settled around the issue, not much changed. The beautiful weekend weather brought scores of visitors to the zoo and, thus, scores of cars parked on the Greensward. There were, however, independent volunteers who stationed themselves around the zoo with homemade signs pointing zoo visitors to free parking in the neighborhoods just outside of Overton Park.

Chuck Brady, zoo president and CEO, said visitors should not expect big changes on the Greensward. He's said the zoo will not use "grasscrete" (concrete that allows grass to grow through) to shore up the field but will continue to use those blaze orange cones to section off overflow parking.

"The short answer is nothing will change," Brady said. "As we always have, the zoo will use a portion of it as a last resort for overflow parking on our busiest days, or only about 65 days per year."

Meanwhile, the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) has been finalizing a draft of the recommendations from its weeks-long parking and traffic study. OPC executive director Tina Sullivan said she will share the final draft with park partners first and roll it out to the public in mid-March.

Also, Sullivan said her group was gearing up for the first round of mediation with the Memphis Zoo leaders, slated to start Tuesday.

"We will never turn down an opportunity to try to come to the table and come up with solutions together," Sullivan said. "As long as that avenue is open to us we're going to pursue it vigorously."

Brady has said he will drop the zoo's lawsuit against the city and OPC if OPC will also drop its suit. Both claims were still pending in Shelby County Chancery Court as of press time.

Many of those protesting the move at city hall last Tuesday felt the city council moved too quickly, that the public did not have an opportunity to be heard on the matter. Many wondered if the move was legal. It was, according to the city charter.

Cut-off for new legislation is the Thursday morning before a following Tuesday meeting. Council members can bring a piece of new legislation at Tuesday meetings if it is in writing, as was the Greensward resolution. But there's a catch to that.

"Only items involving extreme emergencies may be added to the agenda after the Thursday, 10:00 a.m. deadline," reads the city charter.

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