Zoo Is Granted Right to Park on Historic Greensward


Zoo Is Granted Right to Park on Historic Greensward

Zoo Is Granted Right to Park on Historic Greensward
Mar 07, 2016


Overton Park, photo by Memphis Daily News / Andrew Breig
Overton Park. Photo by Memphis Daily News / Andrew Breig

In an 11-to-1 vote on March 1, the Memphis City Council passed a resolution granting the Memphis Zoo the authority to use a portion of Overton Park’s historic greensward for parking, as was reported in the Memphis Daily News on March 3.

“The council does hereby ratify, affirm and approve in all respects the right and authority of the operators and patrons of the city’s zoo to use the portion of the greensward described, identified and/or show on Exhibit B for parking as and when needed on a priority basis to the exclusion of all other uses and without interference from any other person or entity,” the resolution reads in part.

The council’s action came despite Mayor Jim Strickland’s call to serve as a mediator in the dispute between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC), which has claimed that it, and not the zoo, has control over the historic greensward. A traffic and parking study initiated by the OPC and aimed at finding a comprehensive, long-term solution to the problem of limited parking near the park is still underway. 

As was reported in the Memphis Business Journal, the Council’s actions drew sharp criticism from OPC board chair Ray Pohlman: “We tried to resolve this as adults and did not want to see this become a legal action, but that’s the direction we’re headed,” Pohlman said. Pohlman, who is also vice president and director of government relations for AutoZone, said that the automotive parts giant has contributed several million dollars to support the Memphis Zoos’ programming in the past, but seemed to warn that recent action by the zoo and the City Council had jeopardized future support. “I’m trying to get across: If the council is allowed to land grab like this and change contracts with private entities, private and corporate sponsors will think long and hard before they invest in these projects,” he said.

Overton Park was designed by George Kessler in 1901 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. TCLF listed the park in its Landslide program in 2009 after the Memphis Zoo, which is located on the northwestern edge of the site, began using the greensward for overflow parking.