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Overton Park, Zoo parking concept plan presented
Overton Park, Zoo parking concept plan presented
Posted on 02/21/2018

The Memphis Zoo + Overton Park parking solution concept plan is being unveiled tonight at a public meeting at the Pink Palace Museum. And yes, we know: There’s plenty of interest in this solution, and not everyone who’s interested can make it to the event.

So let’s walk through it now.

Why We're Here

Fulfilling a promise made in his 2015 campaign, Mayor Jim Strickland brought the Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy together in the first half of 2016 to seek a solution. On July 1, 2016, that compromise, agreed to by both the Zoo and the OPC, was unveiled.

The Memphis City Council modified the solution at its meeting later that month, producing the resolution -- with specific parameters -- that dictates this final outcome.

The concept plan presented tonight fulfills the principles Mayor Strickland set in 2016:

  • It permanently ends some three decades of overflow Zoo parking on the Greensward.
  • It provides the parking needed to enable the Zoo’s ongoing growth.
  • It uses no City tax dollars, leaving them to be dedicated to core services.

How We Got Here

The City formed a steering committee of City officials and stakeholders to evaluate public proposals from design teams. The Powers Hill Design team was selected, and an advisory team of City employees, stakeholders and community representatives was selected to enhance public input into the process. A web page was established to ensure transparency and communication.

The advisory team, online survey responses, and emailed comments from the public have had a significant impact on crafting the concept plan presented tonight.

The Proposed Solution

Without further ado, here’s the concept that was presented at tonight’s public meeting:

Proposed Concept Solution

A larger version of this design is available here.

The concept plan is laid out on an aerial map of a day of heavy use of Greensward overflow parking to provide a clear reference point.

Two key points:

  • Parking expansion stays north and west (on the Zoo side) of the ridgeline that defines the boundary of the Greensward.
  • Once complete, a visual barrier will separate the Greensward from the parking and provide a permanent end to overflow parking on the Greensward.

Want more background? Visit the project page here.

Want to see the entire presentation from Wednesday night? It's here.


Who agreed to this? In addition to the design professionals and the City of Memphis administration, members of the advisory team said this was their consensus plan. This includes representation by the Memphis Zoo, the Overton Park Conservancy and the Overton Park Alliance.

Why is there a need for a drive aisle? This is simply the drive aisle in the parking lot, similar to what exists with any other comparable-sized parking lot and nearly identical to the drive aisle that exists in the current parking lot. The council resolution required the preservation of mature trees, creating a situation where the drive aisle does have a small amount of green space between the drive aisle and the lot. The location of the drive aisle along the southern edge of the parking lot eliminates the need for Zoo patrons to walk across the drive aisle, thus reducing the risk of collisions.

Prompted by the input of the advisory team, great care was taken to limit the impact of this drive aisle. For instance, one iteration of the designs had the lanes eight feet from Veterans Plaza. After the input, these lanes moved 30 feet north.

Why not create a one-way traffic pattern for Morrie Moss Lane? Powers Hill’s traffic consultants believe this would worsen congestion, not alleviate it.

Can traffic congestion along Prentiss Place be improved? Improving traffic congestion at the Poplar and McLean entrances was not included in this scope of work. However, the design team recommends that the City add a left turn lane at southbound McLean at Prentiss Place.

Did you consider angled parking, instead of the 90-degree arrangement? Yes, but the angled parking didn’t yield more parking spaces than the 90-degree arrangement.

Why choose the pay-on-entry model for the lot? The design team examined other methods, such as an automated pay-on-foot model (where you would pay at the Zoo gate and turn in your ticket on exit) and the multi-space meter model (similar to the Overton Square garage). But the pay-on-entry model was ultimately chosen because it’s less expensive and less cumbersome, and neither model had a significant impact on the amount of land required for the expansion.

Will I be able to pay in cash to park at the Zoo? Yes, the pay-on-entry systems will accept all forms of payment. Only the “fast pass” lane will be restricted for prepaid or membership entry.

I’m a Zoo member. Will I have a special entrance? Yes! While you can use your membership card to enter at any of the gates, there is a members’ “fast pass” entrance at the north end of Morrie Moss.

I don’t want to park, so where can I get dropped off if I take a taxi, Uber or Lyft to the Zoo? There is a drop-off area north of the main entrance on Morrie Moss.

I saw some plans on the Internet that kept the parking expansion on the current Zoo lot footprint. Why didn’t you just do that? Those plans did not meet the guidelines mandated by the City Council resolution. One such guideline, for instance, was to preserve as many trees as possible. One particular plan floating around the Internet, for instance, actually removed every tree in the Zoo lot.

Speaking of trees, what does this plan do? In the main lot, this concept would preserve 43 trees as-is and offer to relocate as many as 188 trees. Most of the trees proposed for preservation are located near the southern edge of the lot, which would provide visual screening from the Greensward and the residences on Overton Park Avenue and Kenilworth Place. An additional 159 trees are slated to be removed. We also anticipate approximately 150 new trees being planted.

Why are the spaces on North Parkway not included in the concept plan? North Parkway was not included as part of the boundary of this project. However, the parking there provides an additional 200 spaces for use.

Can I enter the Zoo from multiple points? Yes, there are two vehicle entrances along Morrie Moss, including a “fast pass” entrance for members and prepaid parkers. Additionally, pedestrians and cyclists can enter the park through Veterans Plaza or through the Greensward.

Will you be able to access the Greensward from the Zoo parking lot? Yes. Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to access the Greensward at Veterans Plaza and adjacent to the main pedestrian walkway in the zoo parking lot.

Will I be able to see cars from the Greensward? The concept plan includes tree and other natural screening along the natural ridgeline. As these trees and foliage grow, there will be a period where cars are visible.

Where is the green infrastructure mentioned in the RFQ? There are five green columns that run through the parking lot from north to south to support drainage. Additionally, there is pervious pavement in the Prentiss Place lot to assist with drainage.

Why are you not just building a parking garage? This project is jointly funded by the two anchors — Overton Park Conservancy and the Memphis Zoo. Both have agreed that the budget for a parking garage is not currently available.

What is going to prevent further expansion onto the Greensward? The Council resolution is explicit about this: “Upon completion of construction, no further encroachment for any parking, temporary or permanent, will be allowed in the remaining Greensward.”

What's Next?

Tonight’s meeting starts a week-long public comment period. Through Feb. 28, we’ll be accepting comments at The administration will evaluate any comments and proposals and then will decide how to proceed.

If a plan is green-lit soon, construction documents will then be developed, bids will be sought and awarded, and construction could begin later this year.

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