March 18, 2022 10:00am

Power Poll: Overton Park, the Memphis Zoo, and the Tigers

Eight years of parking wars and disappointing seasons come to an end

Photo of David Waters
Memphis, TN Correspondent

Power Poll Memphis members are bullish on recent developments concerning three of the city's civic treasures -- Overton Park, the Memphis Zoo, and the Memphis Tigers.

Earlier this month, the city struck a deal that will end overflow Memphis Zoo parking on Overton Park's 12-acre Greensward in two years.

Under terms of the agreement, the zoo's maintenance lot along North Parkway will become a 300-space parking lot, which can be expanded with a parking deck.

Sixty-eight percent of Power Poll respondents applaud the deal, announced earlier this Mayor Jim Strickland, Tina Sullivan of the Overton Park Conservancy, and Jim Dean of the Memphis Zoo.

Now that the eight-year parking wars are over, a majority of Power Poll members say they still have concerns about the 342-acre park's future, although they disagree a bit on priorities.

Meanwhile, Power Poll members are in full agreement on the University of Memphis men's basketball team, which for the first time in eight years is playing in the NCAA Tournament. Seventy-five percent of Power Poll respondents call that a successful season, no matter how the Tigers fare in the tourney.

The Greensward treaty ends eight years of protests, testy legal claims and counterclaims, and tense public, private and social media gatherings.

The open, grassy field in the heart of Overton Park has withstood another attempt to destroy it.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a plan to plow Interstate 40 through it.

In the early 2000s, the city scuttled a plan to dig it up and turn it into a flood retention basin.

The deal reached earlier this month not only will prevent the Greensward from being turned into a permanent parking lot for the zoo.

It also transfers 17 acres of the Old Forest from the zoo to the conservancy. In exchange, the zoo will get six acres of a large maintenance lot on the park's southeastern corner.

Bravo, say 68 percent of Power Poll members who responded to a March survey.

Three percent are skeptical of the deal, noting that previous agreements have fallen through for lack of funding or other issues.

Nine percent of respondents believe the zoo, one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, gave up too much.

Nineteen percent think the battle over the Greensward has gotten to much time and attention.

A large majority of Power Poll members, however, are concerned about the park's future.

City and conservancy officials are working on the park's first comprehensive plan in more than 30 years.

The 120-year-old park, more popular than ever, is facing a number of challenges.

Rust Hall has been empty since the Memphis College of Art closed in 2020. The Brooks Museum of art will be relocating to a new riverfront home in 2023.

Twenty-nine percent of Power Poll respondents think the fate of those buildings should be the park's top priority now.

Five percent are most concerned about the park's recent decision to break ties with the Levitt Foundation and rename the park's 86-year-old amphitheater the Overton Park Shell. The change will cause the Shell to "rely specifically on local, Memphis investment from local families, foundations, corporations/businesses and concert-goers with other revenue streams, like more ticketed concerts.”

Another five percent are more concerned about preserving the Old Forest's 172 acres, which are protected by state law.

And 40 percent of all respondents say they are concerned with "all of the above."

As for the Memphis Tigers, the team has turned its season around in a big way.

After being named the preseason No. 12 team in the nation, the Tigers started the year 9-8.

The team lost key players to injuries, Covid protocols, and locker-room dissention. Emoni Bates, a highly touted freshman, left the team in January under mysterious circumstances. The season seemed a lost cause. At various times, Coach Penny Hardaway blamed himself, the players, the media, and general circumstances.

But the team rebounded, winning 10 of their last 11 regular season games, and two more in the conference tournament, to finish 21-10.

For the first time in eight years, the Tigers were selected to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

On Thursday, the Tigers won their first-round game, defeating Boise State 64-53. The win earned them the right to play Gonzaga, the nation's overall No. 1 team, in Saturday's second round.

Seventy-five percent of Power Poll respondents say the season was challenging but successful, no matter what happens in the tournament.

Five percent say the team should have done better and the season won't be a success unless the Tigers make it to the Sweet 16, if not the Final Four.

Only four percent say the season was a disappointment. Another four percent say they are rooting for another team. And 13 percent say they don't care.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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