Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Let's Compare

Everyone sing along, "One of these private-public partnerships is not like the other..."

Shelby Farms Park is now counted in the growing number of public parks run by a public-private partnership. Central Park and Prospect Park in New York and Piedmont Park in Atlanta are operated this way. So is the Memphis Zoo.

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy held a design contest for the park and is now seeking public input on the three finalists. The public can do this by viewing the proposals in person at the Main Library, Cossitt Library, and soon at the Shelby Farms Visitors Center and then filling out a survey. The public can also view the plans on the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy website and fill out the survey there.

I went by the library on Saturday and viewed the plans for myself. All three design teams--Tom Leader Studio, Hargreaves Associates, and Field Operations -- were inspired by trends in environmentally-friendly design. Additionally, each plan clearly marked phases for design implementation.

The amount of information was frankly overwhelming! But in a good way.

Now, let's look at the Memphis Zoo, which as I stated is also a public-private partnership. Their party line throughout this whole Teton Trek stink has been that it has been part of the "master plan" for 20 years.

For example...from our various clippings on this site:

Zoo president Chuck Brady is surprised park advocates weren't aware of the expansion. It's been on the master plan since 1988. A $10 million donation by FedEx Founder Fred Smith and his wife, Diane, was announced in 2006 as part of a fund-raising campaign.

A sign outside the Northwest Passage says "future home of Teton Trek."

and then...

Carter says the zoo's master plan has always been a public document and open to comment. The master plan can now be viewed on the zoo's website.

or to put it another way...

But Brian Carter, a spokesperson for the zoo, says all of their expansion plans, including this latest one, have been available to the public since the mid 1980's.

This project has been part of the master plan for 20-years," says Carter. "We feel as though the community has had ample opportunity to speak about our plans and the plans for Overton Park. And we're always taking in comments by e-mail and phone."

Okay, so let's look at this illustrious master plan:

I mean, is that as clear as mud, or what? Do you see the words Northwest Passage or Teton Trek on there? Is there anything to indicate on that map that 4 acres of old forest were to be removed?

Let's look at the text that accompanies this map on the Memphis Zoo's website:

Developing a Plan
The first Zoo master plan was developed in the early 1980s by Torre Design Consortium, Ltd. (TDC), an archetectural [sic] design firm that specializes in zoological planning. Years of research were used to refine the master plan that the Zoo adopted in 1986. Since that date, the Zoo has worked with TDC to revise the plan according to Zoo's animal needs and strategic goals. On average, the Zoo revises its master plan about every 10 years. The latest Zoo master plan was created in 2001.

In the last 20 years, the Zoo has completed more than $80 million in renovations and new construction. None of which would be possible without the financial assistance and civic support of local private citizens, corporate sponsors and legislators.

Ah, it's SO much clearer now!


Please, Mr. Brady or Mr. Carter, tell me how the public is supposed to know what is really going on based on the information available on your website?

Let's pretend the internet doesn't exist for a minute.

When I was on the board of Park Friends (in 2001-2003) we were never given a copy of the master plan. When I called Glenn Cox, the PFI president, two weeks ago and asked if he had a copy, he said no. (But it wasn't for lack of trying!)

When Naomi went by the Memphis Zoo last week and requested a copy of the master plan, she was not given one.

How exactly does the public get their hands on one? And even if they did, how would they infer 4 acres of clear-cutting from a map covered with trees?

The CA reported that the Memphis Zoo submitted a site plan to the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development that listed details of the tree removal. When I went to OPD to see this document with my own eyes, it wasn't there. What I found was a copy of the landscape plan for the finished exhibit.

Burk Renner, of OPD, explained to me that the Memphis Zoo is considered public property and does not need a permit to cut down trees unless it reaches its threshold (somewhere between 80-100%). They are also not required to file a letter of intent.

The only thing the Memphis Zoo filed for was a construction permit.

So again, I ask Mr. Brady (or Mr. Carter) to tell me how the public is supposed to know what is really going on at the Memphis Zoo based on public documents? Simply rely on a sign outside the Northwest Passage says "future home of Teton Trek"? Because really, that says it all. The Zoo is going to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, wherever it wants and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

Until now.


Anonymous said...

What excellent reporting! I have been checking this fabulous site daily now and appreciate all of ya'lls pictures and smart articles. I feel like CPOP is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with and I'm with you all the way.
~Shawna Graves

gatesofmemphis said...

Definitely great reporting.

Did the Zoo refuse to give Naomi the master plan or could they not find it?

Naomi Van Tol said...

To be fair, it was a Saturday. I stopped in the main office and asked if I could see the zoo's master plan or any map showing where they want to expand.

The receptionist said something like: "I think there's a big map on the wall upstairs, but I don't have it. You should call back during the week and maybe someone can help you."

I did not call back because the CA article came out a few days later and I saw the master plan drawing on the zoo's website.


Update on OPD: Stacey is still trying to get a copy of the construction permit from Burk Renner. This is a public document that should be readily available for any member of the public who asks to see it.