- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Memphis Zoo officials fear that a dispute about overflow parking on a grassy area in Overton Park could hurt attendance.

Media outlets have reported that the city of Memphis is discontinuing a 23-year-old agreement to allow zoo overflow parking in a large grassy space on the Overton Park Greensward, a section of the stately park located in the Midtown neighborhood.

City officials say cars will no longer be allowed on the grass by the end of the year. Protesters have taken seats on the grass to protect the greensward.

The Memphis Zoo says it worries it may have to turn away 80,000 visitors per year if it send overflow parking to the grassy area.

“It’s very serious,” said Memphis Zoo President Chuck Brady. “It could really impact the future of our institution.”

Zoo officials issued a statement Tuesday targeting Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. The letter accused Wharton of deciding “to join the protestors’ mission,” leading to thousands of visitors being turned away from the zoo.

The zoo then sent a second statement apologizing for that assertion and for the tone of the letter.

Wharton called the letter “disrespectful and inappropriate.”

A shuttle system taking visitors from a parking garage to the zoo for free is being tried out this weekend, and for the next five weeks. The shuttle will make stops at the zoo as well as the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Overton Park golf course clubhouse

Overton Park Conservancy Executive Director Tina Sullivan called the shuttle “a great first step.”

Brady says the shuttles will not work.

“We don’t mean to be adversarial,” said Brady. “In order to move one day’s people, the 2,000 people, it would take 17 hours if every bus was filled.”

The zoo is proposing that visitors park at a closed maintenance facility and that the city allow trams provided by the zoo to travel the paved roads to a new entrance.

On Friday, representatives from the zoo, Overton Park Conservancy, and the city met to discuss the situation. All parties agreed to allow parking on the greensward over Memorial Day weekend and then meet again later to discuss more permanent solutions.

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