Parking garage

Nashville Zoo wants city-funded parking lot

Why the Nashville Zoo wants city-funded parking

the Nashville Zoo; Graphic: Jacques Schrag / Axios

For the past 24 years, visitors have flocked to the Nashville Zoo in Grassmere to pet kangaroos, stand a few feet from an Andean bear, or play in the city’s best jungle gym.

  • The zoo has become one of Nashville’s main tourist attractions and has won industry awards for its creative exhibits and financial management.
  • To help fuel more growth, Nashville Mayor John Cooper offered $ 15 million for a new parking lot, but the idea was strongly rejected by the Metro Council.

Why is this important: Zoo president and CEO Rick Schwartz told Axios that the new parking lot is the keystone of its ambitious $ 185 million expansion that will include a one-of-a-kind African river safari in which visitors will board a ‘a boat to float among the animals.

  • Continued growth is impossible without the new 1,044-space parking structure, says Schwartz. And the zoo’s plans for a fundraising campaign to help finance its expansion depend on the garage being built.

The context: While Nashville struggles with its tourist reputation, the South Nashville Family Zoo offers a completely independent option of light beer and George Strait blankets.

  • Between 2009 and 2019, zoo attendance more than doubled from 615,086 to over 1.2 million visitors, more than the combined attendance at the Predators and Titans home games in 2019. Attendance fell to 544,000 last year in the midst of the pandemic.
  • Schwartz tells Axios they expect 2 million visitors a year by 2027.
  • The zoo has not received funding from Metro since Mayor Karl Dean committed a total of $ 26 million to infrastructure projects during his eight-year tenure, which ended in 2015.

What he says : On the zoo’s busiest days, vehicles overwhelm its current parking lots. It’s not uncommon for traffic jams to pile up in Nolensville Pike.

  • “Without this parking lot, we can’t just fail to grow, we can’t sustain what we’re doing now,” said Schwartz.

The other side: Some Metro Council members, led by Freddie O’Connell, questioned the large capital investment for the zoo’s parking lot.

  • O’Connell tells Axios he’s “very pro-zoo.” But he says he is “appalled” that Metro is not spending more on bike paths, sidewalks and bus lines.
  • He tabled an amendment to redirect the funds Cooper allocated to the zoo parking lot to be spent on those modes of transportation instead.
  • A potential compromise would add $ 15 million to the capital spending plan for these priorities while retaining funding for zoo parking.

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