MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Memphis Zoo has a new President and CEO.
Jim Dean, a native Memphian, talked to city council members Tuesday about his new role and what’s next for the zoo in the years to come.
“It is a homecoming,” Dean said.
He grew up in the Bluff City and left Memphis in 1980 once he graduated from then Memphis State University.
Now, he’s back and tasked with leading a zoo ranked as one of the best in the country - a Memphis attraction that sees more than 1 million visitors a year.
He’s been on the job for two months and told council members the zoo is in the process of crafting their second master plan ever - meaning upgrades to facilities at the zoo and the visitor experience.
“Trying to bring education and conservation and research and an element of fun to that we are entertaining over one million visitors in the year. We won’t be the biggest zoo in the country, we have about 75 acres, but we will be the best zoo in the country I can guarantee that,” Dean told the council.
Dean says that one-third of the visitors to the Memphis Zoo are from outside the region - a sign of the facility’s strong tourism appeal.
He also said work is underway to better market the zoo as a tourist destination alongside Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, and others.
Construction is slated to begin in mid-July on the addition of a parking lot at the zoo after a long time controversy.
The final compromise plan, revealed last year, ends parking on the Overton Park greensward by giving the zoo more than 400 parking spaces by paving 2.4 acres of the park.
“We will look forward to getting that project complete probably in the first part of 2020 and move on,” Dean said.
He also says architecture firms should be visiting the zoo soon as they work through the crafting of the master plan. It will be the first since the 1980s.