Friday, August 23, 2019

Downtown Business Owners Urge Tom Lee Park Renovation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2019 at 11:02 AM

click to enlarge Owners of nearly 70 Downtown businesses support the renovation of Tom Lee Park - ALDO'S PIZZA PIE'S, CATHERINE AND MARY'S, THE MAJESTIC GRILLE (FACEBOOK)
  • Aldo's Pizza Pie's, Catherine And Mary's, The Majestic Grille (Facebook)
  • Owners of nearly 70 Downtown businesses support the renovation of Tom Lee Park

Owners of well-known Downtown restaurants — Aldo’s Pizza Pies, The Majestic Grille, Catherine and Mary’s, and more — say they, and nearly 70 Downtown businesses fully support a renovated Tom Lee Park. (Read the letter in full at the bottom of the story.)

The group made public Thursday a letter of support it sent to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in June. The letter urged Strickland to move ahead with the Mississippi River Park Partnership’s (MRPP) $60 million plan for the park.

That plan adds contours, trees, facilities, and more to the now-wide-open Tom Lee Park. The plan was unveiled in February and raised concern for Memphis In May (MIM) officials, worried that their month-long festival would not fit inside the new park.

click to enlarge A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan. - STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
  • A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan.

That concern simmered to a boil for some citizens, afraid the new plan is taking precedent over the MIM tradition. A Facebook group called "Save Tom Lee Park & The Festivals" has nearly 2,500 members. Another Facebook group called "Memphis-Wake Up Save Memphis In May, Riverside Dr. and Tom Lee Park" and signs for another group read, “Let Tom Lee Be.”

The group of Downtown business owners said they want to set straight “recent inaccurate news reports that the majority of Downtown businesses are opposed to the transformation of Tom Lee Park and other misinformation being disseminated on social media.” They say ”a world-class, riverfront park that is activated 365 days per year will be better for business, better for Downtown, and better for Memphis as a whole.”
“We need this park to happen” said Andy Ticer, partner in Catherine and Mary’s and The Gray Canary. “Downtown has seen such positive growth over the past two decades, and because of this momentum, we chose to open two signature Downtown restaurants.

“A re-envisioned Tom Lee Park affirms ours and others’ investments in Downtown, and helps our businesses and Memphis continue to move forward.”

The group said they collectively employ thousands of people and generate tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenues for the city. The group includes creative agencies, developers, retailers, major corporations, tourist destinations, “and contrary to the official stance of the Memphis Restaurant Association, over 40 restaurants and bars.”

click to enlarge STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang

“I hate to think that all the joys of Memphis are relegated to just one month in the springtime,” said Aldo Dean, owner and operator of Bardog Tavern, Aldo’s Pizza Pies, and Slider Inn. “While I understand the economic impact of May's festivities, as an owner of multiple Downtown businesses, I'd rather see my chosen city benefit from the year-long activity and density that a single month's revenue can't hope to match.
“The re-imagination of the riverfront seeks to deliver it from the dormancy of mediocrity. The prototype at River Garden exists as a glimpse of the long-term vision of this much needed improvement, and any argument against the proposal is short-sighted and self-defeating.”

The letter was delivered to Strickland on June 26. It says ”pedestrian connections between the Downtown core and the riverfront are crucial for Memphis to continue to be an attractive hub for headquarters, creative agencies, and entrepreneurs, for our identity as a top tourist destination, and for our continued growth as the most diverse, inclusive neighborhood in the MidSouth.”

click to enlarge Strickland - CITY OF MEMPHIS
  • City of Memphis
  • Strickland
Renovation construction was slated to begin right after the festival ended this year. It was pushed back to the fall in May. Strickland announced in late July that MIM would return to the park next year, be held at an alternate location in 2021, and return to Tom Lee Park in 2022.

“We are pleased that Mayor Strickland has shown such strong leadership and vision by announcing that this project is moving forward,” said Patrick Reilly, co-owner of The Majestic Grille. “The revised timeline ensures Memphis in May ample time to plan for alternate sites in 2020 and almost two years to plan the evolution of the festival to the new space and a new era.

“We’re looking forward to experiencing a new and improved festival and a world-class park that both reflect the current trajectory of our great city.”

click to enlarge Tom Lee Park model at Beale Street Landing. - BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
  • Bruce VanWyngarden
  • Tom Lee Park model at Beale Street Landing.

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