Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Group Aims to Revive Mud Island Amphitheater

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2020 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY: JERRED PRICE
  • Courtesy: Jerred Price

The Mud Island Amphitheater has been quiet for awhile now, but a new group hopes to change that.

Jerred Price was elected president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) in February. He recently formed two new committees. One will focus on affordability: helping people with increases in land values and tax increases and keeping Downtown rents affordable. The other will focus on reviving Mud Island Amphitheater.

Price has been a vocal critic of the Mississippi River Parks Partnership’s (MRPP) move to redo Tom Lee Park. Price is the administrator of a Facebook group called Save the River Parks and the Festivals.

Group members criticize the state of Mud Island River Park with its weeds, cracks, and holes. In a video that shows all of this (below), the group says it’s proof the the MRPP has “failed our parks.” The state of Mud Island in general has many critics calling for MRPP to fix the park first before embarking on the $60 million plan to completely renovate Tom Lee Park.

We caught up with Price recently about the Mud Island committee and his hopes for the one-of-a-kind, 5,000-seat theater. — Toby Sells

Memphis Flyer: Why did you get interested in this issue?

Jerred Price: I’m a musician. I play Almost Elton John (an Elton John tribute artist) with my band at Lafayette’s every month. I started in 2014, playing almost only on Beale Street at Hard Rock Cafe.

click to enlarge Jerred Price as Almost Elton John - JERRED PRICE/FACEBOOK
  • Jerred Price/Facebook
  • Jerred Price as Almost Elton John

When I went down there, I thought, “where are other places we could do shows like this, other venues?” So, I started looking. I realized that they had this beautiful backdrop of the city behind this cool amphitheater in the middle of the river. I didn't even know it was there, as a child coming from Arkansas. I got really interested (in the amphitheater) and wondered, “Man, why does it look so bad?”

Even up until, I think, three or four years ago, they did concerts there. I know Eric Clapton played up there in 2015. Fallout Boy was there recently. They’ve (recently) had about 15 or 16 different bands play there. They’ve had some big names roll in there.

Then, it stopped. I think it stopped because the focus on the rebranded (Riverfront Development Corp. now the MRPP) is not on Mud Island. It’s not on promoting it. It's focused on Tom Lee Park. You’ll see the timeline of when the concerts stopped and when the Tom Lee Park fundraising initiative began; it matches up.

Then, Mud Island kind of fell into despair. The maintenance out there is horrible and I think that's why the bands don't want to come out there. I understand the logistics trouble. I do. I want that to be very clear, that we understand it's a challenging venue, challenging location.

click to enlarge COURTESY: JERRED PRICE
  • Courtesy: Jerred Price

But you look at venues all over the world like the Colosseum in Rome, the Red Rocks Amphitheater. There are theaters that are in the mountains and, somehow, they get logistics and they make that work. So, if we can get amphitheaters (like these to work), I think we can get Mud Island amphitheater … we can make it work and it has worked.

It is challenging, but it can still work and it did for years and years and years. It's just become not the focus. I think a lot of Downtowners are really disappointed in the condition of it.

I know that, per public record, the city signs a contract every year for MRPP, formerly RDC, to maintain, and manage, and oversee the river parks. I think they get $3 million to $4 million a year from the city of Memphis budget [it was $2.97 million in 2018], but where's the maintenance going? Where's the oversight in [the contract] because if you look at maintenance out there, it looks like the city's not giving them a dime. I mean, it's bad.

I created a post on Facebook a little while back and I threw up (images of amphitheater concepts) for Servicemaster, and AutoZone, and FedEx. What if they took over the naming rights like Renasant Bank with the new convention center? What if they put up the naming rights, and sold it to a corporation, and got investors, and got a new promotion marketing team, and did some upgrades out there? How much could that bring back that theater? Then, [the post] gets shared 1,500 times.

click to enlarge COURTESY: JERRED PRICE
  • Courtesy: Jerred Price
The big concern, too, with some of the people here in Memphis and a lot of the comments [on Facebook] is that we're losing tourism dollars to the BankPlus Amphitheater at Snowden Grove down in Southaven.

The hotel industry and the restaurant industry, they’d love to have concerts back. That’s 4,000 people coming Downtown. They're going to want to go eat. They're going to need places to stay. They're going to need restaurants and want to go to the bars to hang out.

It's a return on investment. It’s more than just about the amphitheater. It’s about Downtown. So, when I got elected president this past February of the DNA, I said I'm gonna make it a focus to restore and bring back this beloved amphitheater.

MF: Do you have a timeline for this?

JP: We are basing our timeline on the safety of Downtown and Memphis. We want to make sure that whatever we do is in a timely manner that is safe for everyone together.

But we are going to do the background work of putting it together so we can be able to pull the trigger when they do say we can have concerts. That way, all the legwork is done. We’ve got the promotion companies. We've got the artists. We've got the money. We've got the investors to potentially do, maybe, a pop-up concert out there.

click to enlarge Al Kapone with Nikki Minaj at Mud Island. - MEMPHIS FLYER FILE PHOTO
  • Memphis Flyer file photo
  • Al Kapone with Nikki Minaj at Mud Island.

As soon as we get the say-so from the Shelby County Health Department and the city feels comfortable with gathering in large numbers, we'll do a pop-up concert out there. Memphians and humans by nature are very tangible people. We like to see, feel, and touch. So, when we get out there, and we see this amphitheater, we see the view, we touch the seats, we feel the music, that's when people are going to get even more behind the project.

MF: To do that, would you have to get permission from the MRPP?

JP: Any event that takes place in a park that's managed by MRPP simply has to be submitted to them with the proper insurance — if it's needed — or plans for the event. You just kind of have to have an outline presented to them, and then get the permission to do it.

My hope — and I hope this makes it into the way you write it, too — we hope that we get the support and partnership of MRPP. If their their motto on their website is working ... let me read it for you.

It says, “Memphis River Parks Partnerships works with and for the people of Memphis to trigger the transformative power of our river.” So, we hope the MRPP will work with and for the people in health resurrecting this beloved amphitheater, and supporting our mission and our committee to do that.
click to enlarge screen_shot_2020-07-21_at_12.02.30_pm.png

MF: Did we leave anything out or is there anything you want to add?

JP: I hope that MRPP will focus more on investing more maintenance dollars in this beloved park. I understand it has its challenges.

But so did many other projects that have recently been completed such as Crosstown Concourse. People said it was nearly impossible to do what they've done there. But it's been done and it's a success and people love it.

I think we need to make sure that we we keep this jewel that sits on the front porch of our city. We need to keep it alive and we need to keep going.

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