Clear the Air 

Downtown business owners support a renovated Tom Lee Park, despite “inaccurate” reports.

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.

Last week, the group made public 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.

click to enlarge Studio Gang’s vision of Tom Lee Park as a festival grounds - STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
  • Studio Gang’s vision of Tom Lee Park as a festival grounds

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.

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 is called "Memphis-Wake Up Save Memphis In May, Riverside Dr. and Tom Lee Park," and yard 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. "A re-envisioned Tom Lee Park affirms our 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."

"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," said Aldo Dean, owner and operator of Bardog Tavern, Aldo's Pizza Pies, and Slider Inn. "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."

Renovation construction was slated to begin right after the festival ended this year. In May, it was pushed back to the fall. 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.

"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," said Patrick Reilly, co-owner of The Majestic Grille.

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