On the Farms 

Shelby Farms enters a new era as ribbon-cutting launches “30 Days of Celebration.”

Lifelong Memphian George Payne remembers every transformation that's taken place at Shelby Farms Park — from its days as a penal farm to the times he'd bring his son there to feed chickens and pigs. He was there, too, last Thursday morning at the Heart of the Park ribbon-cutting ceremony to witness yet another new era for Shelby Farms.

"When it turned into a park, I came to walk around the lake when it was just 52 acres," Payne, 91, said. "Now it's 80 acres, so we wanted to come out here and see it. It's a beautiful place."

At least 100 or more people, from former Mayor A C Wharton to dozens of bicyclists, gathered at the new First Tennessee Visitor Center to observe the summation of a two-year $52 million project. The Shelby Farms Conservancy will celebrate the grand opening all month long by hosting about 70 events during September to involve visitors with the new amenities that span the park's 4,500 acres.

The Heart of the Park renovation boasts an outdoor stage, Kimbal Musk's The Kitchen restaurant, a charging station for electric vehicles, and an added 55 acres of meadow and 3,000 trees. To commemorate the Hyde Family Foundation's financial support, Patriot Lake has been renamed Hyde Lake, said executive director Jen Andrews while introducing a series of speakers who assisted with the project.

click to enlarge Ribbon-cutting for Shelby Farms Park improvements - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Ribbon-cutting for Shelby Farms Park improvements

"We've never done anything quite this big," Andrews said. "This park has attracted some of the best talent in our city and in the country. Our community is going to benefit incredibly from it."

Architect Marlon Blackwell said a pertinent aspect of the renovation was creating iconic experiences rooted in Delta heritage.

"We understood that the very ground at Shelby Farms was passing from a history of penalty, labor, and cultural antipathies to a place of civility, amenity, opportunity, and inclusion," Blackwell said. "The new buildings differ in form and function but unite under the simple, Southern trope of the porch. Each building has its own variation of the porch."

Landscape architect James Corner, the lead designer behind New York's High Line, said the revamped Shelby Farms won't just serve people but also acts as an impressive nature setting for vegetation, wildlife, and biodiversity.

"Every city has a great park," Corner said. "Shelby Farms Park is more than 10 times the size of London's Hyde Park, more than five times the size of New York's Central Park, and more than four times the size of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Now, with these renovations to the lake, landscape, and the buildings, it's probably one of the most distinctive parks internationally."

Corner also said that a modernized Shelby Farms serves as a gateway for Memphians to thrive and grow.

"It offers a great resource for the improvement of public health, fitness, and well-being," Corner said. Shelby Farms Park helps Memphis offer a wonderful quality of life that is enviable for any other city around the world. It impacts the way Memphis and West Tennessee will move forward into the 21st century."

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