Park ”Problems” 

Memphis In Mays weighs in on Tom Lee Park redesign.

Memphis in May (MIM) officials cited "issues," "challenges," and "problems" on the redesign of Tom Lee Park last week and said alternative Downtown sites for the festival next year just wouldn't work.

The Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) unveiled a new plan for the park last month. It adds hilly contours, built facilities, a basketball court/stage area, trails, trees, and more to the now-wide-open park below the bluff beside the Mississippi River.

click to enlarge Trees, hills, & more in the - Tom Lee Park redesign. - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • Trees, hills, & more in the Tom Lee Park redesign.

Thar redesign was informed by attendance numbers, operational needs, and more given to MRPP by MIM. However, MIM president and CEO Jim Holt said last week his group has not been involved in the design process and wasn't given plans for how MIM festivals would fit into the park until last week. After a review, Holt said there "there are some issues, there's some challenges, and there are some problems."

"With all the trees, and hills, and features ... comes with a loss of space," Holt said last week. "Currently, Tom Lee Park is very flat and flexible, which is great for a festival. You have blank canvas to work with. So, you can move stuff. But with the hills, and trees, and bushes ... there will be an impact on where we can place things."

Holt said a "great deal of minutiae" goes into planning the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Studio Gang's test fits of both events (on paper) were detailed down to every person ganged around a music stage, every barbecue tent of varying sizes, tractor trailers going in and out, parking, concessions, operations, and more.

Talks on the design were slated for Tuesday. Should the groups come to a compromise, MRPP president Coletta said she wants to begin construction of the park in June, right after MIM wrap this year. Construction would last 18 months. Coletta has said having the festival at the park isn't off the table, but she said she's not sure how it would work.

Last week, MIM officials released a document from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) on six possible alternative locations for MIM in 2020.

"We believe Memphis in May and Downtown Memphis are uniquely and indelibly joined," reads the DMC document. "We believe Memphis in May belongs Downtown."

For other options, the DMC suggested Beale Street, Mud Island, Greenbelt Park, MLK Riverside Park, Georgia Avenue Elementary, and the grassy area north of Tom Lee Park at the corner of I-40 and Riverside Drive.

But MIM said the festival could only really work Downtown at Tom Lee Park, and they hope a phased construction schedule would allow them to host the festival there.

"A cursory review of the sizes and infrastructure of the suggested sites reveals that these simply are not compatible to host our world-class events, and reaffirms our president and CEO Jim Holt's assertion yesterday that — aside from Tom Lee Park — there are no other sites in Downtown Memphis that can accommodate Memphis in May," MIM spokesman Robert Griffin said in a statement.

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