Memphis In May Cites "Challenges," "Issues" in Tom Lee Park Redesign


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

Memphis in May (MIM) officials said Thursday that the Memphis River Parks Partnership’s (MRPP) redesign of Tom Lee Park would cut the capacity for its events there and said the current plans have "challenges" and "issues."

The 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.

MRPP officials say the current design was directly informed by attendance numbers given to them by MIM. Since the plan was unveiled, some have voiced concerns about the redesign, worried that it could cut into MIM attendance and the attendant tourism dollars. See our previous story on all this here.


Memphis in May released no public statements on the redesign. Instead, officials said they wanted to get the final plans, including ones that include topography, before reacting. They got those plans Monday, they said. MIM then gave the plans to Architecture Inc., a local firm, to determine how MIM crowds, tents, concessions, tractor trailers, etc. would fit into the new spaces.

“In the last 72 hours, the test fits have been completed and we were able to present our board today a series of issues and challenges that we found in the new design, including the level of space loss in the redesigned Tom Lee Park,” reads a statement from MIM.

Some of the numbers match up. For example, MIM is spread over 86 percent of Tom Lee Park now and it would still fit that space under the redesign. However, MIM president and CEO Jim Holt said Thursday that fitting the festival into its current footprint doesn’t allow for future growth.

The MRPP redesign cuts the useable space in Tom Lee Park for MIM from 61 percent to 57 percent of the park's area, according to the evaluation from Architecture Inc. It cuts the available grass space in the park from 52 percent to 20 percent, according to the study. The MRPP plan increases the amount of roads and parking, sidewalks, trees, hills, and a new water feature.

Holt said MIM will meet with MRPP Tuesday, starting a new dialog between the two that, he said, should result in a way forward.

“In an effort to keep Memphis in May in its riverfront home since 1980, our next steps are to share these test fits with MRPP and Studio Gang for their evaluation, so that we can together determine the best way to adjust the current design,” reads the MIM statement.

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