Final Plans Unveiled for New Tom Lee Park


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  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

Shade, small hills, paths through forests, a cafe with a porch, a covered space for recreation, a new entry plaza, a canopy walk, and more are in store for the now-flat, wide-open Tom Lee Park after a $60 million renovation planned to begin this fall.

The final concept for the new design of the park was unveiled Wednesday afternoon by the Mississippi River Parks Partnership (MRPP). The design is close to original concept plans drawn up in 2017 by Chicago-based design firm Studio Gang. That firm and New York-based landscape architecture firm SCAPE teamed up for the design’s final concept.

The total budget for the 30-acre park is $60 million. Half of the money — $30 million — will come from state, county, and city coffers. The remainder of the money will be raised privately. The Hyde Family Foundation has already given $10 million to the effort.

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

MRPP said the plan positions Tom Lee Park as ”Memphis’ next civic jewel by reconnecting the city with the Mississippi River and creating a beautiful place for community life to flourish on the water’s edge.”

“For 100 years we’ve dreamed of a riverfront whose majesty was a match for the river it frames,” MRPP president and CEO Carol Coletta said in a statement. “Today, we finally have the opportunity to make the most of our position at the widest and wildest point on the Mississippi River.

“Memphians are going to be thrilled with what’s coming to their riverfront. This work is already winning national awards and it will produce a riverfront we’ll all be proud of for generations to come.”

The riverfront’s transformation began in 2016 as Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland organized the Riverfront Task Force. Since then, the Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC), long time caretakers of the riverfront, was replaced by the MRPP. That group moved quickly and has already completed some projects by the Mississippi River: River Garden, River Line, and Fourth Bluff Park. MRPP is now working to rehabilitate Cobblestone Landing.

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

Tom Lee Park’s new design is not final. It will continue to develop before the firms produce construction documents. Groundbreaking on the new park is expected later this year.

The timeline on the project has been pushed back as officials with Memphis In May (MIM) have worked to ensure the new design will allow them to maintain crowd sizes at their signature events — Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest and Beale Street Music Festival.

MIM announced Tuesday it would hold the festival in the park as it is now next year. The announcement came the day before MRPP unveiled the new park designs.

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

"When this spring’s events were delayed, Memphis in May asked (MRPP) for use of the park in the fall and we were happy to work with them to accommodate the revised dates for Memphis in May 2020,” Coletta said. ”A week ago, (MRPP) informed Memphis in May that we would alter our construction schedule to accommodate Memphis in May in Tom Lee Park proper in May 2021 — even as we will start construction on the project this fall."

MRPP said the new design “meets or exceeds all design constraints generated through a mediation process with Memphis in May and will continue to develop in anticipation of groundbreaking within the year.”

The new design is also grounded in community engagement. The MRPP got input from more than 4,000 people during the concept phase with local high school students weighing in, site visits, speaking at public events, and a design display at Beale Street Landing.

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

“Just like this region has been shaped by the Mississippi, our design for Tom Lee Park has been shaped by the input of the many Memphians who have graciously shared their knowledge, ideas, and dreams with us,” said Studio Gang founding principal Jeanne Gang. “This new park is meant to be a place where everyone can come to enjoy their favorite activities and to take in the natural wonders of the Mississippi. Embracing the local knowhow that characterized the working waterfront structures that operated here for so long, the architecture is designed to celebrate the material history of Memphis by making new use of salvaged wood and metals.”

Here’s a more complete list from the MRPP of some of the new design features to be included in the new Tom Lee Park:

The new park design is grounded and inspired by the dynamic ecological features of the Mississippi River. Architecture and landscape will work closely together to make the park an accessible, exciting, and welcoming place for all.

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

Five new, highly efficient buildings, an open-air canopy, more than 250,000 square feet of open lawn space, and a series of immersive landscape environments spanning the park's 30 acres will accommodate a diversity of activities and programming, from family gatherings to corporate events and major public festivals.

The design improves park access from Downtown with five new and improved park entry plazas — called “landings” — at key connecting streets including Beale, Vance, Huling, and Butler as well as an entry from Ashburn-Coppock Park at the south end.

ADA-accessible pathways at the north and south ends of the park democratize access while improved staircases and safer crossings of Riverside Drive lead to generous landing points in the park itself.

The nature and ecology of the Mississippi river bank will be showcased throughout the park with a restored soil system, enhanced topography to frame unobstructed river views, and native plantings to promote the longevity of the renewed landscape.

The new Tom Lee Park is comprised of four primary zones from North to South:

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

1. The Civic Gateway at the northern end of the park welcomes visitors from Beale Street and Vance Park with:

• Cutbank Bluff, a radically redefined bluff entrance and access point from Vance Park;

• A new entry plaza with shade trees and water feature;

• Landscape improvements at Beale Street Landing.

2. The Active Core features areas and structures for active and flexible use, including:

• An open, 20,000 square foot Civic Canopy that offers a covered space for recreation and events;

• Three highly efficient Point Bar Pavilions house a small café with porches overlooking the river, equipment storage, and public facilities;

• Open, expansive lawns featuring a signature Play Area with varying topography and unique playscapes;

• Centrally located River Groves provide shaded areas for people to sit and enjoy views of the river or activities below the Civic Canopy.

  • Mississippi River Parks Partnership

3. The Community Batture is a forested area situated on higher ground, providing a different perspective of the river within the park and places for families to gather and barbecue. New spaces include:

• Meditative Paths that weave through the forest to create intimate gathering spaces for people to connect with the landscape;

• A Peace Walk that creates a new landscape that integrates the Tom Lee Memorial into its surroundings

• A Civic Glade that offers a sunny area in the restored riparian forest for smaller-scale gatherings, activities, or events;

• Two Point Bar Pavilions to house visitor amenities and park utilities.

4. Habitat Terraces at the southern end of the park offers a more intimate experience of the natural landscape, and will include:

• A Canopy Walk that connects the park to the city by means of an elevated path through the biodiverse forest of Tom Lee Park’s southern zone;

• Immersive Platforms which offer park-goers a quiet acoustic environment to experience the sights and sounds of the Mississippi River.

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