City announces agreement on Tom Lee Park renovations

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An agreement has been reached among the city, Memphis in May and Memphis River Parks Partnership on Tom Lee Park renovation plans, city officials announced Thursday.

According to the document signed by all three groups, the park — currently a mostly flat open area on the city’s riverfront — will be transformed with a “dramatic gateway/entrance” on the park’s north end, divided “rooms,” a multi-use event pavilion, play areas for children, a wildlife lookout and other new features.

The design will also include provisions for Memphis in May, including lawns for stages and barbecue teams.

“With Mayor Strickland’s announcement today of a resolution to the mediation process with Memphis in May, the final design process to turn Tom Lee Park into the signature public park on the Mississippi River can begin,” Carol Coletta, president and CEO of Memphis Parks Partnership, said in a statement.

Riverside Drive will remain four lanes, though the agreement states there will be no median, and a traffic signal will be installed as a traffic control measure. Parking will be provided at the park’s north, south and middle.

Rendering of the redesign of Tom Lee Park

George Abbott with MRPP said the group’s design team of Studio Gang and SCAPE Studio will take a fresh look at the park’s design based on the design constraints outlined in the mediation agreement.

“We look forward to seeing what changes they recommend and are confident that the design of the new park will be even better and will become an unmatched asset for Memphis,” he said.

The city says no general fund or capital improvement money will be used on the project, which is funded by county, state and private sources, as well as $10 million in TDZ money that would otherwise go to the state. So far, donors have already committed $40 million toward a capital campaign goal of $60 million, Coletta said.

“My vision is, and always has been, to craft a better Riverfront for all Memphians—one in which our citizens and the thousands of tourists who come to our city can get the full benefit of the park the other 11 months of the year,” Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement. “That includes an improved Tom Lee Park and a better-than-ever Memphis in May. With this compromise, I believe we’ve accomplished that.”

Memphis River Parks Partnership, which manages Tom Lee Park as well as Mud Island River Park, proposed improvements to the city’s riverfront early in 2019, but those plans were met by backlash from some groups, including Memphis in May.

Organizers of the city’s annual music, barbecue and cultural festival feared the event might be forced to move from its longtime home, and mediation was set up to resolve the groups’ differences.

Memphis in May will take place in Tom Lee Park in 2020, move out the next year to accommodate construction, then return “for years to come,” the city said.

Plans must be reviewed and approved by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before construction can begin.

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