MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis in May’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest may be moving out of Tom Lee Park.
According to an email obtained by WREG, Memphis in May is exploring locations other than Tom Lee Park for the Barbecue Fest. The cooking contest is still scheduled to go on in 2024.
The decision was reportedly driven by the plans for Tom Lee Park’s final design, as well as an increased sum to use Tom Lee Park.
“Considering the final park design, and the extraordinary, punitive restoration fee, Memphis in May is exploring venue options other than Tom Lee Park for the future,” the email stated.
The statement issued by Memphis in May went on to say, “We regret this circumstance and appreciate all the hard work and understanding from Memphis in May competition teams over the past several years as this is not the outcome that we have been working hard to achieve.”
Memphis River Parks Partnership recently sent Memphis in May a list of damage reportedly done to Tom Lee Park during the 2023 festival. The cost of the damage was estimated to be more than $1.4 million.
The organization reportedly claims that the cost was approximately 23 times the average expense Memphis in May has paid over the past decade. The price tag shocked some city leaders.
Memphis in May, in an email sent to WREG on Monday, said the group would submit the damage claim to its insurance company and would issue a statement “at the appropriate time.”
“Most of the damages had been in the past 50-some-odd thousand,” Councilman Martavius Jones told WREG. “So, to go from 50-some-odd thousand to over $1 million should be a shock to my colleagues and all other stakeholders in Memphis.”
Memphis River Parks Partnership told WREG they stand by the multimillion-dollar invoice, saying, “The damage resulting from Memphis in May was assessed and confirmed by an independent arbiter appointed by the City of Memphis, and charged to the festival according to its lease agreement.”
In early February of this year, Memphis in May President and CEO James Holt claimed that a damage deposit Memphis River Parks Partnership required for Tom Lee Park would put a financial strain on the festival.
“We feel they are effectively attempting to shut down our festival,” Holt said at the time.
A few weeks later, Memphis in May officially announced that the festival would return to Tom Lee Park.
“It’s absolutely crucial. Quite honestly, five months ago, I wasn’t sure we were going to be back,” Holt said. “We came with something very big. We wanted to re-establish our footprint back downtown.”