MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis In May representatives say they expect a final agreement on the use of Tom Lee Park for the 2023 festival will be signed this week, after negotiations stalled last week.
MIM released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it’s actively talking with Memphis River Parks Partnership, the private group that manages Tom Lee Park and is currently spearheading a $60 million park upgrade.
“Memphis in May has been actively negotiating with the MRPP in cooperation with the City of Memphis on the lease agreement for use of Tom Lee Park in 2023. We expect a final agreement will be signed this week and another exciting Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Cooking Contest back on the riverfront this May,” MIM said.
Martavius Jones, the Memphis City Council liaison to Memphis in May, said the group’s board is set to meet Thursday and he expected to have an agreement between the groups signed.
Reached earlier Wednesday, an MRPP representative said there was “no update” on the negotiations.
Construction is about 80 percent complete and set to wrap up for an official opening on Labor Day weekend, though there would be a pause in construction to accommodate the festival, MRPP spokesperson Candace Gray said.
With just weeks to go before the start of the city’s largest annual festival, MIM’s board president Jim Holt told city council members recently that negotiations over using the riverfront park were stalled due to a disagreement with MRPP over damage deposits.
He said the entire festival could be in jeopardy.
Carol Coletta, head of MRPP, responded that it was MIM holding up negotiations.
Jones said he was concerned about the long-term loss of crowd capacity in the renovated Tom Lee Park. He said the park will go from a capacity of over 100,000 people over three days down to about 66,000. The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest will be reduced from 230 teams to 150.
“My concern is the negative economic impact that that is going to have on the city of Memphis,” Jones said.
Last year, the festival moved to Liberty Park in Midtown due to Tom Lee Park being under construction as part of a $60 million park redesign from the Memphis River Parks Partnership.
The switch to Liberty Park caused an economic hit of $72 million for the non-profit. Officials also said last year’s festival also marked the lowest attendance the festival has seen in decades, reportedly falling below 115,000 people.
The Memphis In May International Festival 2023 honoring Malaysia is set to kick off with the Beale Street Music Festival May 5-7, then the barbecue championship May 17-20 and the Great River Run May 27.