MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis in May, the city’s major summer festival for decades, may scale down in size and probably won’t be at Tom Lee Park on the river after this year.
MIM President Jim Holt made the announcement to festival volunteers in an email on Monday.
“Rest assured; the Memphis in May festival will go forward in 2024 and in the future. However, it likely will be much smaller in scale and very likely at a different location,” Holt said.
WREG reported this weekend that the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest — one facet of the monthlong slate of Memphis in May events — was looking for a new location after Memphis River Parks Partnership billed the festival $1.4 million for damages to the park after this year’s festival.
Holt’s email indicates that it’s not just Barbecue Fest looking for a new home, but the entire event.
That would appear to include the Beale Street Music Festival, which this year hosted some 50 musical acts including GloRilla, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, The Roots and The Lumineers in the not-quite-finished, renovated Tom Lee Park.
Holt mentioned the bill for damages after the festival as a prime motivator for MIM to look for a new home, saying the damages were 23 times what the organization usually pays. He also said MIM had invested $200,000 in measures such as signage and ground cover specifically to protect the park.
MRPP stands by its $1.4 million damage assessment, which the group says has been independently audited.
Just after the festival, MRPP initially reported that damage was minimal.
“There was some damage during the load in from vendors, but overall, thank goodness it didn’t rain this weekend that probably saved some impact on the park, and just great to see people enjoying using Tom Lee Park,” said George Abbott, MRPP’s Director of External Affairs at the time.
Tom Lee Park, which is managed by the Memphis River Parks Partnership, has been closed while undergoing a $60 million renovation that added hills, trees, paths, and pavilions. It is scheduled for a grand reopening on Labor Day weekend.
Though the design has won praise from some in the community, festival organizers said it would create a smaller space for the thousands of visitors who attended the barbecue, music, and other events during May.
Earlier this year, as negotiations for the use of the park by Memphis in May dragged on until just before the festival, as MRPP required a damage deposit of more than $1 million. Holt said MRPP’s demands would make the festival financially unfeasible and possibly put it in jeopardy.
“We feel they are effectively attempting to shut down our festival,” Holt said in February.
The deposit amount was eventually lowered.