MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A day after Memphis in May reported a record loss of $3.48 million and its lowest attendance in decades at this year’s festival, its president and CEO is talking about what happened and what’s next.
Jim Holt says the festival will be back next year, but exactly where is now the question. Holt says they’re assessing all options and “making some tough but necessary decisions.”
“We got off to a late start because of controversies and difficulties with the lease agreement, and we had very disappointing patron turnout at our major events in Tom Lee Park,” Holt said. “Because of the late start, the lineup wasn’t quite as compelling for the music festival as we would have liked it to have been, and I think the economy has played a role in it as well.”
Tom Lee Park, the festival’s riverfront home since the ’70s, recently had a $60 million revamp, which Memphis in May says gave them 40% less usable space.
Holt also said he believes there were other factors this year.
“There’s a lot of concern about crime and public safety. We’re seeing a lot of that emphasis on social media,” he said.
Next year, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest will be in a new, not-yet named site off the riverfront. That location will be announced in the next week or so.
As for the Beale Street Music Fest, Holt said, that location also will be revealed in the next week or so. “But with the current management of the park down there, I’m uncertain that we’ll be returning to Tom Lee Park in ’24.”
Sadly, Holt said there’s not a viable location in downtown. While some have asked about the possibility of Mud Island, he says logistics get in the way.
“You’ve got in the neighborhood of 400-600 vehicles that descend upon the park, and to try to manage that traffic down the Mud Island road and the single lane winding around, it’s just not operationally viable.”
Mud Island River Park is managed by Memphis River Parks Partnership, the same organization that manages Tom Lee Park. The groups is in a legal dispute with MIM over a bill for damages of more than $1 million from the festival.
We reached out to the Memphis River Parks Partnership, which manages Tom Lee Park, to see if they had any comment on the situation.
A spokesperson told us they have no comment at this time.