Memphis In May official: Issues, challenges, and problems related to proposed Tom Lee Park redesign

MIM not on board with proposed redesign

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The leader of Memphis In May said Thursday they’re not on board with the current proposed redesign of Tom Lee Park, and there are fears the new layout won’t accommodate Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

“We identified issues, challenges, and problems related to the design,” said James Holt, Memphis In May President/ CEO.

Holt said the new Tom Lee Park, as proposed will present big challenges for the city’s namesake festival.

“Festivals need flat, level space, and this is a highly programmed park in terms of infrastructure, planting, hills, valleys,” he said.

Tuesday Memphis City Council members got an up-close look at the Memphis River Parks Partnership design, with an estimated price tag of 70 million dollars, and the council members raised questions then about the festival working inside the new park. MRPP leaders said their plans showed both Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest could fit.

Holt told WMC Action News 5 on Thursday the redesigned park would not be viable for either event.

“There are challenges and issues for both events based upon existing design,” said Holt.

Problematic for the music festival he said would be the reduction of Riverside Drive from four lanes to two, presenting a hindrance for dozens of big rigs used to set up the entertainment stages and acts.

An analysis by a Memphis in May architect showed the amount of public space for the music festival would shrink, from 73% of publicly usable space in 2018 to 47% of publicly usable space under the re-design. The document said 31% of the redesigned park would not be space suitable for booths, tents, or trailers.

Holt says MRPP has suggested putting barbecue teams alongside Riverside Drive for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, but that isn’t feasible because many teams pay for prime spots closer to the river.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told WMC Action News 5 Thursday he’s aware of the disagreement and urged compromise.

“We want to continue a great Memphis In May festival but also have an improved park,” Strickland said.

As for the festival leaving the park, Holt said at this point that’s not an option.

“Tom Lee Park has been the home of Memphis In May for 42 years,” he said, “Memphis In May started downtown, and we want to continue in that setting.”

Construction could start as early as June 2019. MIM officials have said they want a phased construction process, so the park can still be utilized while it is being remodeled.

Memphis In May and the Memphis River Parks Partnership are set to meet Tuesday to work through issues on the design.

“We have a meeting set with MIM for next week where we’ll review the concerns that they have identified,” said George Abbott, with MRPP, “We’ve worked closely together with MIM through this process, and we’ll continue to do so. I’m confident that there is a solution that can produce a signature park for Memphis year-round, as well as a great host for MIM festival.”

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