Plans for Tom Lee Park may jeopardize future of Memphis in May festival

Plans for Tom Lee Park may jeopardize future of Memphis in May festival

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - We are now just one week away from this year’s Memphis in May, and Beale Street Music Fest starts next Friday.

But as the stages go up in Tom Lee Park, questions remain about the future of the festival.

Memphis in May celebrates local and foreign culture. It generates more than $100 million for the Memphis economy.

But with remodeling plans for Tom Lee Park threatening its existence, is the city's biggest party almost over? On a bike ride through Tom Lee Park, Cortney Jackson and Bruce McClain are counting down the days to Memphis in May Music Fest.

"I think Memphis in May is like a really big deal,” Jackson said. "There is no more beautiful setting than here at Tom Lee Park."

"I guess the whole idea is the symbol of Memphis in May is the bridge, the riverfront, the Pyramid... all that in the background that's Memphis in May,” McClain said.

For Memphis in May's Robert Griffin, the excitement of getting the park ready for a month-long celebration Is tempered this year.

"For us, it's different because there is the uncertainty of what's going to happen next year,” Griffin said.

Memphis in May, in mediation with the Memphis River Parks Partnership, is negotiating the Partnership's $50 million plan to remodel Tom Lee Park to make sure it can still accommodate Music Fest and the World BBQ Contest.

"You know, if you can add to it, OK... but don't take away the tradition,” Jackson said.

Jackson and McClain love the idea of improving the park, but not if it forces Memphis in May away from the river.

"We need change and we need growth, but also we don't need to take it away from the park because that's what we're known for right? To be here at the riverfront,” McClain said.

As this year's festival takes shape, its future is unknown.

"It could be the last Memphis in May in Tom Lee Park in its current form,” Griffin said. “It remains to be seen what happens with the next version of Tom Lee Park, or if there is a next version of Tom Lee Park."

The Army Corp of Engineers will have to sign off on the renovation plan, too. Tom Lee Park was built to support the bluff and help channel traffic on the Mississippi River. Any changes to the park require federal approval.

The two sides meet again in two weeks.

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