Army Corps has final say on Tom Lee Park redesign plans

U.S. Army Corps will have to approve Tom Lee Park plans

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tom Lee Park serves a much bigger purpose than being a great place in Downtown Memphis with a spectacular view.

"Well first and foremost, what we have here is a bank stabilization project,” said Jim Pogue, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The park prevents Riverside Drive and the bluff from washing away into the Mississippi River.

"In 1926...the bluff basically failed,” said Pogue.

The bluff collapse of 1926 took out railroad tracks and entire businesses.

"And it was a pretty catastrophic failure,” said Pogue.

The solution was Riverside Drive. It was created in the 1930′s to prevent more erosion.

However, there were still problems.

A photo from the 1970's shows how close the water was to Riverside. The street would often flood.

So in 1989...

"We built that dike out there so the current didn't constantly erode the bank,” said Pogue.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expanded Tom Lee Park by building a stone dike and using dredge material to fill in the space.

"And it created about 18-19 new acres of land, and then the city came in a few years later and built it even higher. That's how we got the Tom Lee Park you see today,” said Pogue.

Any changes, including the redesign unveiled by the Memphis River Parks Partnership, must be approved by the Corps of Engineers.

MRPP still in mediation with Memphis in May officials, who worry the renovations will force Music Fest and the BBQ competition to go elsewhere.

"Of 167 parks in the City of Memphis, there's not another one that offers everything to Memphis in May that this park offers,” said Robert Griffin, Memphis in May marketing vice president.

"We agree, the riverfront is the thing. So, making the riverfront a great place 365 days a year is what we're trying to do,” said Carol Coletta, Memphis River Parks Partnership CEO.

In order to do that, the government will have to green light the final plan.

"The safety of the public and the integrity of our project are the two main things we’re interested in,” said Pogue.

No final plan has been presented to the Corps of Engineers.

The approval process usually takes at least 90 days.

MRPP announced a week ago, construction’s been pushed back from June to the fall.

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