Tom Lee Park mediation on hold, mayor says

Future of Tom Lee Park on hold

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As another Memphis in May wraps up at Tom Lee Park, the park’s future remains uncertain.

Mediation between Memphis River Parks Partnership and Memphis in May is on hold, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers weighs in.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland made that announcement in his weekly email on Friday.

Memphis River Parks Partnership, which manages the park, wants to redesign it to attract visitors all year long.

“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, CEO of Memphis River Parks Partnership.

But Memphis in May, which hosts the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at the park, wants to make sure renovations don't force its events to move somewhere else.

"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, the vice-president of marketing for Memphis in May.

Both sides entered mediation in April.

"We've made progress in mediation in recent weeks, but the proposed park changes are now on hold so our partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose shrewd engineering work created the park some three decades ago, can review MRPP's proposed design," Strickland said.

Strickland said the Army Corps of Engineers will make sure the changes don't affect flood control, the stabilization of the bluff or the river navigation channel.

George Abbott, director of external affairs for the partnership, said the partnership has always known the Army Corps of Engineers would have to approve any changes. He could not provide any specifics about what had been discussed in mediation.

Construction had already been pushed back to the fall.

The approval process takes at least 90 days.

"The safety of the public and the integrity of our project...are the two main things were interested in," said Jim Pogue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Memphis District.

So far, no plan has been presented to the Army Corps of Engineers.

"With the Mayor's announcement that mediation has been paused while MRPP begins talks with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding their proposed redesign plans, Memphis in May is reserving comment until after we have a chance to discuss with the mediator and focusing on wrapping up a very successful month of events celebrating the City of Memphis in Tom Lee Park," Griffin said on Sunday.

A Facebook group, which says its goal is to SAVE Tom Lee Park and the events that take place there, created a petition which has collected more than 3,000 signatures.

Strickland remains optimistic about the park’s future.

“I continue to believe that we can have an improved Tom Lee Park, whatever form that takes, that also allows Memphis in May to thrive,” he said.

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