MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The City of Memphis pays the Memphis River Parks Partnership $2 million a year. Among MRPP's duties is park maintenance. Mayor Jim Strickland, like many of his constituents, has certain expectations for the quality of that work.
The mayor has heard citizen complaints about the overgrown grass and weeds at Greenbelt Park in Harbor Town. And he’s seen the social media posts showing the torn up turf on the out-of-order splash pad at Beale Street Landing. He’s also heard taxpayers express concern that Memphis River Parks Partnership, the group planning to spend $65 million to renovate Tom Lee Park, can’t take care of the parks it currently operates.
So WMC Action News 5 asked the mayor if he thinks MRPP is equipped to handle maintaining Memphis' parks.
"Yes, I do," he replied, "and the city council does, too, because the council awarded MRPP a 13-year contract. I know emotions are running high on this issue and I know MRPP is under the microscope. We've told them they're under the microscope and that they need to pick up their game, and they have."
Critics of MRPP worry the partnership’s redesign of Tom Lee Park will force the annual Memphis in May festival to go elsewhere. Mayor Strickland, who asked both sides to go into mediation to negotiate an agreeable plan, was asked how serious he is about making sure MIM stays put in Tom Lee Park.
"I'm committed to it," he said, "the citizens need to know Memphis in May is there forever. And I want it in the current size, and I've told them that. In fact, I want Memphis in May to grow. We want a better Memphis in May. We want more people taking part in the festival. So we want to grow Memphis in May. Let's not just keep the status quo."
In heated debates on Facebook, many Memphians have wondered why the $65 million can't be spent instead on renovating Mud Island Park, making the amphitheater and the monorail operational again.
"With limited dollars," said Strickland, "the city just doesn't have the money to put into Mud Island Park, and the same was with my predecessors. We need money for paving roads, and Mud Island is not on that priority list. Tom Lee Park is easier to access and easier to use and more people use it now."
Mayor Strickland says Mud Island Park is challenging to get to, and it hasn't been updated in decades, making any renovation a costly venture. He did credit MRPP with installing the new MEMPHIS sign at the park, noting its a been a big draw getting visitors to the park.
But the future of the city, the rebirth of its riverfront rests with Tom Lee Park, he says. The space connects a stretch of downtown that’s undergoing a transformation, including a new Brooks Museum that will be built on nearby Front Street. The Mayor has high hopes for the park and for MRPP.
"Memphis in May and MRPP," he said, "are going to work this out and we're going to have a better Tom Lee Park and, I think, a better Memphis in May."
Mayor Strickland says MRPP is working on a master plan for Mud Island Park. The issues at Beale Street Landing are a little more complicated with allegations of shoddy construction work and a lawsuit tying things up there. And the US Army Corps of Engineers must give the final o.k. before Tom Lee Park is changed in any way.
The Corps recently had to tell MRPP to stop bull dozing dirt into the Mississippi River. The partnership was trying to clear Beale Street Landing of all the caked mud left behind by spring flooding. A work permit is required to do that, according to a Corps spokesperson. MRPP spokesperson George Abbott says they are now working with The Corps to get the appropriate permits and checking to see if removing the dirt is cost effective for tax payers.