MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has announced an agreement on the future of Tom Lee Park between Memphis in May organizers and the Memphis River Parks Partnership.
Plans to renovate the park have been a point of contention for months, leading the mayor to send both groups to mediation. Strickland says the process was “successful.”
Tom Lee Park will host MIM in 2020. The annual festival will take place at a yet-to-be-named alternate site for 2021 to accommodate construction, but MIM will return to the park in 2022 for the foreseeable future.
In a news release Thursday, Strickland reiterated that Riverside Drive will remain a four-lane street with speed-limiting designs to enable better access to the park.
“My vision is, and always has been, to craft a better Riverfront for all Memphians -- one in which our citizens and the thousands of tourists who come to our city can get the full benefit of the park the other 11 months of the year. That includes an improved Tom Lee Park and a better-than-ever Memphis in May. With this compromise, I believe we’ve accomplished that.”
Officials from MIM and MRPP said they are ready to move forward in the design process.
“With Mayor Strickland’s announcement today of a resolution to the mediation process with Memphis in May, the final design process to turn Tom Lee Park into the signature public park on the Mississippi River can begin,” said Coletta. “The Partnership thanks Mayor Strickland and COO Doug McGowen for their leadership through this process. Since the beginning, our goal has been to produce a new park that will be an unmatched public asset for the people of Memphis and Shelby County and will be able to host great festivals and events. Today, that goal remains intact. Now, the design team will re-convene and restart work. Early next year, we’ll be able to share more on the evolution of the design. All of the elements we unveiled in February will remain in the park, and you can expect the design to be better than ever.”
In August, WMC learned more than 50 downtown business owners sent a letter to the mayor in support of the $60 million park redesign proposed by MRPP.
For their part, MIM officials were worried about a park redesign shrinking the festival or forcing it to relocate.
"When people come together in good faith we can work together and compromise and everyone can succeed. This is proof of that," said Mayor Jim Strickland, "Both things can coexist."
In late March, Strickland asked the Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) and Memphis in May (MIM) to attend mediation by retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder.
"We are excited and hopeful that both parties are happy with this. And both parties are looking forward to unveiling a great park," said Robert Griffin, VP of Marketing for Memphis in May, "Both parties and the mayor's office have the best interest of the city of Memphis at heart."
The document released publicly for the first time Thursday lays out agreed-upon design constraints from both sides. MRPP gets guaranteed concept elements on the design of the park, and Memphis in May gets a promise Riverside Drive will remain four lanes, along with size requirements and configurations for lawns, including stages.
"We are not throwing out any of the elements that you saw in those renderings. But things will shift around based on the design constraints," said MRPP President and CEO Carol Coletta, "We've got great designers and design constraints for them are just a mind puzzle. They're fun. That's the challenge. I go into the design with how do we make it great."
MRPP said designers will get back to work making everything fit.
The group said the park's price tag is $60 million, with $20 million more to raise. The city is routing $10 million in sales tax funds to the project.
Last year, the state allowed the city to add the riverfront and Mud Island to an existing tourism development zone (TDZ), where sales taxes can be used to pay for improvements.
As part of the agreement, Memphis in May will leave the park in 2021 for construction and return in 2022. Leaders with MIM said talks are still ongoing as to where to place the festivities in 2021.
"We have been in discussions with several different venues trying to find a place that would accommodate our events. No decision has been made. We are still reaching out to venues to find the perfect spot," said Griffin.
The agreement says a committee will monitor the design and construction for the project, ensuring the design stays within the agreed-upon constraints. Members of the committee will be appointed by Mayor Jim Strickland, according to a city spokesperson.
The agreement also stipulates the city, MRPP, and MIM are barred from making disparaging comments about each other. It goes on to state in the event of any dispute, the city has the final say.