Proposed Memphis riverfront art installation rejected by design review board

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 10:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A proposed art installation on the Memphis riverfront is meeting a wave of mixed reviews, but there’s only one review that matters.

“I believe this will end up being as Instagrammed as the Memphis sign,” said Carol Coletta, Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) president and CEO, to the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Design Review Board Wednesday, May 5.

MRPP sought approval for the project and wanted to build a 46-foot tall and 40-foot wide “We Have Soul” sign on the south lawn at Mud Island Park near the popular MEMPHIS sign.

“We believe this is on-message,” said Coletta, “not just for Memphis, but for Memphis as a tourist destination, which we are trying to build back this summer.”

The seven-member review board expressed concerns with the full message: “We Have No Time For Things With No Soul.”

“I think ‘We Have Soul’ would be great with a musical note in the middle,” said board member Rod DeBerry. “But that other message kind of carries two messages to me, and I guess I’m questioning the messaging.”

Board Chairwoman Joyce Selina Love said the bright yellow and black design reminds her of a ‘going out of business’ sign and the view at night leaves much to be desired.

“The lighting proposed doesn’t make the sign readable,” said board member Michelle Ye.

A representative for the condo owners at Waterford Plaza, who would have a front row view of the sign from their balconies, told the board they’re worried about the size of the installation, which would literally be as big as a house.

“A standard billboard is 672 square feet,” said Waterford’s Jennifer Booker, “and this project is particularly large in scale, very sizeable at 1,800 square feet.”

The Downtown Neighborhood Association told the board that a majority of HOA members don’t want this pop-up art to pop up downtown.

“They expressed very strong resentment toward this particular project as it is proposed now,” said DNA President Jerred Price.

WMC Action News 5 asked viewers for their thoughts on the sign on social media.

Positive reactions ranged from “I love it” to “Very cool,” to “I can dig it.” But the majority of the replies were not as glowing:

“Pass,” wrote one viewer. “It’s quite tacky,” said another.

One respondent even said, “Nothing like crime scene tape welcoming people to our town.”

Several posted versions of “Ironically, this sign has no soul.”

After a 90-minute presentation and Q&A session, the DMC’s Design Review Board decided MRPP can do better. “It just feels like a really big, missed opportunity,” said board member Colin McDoniel.

The sign would be temporary, displayed from Memorial Day through November 30. The Design Review Board gave it the thumbs down and told MRPP to come back with a revised plan for that part of the park.

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