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Demolition of Tom Lee Park in Memphis to begin Thursday

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 10:14 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 5:29 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -The demolition of Tom Lee park will be underway Thursday.

The $60-million renovation of Memphis’ signature downtown park got two critical green lights: one from Mayor Strickland’s Riverfront Steering Committee, the other from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tom Lee Park sits on a 30-acre berm that helps stabilize the bluff along the Mississippi River at Memphis. Structural changes must be approved by the Corps of Engineers. Tuesday, July 20, 2021, the Corps issued the 408 permit needed to make so many of the wonderful features seen in renderings possible.

The Mayor’s Riverfront Steering Committee also approved the design and the Strickland administration made an important decision.

“The city has no plans to charge for parking on Riverside Drive,” said Carol Coletta, the president of Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) to city council members. “That’s a city decision.”

Parallel parking spaces along Riverside Drive will no longer have meters. They’re free, but there are only 68 of them, all along the west side of the street. Sixty-two other free spaces on the east side have been eliminated.

“The fact that we’ve done this [renovation] to increase park participation but cut parking in half? I don’t think those two things are congruent,” said Councilman Martavius Jones.

Paid parking will be available in the new Mobility Center at Beale and Main. City council approved the $40 million parking garage during its regular meeting Tuesday. Construction should be done in 2022, but critics argue the Mobility Center is too much of a hike from the river with a tough walk up the steep bluff to get back to your car.

“It would be the same as going from the Overton Square garage to Overton Park,” said Downtown Neighborhood Association President Jerred Price. “That’s about three quarters of a mile.”

Roshun Austin, who runs the South Memphis nonprofit, The Works, says that’s okay because Memphis is too “auto-centric.” She added too many Memphians are out of shape.

“We’re a city full of obese people, and we should get people out walking because the 38106 has the lowest life expectancy in Shelby County,” Austin told the council members.

Councilman Edmund Ford, Sr. stood firm that 68 free spaces simply isn’t enough in a city where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty.

“A lot of people do have cars, but we’re talking about charging somebody [to park]? Don’t come there with me today,” said Ford.

Whether you drive, bike or walk to Tom Lee Park, it will look a lot different when construction’s completed in April 2023.

MRPP officials promised the council that Memphis in May (MIM) will take place in the new Tom Lee Park in 2023. An MIM spokesperson told WMC they expected the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to sign off on the design, which was hammered out during mediation between MRPP and MIM.

“From nature walks, to outdoor concerts, to running through the misting fountains on a hot summer day, that’s what we have to look forward to,” Coletta said. “A free, signature park that will put Memphis on the map, complete with fascinating features for everyone to enjoy 365 days a year.”

Again, the demolition of Tom Lee Park starts Thursday, July 22, 2021.

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