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VOL. 126 | NO. 93 | Thursday, May 12, 2011

Flooding Forces Firm To Redesign BBQ Locale

By Sarah Baker

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Following last Monday’s announcement that the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is moving from Tom Lee Park to the Mid-South Fairgrounds, planners had less than 48 hours to turn around the new design at Tiger Lane.

Tiger Lane at the Mid-South Fairgrounds is filled with activity Wednesday morning for the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest after floodwaters closed Tom Lee Park Downtown.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Memphis-based Architecture Inc. was tasked with helping 247 teams – along with about 100 sponsors, judges, stages and vendors – set up in the fairgrounds’ asphalted and segmented tailgating grounds instead of Downtown’s grassy riverside field.

It’s an intricate mapping process that usually starts in February, said Joey Hagan, principal with Architecture Inc.

“Normally, it’s very simple,” he said. “We’ve got a map of Tom Lee Park and the mapping each year is really something like, ‘Move the Pronto Pup guy down 500 feet.’ Never anything like, ‘Move all 247 teams and the sponsors and the judges and everything to the fairgrounds.’”

The firm, which has completed the entire Memphis In May site plans for about four years pro-bono, was faced with two initial hiccups: existing infrastructure and finding a comparable “riverfront” view for teams that paid a premium for it.

“A lot of the teams pay extra money and have been on the river for years and naturally would expect some sort of similar amenity,” Hagan said. “Of course, we don’t have the river, but Tiger Lane is actually a pretty cool design because you’ve got the wide 40- to 50-foot grassy element that runs down the middle and terminates at the fountain and then at night, you have all of the fiber optics and lighting of the stadium, so that really became what we sort of treated as the river.”

Architecture Inc. faced all of the river teams onto the grassy lane and then backed the other teams up to them, keeping all teams in numerical order. In doing so, many teams now have more space than usual, said Architecture Inc.’s Valentina Shands-Puppione, the architect on the project.

“We had to deal with all of the different curbs because of the way Tiger Lane is laid out for cars to drive in and tailgate,” she said. “You have curbs, trees and sidewalks and the teams are used to a certain 26 by 40 spot. We had to do it all on the asphalt and some of the nicer parts of Tiger Lane are all sectioned off, so now, they’ve actually got more space because there wasn’t a flat place to lay the teams.”

And extra space provides “more breathing room” for team members and visitors alike, said Memphis in May International Festival President and CEO Jim Holt. In 2010, visitors came from all 50 states and eight foreign countries, and this year, the organization expects the same and more.

“Because it’s a larger site than Tom Lee Park, we were able to provide more access points for the patrons,” Holt said. “The teams operationally like the lay out quite a good deal. Doesn’t have the ambiance of being on the river, but right now, the river’s not necessarily the place you want to be.”

Architecture Inc. also does the layout for Sunset Symphony, slated for May 28. But that’s “a lifetime away” and it is contingent upon what happens with the river within the next week or so, Holt said.

“It’s our intent to return to Tom Lee Park,” Holt said. “Old Man River may not make that possible for us. It would be nice if we could hold Sunset Symphony in its traditional home, but if that’s not the case, then we’ll be announcing a wonderful new alternative location.”

If the Mississippi does in fact recede to a manageable level, Holt said Benny Lendermon of the Riverfront Development Corp. has indicated the need for a three- to four-day period to clear the park of any debris and for the turf to drain.

If and when the event is forced to relocate, Architecture Inc. is prepared to act quickly, just as it did with the barbecue festival.

“Any time that you’re going in to build an event, you can look at it like constructing a site with a lot of little structures, so it’s almost like building a property,” Holt said. “This event’s got a million moving parts and it would not have been impossible without Architecture Inc.’s dedicated effort and service. They worked extremely late and put in extra long hours in making sure the event happened.”

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