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VOL. 129 | NO. 146 | Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Grizzlies Plan ‘Pop-Up Park’ for Tom Lee Park

By Amos Maki

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The Memphis Grizzlies would like to activate Tom Lee Park while generating a community-wide discussion about the highest and best use of green spaces.

The Memphis Grizzlies want to create a temporary space in Tom Lee Park that would include a fitness station on the south end of the riverfront park complete with exercise stations, a soccer field and beach volleyball court.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The Grizzlies, along with the Riverfront Development Corp. and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s office, have been working behind the scenes for months to craft a plan to temporarily turn parts of the expansive park along the Mississippi River into an active, vibrant fitness park complete with exercise stations, a soccer field and beach volleyball court.

“Tom Lee Park is an iconic park in Memphis and one we thought was not utilized to capacity for 10 months of the year,” said Diane Terrell, executive director of the Memphis Grizzlies Community Investment and Grizzlies Foundation. “We saw an opportunity to enhance the usability for the other 10 months of the year.”

The Memphis Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail and Pop-Up Park would include six stations: monkey rings, polyboxes, abdominal station, pull-up station, battler ropes and an obstacle course.

The stations would be located on the western edges of Tom Lee Park, on the green spaces between the existing sidewalk and the rip rap leading to the water’s edge. The soccer field and beach volleyball court would be built in the interior of the park.

ANF Architects is designing the temporary park and Wagner General Contractors Inc. is the general contractor. Construction should start within the next two weeks. Build-out is expected to take five to six weeks and the exercise stations and courts will remain in place through the end of November.

In addition to bringing more life to Tom Lee Park, Terrell hopes the pop-up fitness park generates a community discussion on how to best use the city’s green spaces and amenities.

“One of the reasons why we’re doing this is to get people to re-imagine how to use green space in Memphis and use it in modern, innovative ways,” Terrell said. “We just want people to come out and enjoy it.”

Although the fitness improvements are being billed as temporary, RDC president Benny Lendermon said they could become permanent fixtures if the public reacts strongly in favor of the project.

“They’re building it initially under the concept of a temporary operation with the idea of getting input along the lines of, ‘Is that where they need to be? Is that what people want?’” said Lendermon. “If it’s accepted and people like it and like the location the idea is it could be a permanent installation.”

The Grizzlies will be partnering with a research team at Rhodes College to do a formal evaluation on the usage and traffic at the fitness park to determine how well it was used and how it can be improved.

From walking the existing sidewalk system at the park to climbing the stairs on the river bluff, fitness enthusiasts have been using the park as their own personal training area for years.

“People are down there exercising now; you’re just providing extra things for them to incorporate into their routine,” Lendermon said. “I think it will go over very well.”

Terrell said the improvements could provide a better user experience for Tom Lee Park regulars while bringing new users to the park.

“It’s really the best of both worlds,” she said.

Envision Memphis, a locally owned fitness club located at 149 Monroe Ave. Downtown, has been engaged to help make sure the fitness stations appeal to novices and experienced fitness buffs alike.

“We want to make them as accessible and user-friendly as possible,” said Envision Memphis co-owner Mark Akin. “What’s the point of putting it in if people can’t use it?”

Akin said he believes the exercise improvements will solidify Tom Lee Park as a community gathering place.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Akin. “One of the things I love about tom Lee Park is it’s a place where all the cultures of Memphis are represented and (the pop-up park) will enhance that.”

The fitness park could also infuse some much-needed life into Tom Lee Park, a flat, wide-open expanse that has lacked amenities for most of its existence.

But that is beginning to change. The RDC recently opened the long-awaited Beale Street Landing, the $43 million riverfront enhancement project at the foot of Beale Street that includes a docking facility for riverboats, a welcome building for park visitors that includes a restaurant and a playground area and splash park for children.

“We think the fitness park is a great idea,” said Lendermon. “Tom Lee Park needs to be other things and we’re starting to get there.”

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