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VOL. 129 | NO. 108 | Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bailey Continues Call for Shelby Farms Development

By Bill Dries

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Walter Bailey is the only serving Shelby County Commissioner who was part of the 1970s debate on the commission about what to do with the farmland that was the old Shelby County Penal Farm.

Shelby County Commissioners approved a $3 million appropriation Monday for the “Heart of the Park” Shelby Farms Park project, which includes an expansion of Patriot Lake.

(Daily News File Photo)

And with a Shelby Farms Park Conservancy now operating, maintaining and raising private money for the parkland that was once a prison farm, Bailey remains a critic of the public use of the land.

Bailey advocated Monday, June 2, abiding by a 1970s study on the land – before it became a park – that advocated residential and commercial development instead of a public use.

The study competed with the later Eckbo plan, which advocated a public park use of the acreage.

“Put some of it on the tax rolls,” Bailey said Monday as he went after park advocates who tout it as the largest urban park in America. “What are we after, bragging rights? It’s not properly geographically located.”

Bailey’s opposition surfaced again Monday as the County Commission debated how to increase access to the East Memphis park by poor inner-city children and their parents. The commission made some budget amendments.

It’s the latest chapter in a running discussion by some commissioners who connect those access efforts to future county funding.

In the current budget season, Bailey and several other commissioners said they remembered the original agreement for public park use and a conservancy to include the county never having to contribute money with all funding of the park coming from private donors and grants.

But Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell countered that there never was such an agreement on funding and that the park raises far more in private funding than it seeks from county government to leverage greater private contributions.

“God forbid the day we have to put commercial and residential development in the park,” Commissioner Mark Billingsley said in response to Bailey’s call for development.

Commissioner Terry Roland said he is “sold on the park” and questioned the age of the study Bailey cited.

“This study was done before I even learned to drive,” he said, sitting next to Bailey.

“Put some of it on the tax rolls. What are we after, bragging rights? It’s not properly geographically located.” 

–Walter Bailey
Shelby County Commissioner

Bailey later said some may think his position was “blasphemy” given the park’s success.

“I don’t apologize for mentioning that,” he added. “It might be something we want to revisit.”

Commissioner Steve Mulroy’s amendment to add $70,000 in funding for Memphis Area Transit Authority’s fixed bus route service on weekends to Shelby Farms Park was approved as part of the operating budget.

Transit authority officials said such a route would originate from the north bus terminal Downtown with several stops in the inner city on the way to the park. Mulroy said his intent is for the funding to come into play in the event that leaders of the bus line do not secure a federal grant specifically for Shelby Farms Park bus service. No word has been given on the grant’s possibility.

The commission also approved an amendment saying it “expects” a new splash park at Shelby Farms to be open for free one day a week to boost access to the park by poor children living in the inner city.

In approving the county’s $75 million capital improvements budget, the commission also approved appropriating $3 million in funding for the $70 million “Heart of the Park” expansion at Shelby Farms that includes an expansion of Patriot Lake.

The county capital budget also included a $1.5 million appropriation for the expansion of a rail line on Presidents Island that will include the Cargill operation in the industrial area. The rail expansion is also expected to prompt other private development near Cargill by other tenants.

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