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VOL. 129 | NO. 181 | Wednesday, September 17, 2014

RiverFit Brings Activity to Tom Lee Park

By Amos Maki

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Riverfront Development Corp. President Benny Lendermon, while advocating for the creation of Beale Street Landing, once referred to Tom Lee Park as one of the worst parks in the country.

Wagner General Contractors assemble monkey bars at the Memphis Grizzlies pop-up fitness park in Tom Lee Park. The three-month-long park, which is also being referred to as RiverFit, will feature sand volleyball courts, a soccer field, six fitness stations and an obstacle course.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

But now the RDC, Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation and Community Investment team and the city’s Division of Parks and Neighborhoods are teaming up to transform the expansive park on the banks of the Mississippi River into Memphis’ first fully accessible fitness park.

From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, the Grizzlies, Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and others will unveil the new Memphis Grizzlies riverfront fitness trail, a “pop-up park” focused on exercise and fitness.

“For the Grizzlies, fitness is core to who we are, what we do, how we live,” said Diane Terrell, executive director of the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation and Community Investment team. “As a professional sports organization – and the only one in Memphis – we have a special obligation to not only promote fitness but to enable it as well.

“So, parks are a critical component of our overall community investment. The Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail and Pop-Up Park is a fun, new approach to what is a core value for us."

RiverFit Grand Opening

Wednesday, Sept. 17
5 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

The Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail and Pop-Up Park, presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, will debut along the western edge of Tom Lee Park on Wednesday, Sept. 17, at a grand opening event from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The grand opening will include exercise and equipment demonstrations by community partners, including Grizzlies center Kosta Koufos and president of business operations Jason Wexler. The Grizz Girls and their personal trainer will also be on hand to lead participants through a training session at 6:30 p.m.

Memphis Rowing will lead an urban rowing demonstration alongside the riverfront with the help of students from Soulsville Charter School. The soccer court and double volleyball court will also play host to demonstrations, and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will provide trainers on-site for exercise education.

Fans who sign up for Grizzlies E-News will receive a voucher for two tickets to a Grizzlies preseason game.

– Don Wade

The three-month-long project, which is also being referred to as RiverFit, will activate Tom Lee Park, which for years was a flat, largely lifeless space for 10 or 11 months each year. It will have two sand volleyball courts, a soccer field, six fitness stations and an obstacle course.

"The park was designed to function as a festival park for the city,” said Janet Hooks, director of Parks and Neighborhoods. “The openness of the park allows for multi-purpose uses of the space during non-festival periods. The important thing is that we are providing access to a great space for outdoor activities; we want people to be engaged."

The six workout stations scattered throughout the park will include instructions so almost anybody will be able to use them.

“I think it’s great there will be more of a structured way to help people know how to work out,” said Lauren Phelps, a certified personal trainer and owner of Lauren Phelps Coaching. “There will be an instruction list that explains what to do, which is great for somebody who doesn’t work out or doesn’t know what to do.”

Phelps believes the new exercise park, with its stunning views and variety of exercise activities, will help people who are already fit stay engaged and attract others who may not be as active.

“Having a nice scenic view is better than most gyms,” Phelps said. “Having variety is good for your overall fitness but it also keeps people engaged. For people who are already active and even those who aren’t, maybe they’re running or walking along the Riverwalk as they normally do and they see this and decide they want to try something new.”

ANF Architects designed the park, and Wagner General Contractors Inc. was the general contractor.

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

"The best parks are the ones people want to use – do use – and use frequently,” said Terrell. “I think of RiverFit as a public conversation starter (for) what we as a community want from our urban green spaces in general and Tom Lee Park in particular. It’s my hope that a lot of people will weigh in on this conversation by using the park.”

The Grizzlies will engage researchers 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.

The Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail and Pop-Up Park is the latest addition to the city’s evolving riverfront, from the RDC’s recently completed Beale Street Landing to the transformation of The Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shops attraction and bike and pedestrian paths on Riverside Drive.

“There’s a tremendous amount of energy focused on Memphis’ riverfront right now, with the completion of Beale Street Landing, the new bike lane, and the forthcoming Harahan Bridge project,” said Terrell. “RiverFit is an extension of that vision – a way to use our assets and resources to build on these and other projects to create a terrific recreational experience for the entire city.”

Calvin Anderson, senior vice president and chief of staff for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said the fitness park was just one more way to chip away at the obesity epidemic plaguing the Mid-South.

“We didn’t get to our status overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight, but you have to start and this is a great opportunity,” Anderson said.

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