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VOL. 131 | NO. 83 | Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shelby Farms Park Transformation Started With Plan

By Bill Dries

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Two years ago this summer, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy had raised $52 million to start its “Heart of the Park” work that is scheduled to open in the late summer and early fall.


It’s a doubling of the size of Patriot Lake along with a second playground with water features, a visitors center and an event center with a restaurant as well as boat rentals and bike rentals.

As that construction is almost finished, conservancy executive director Jen Andrews says the construction is a platform that doesn’t overwhelm the park or the park’s potential.

“The idea was to build this iconic hub in the center,” Andrews said on the WKNO TV program Behind The Headlines. “This is the place that all the people come to and disperse out from. The project is about giving the park the facilities it needs to be a world-class park.”

Patriot Lake is also improved as well as expanded. It had perennial problems as a smaller manmade lake created in the 1990s after dirt from the site was used to cap a landfill on the other side of Walnut Grove Road.

“We’ve created an ecologically sustainable lake,” Andrews said. “We’ve increased the watershed. We’ve shored up the edges. We’ve done a lot of work on the ecology of the lake.”

Behind The Headlines, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Andrews was the first employee of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy a decade ago. She became executive director of the conservancy in March.

She said the parkland was being “overwhelmed.”

“We knew the park was becoming more and more popular. More and more people are coming and they are coming for different reasons,” she said.

“If you don’t have a plan, especially for a large park, it’s way too tempting to fill it up with things,” Andrews added. “That’s part of our case that we made to put together the public-private partnership to manage the park.”

Before Heart of the Park, there were three projects for which the conservancy raised $18 million that set the stage for the larger changes – the Shelby Farms Greenline, which the conservancy manages for the county under a separate agreement, the Woodland Discovery Playground and the Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge.

“People tend to like progress, but tend to not like change. Once we built the Greenline and the playground and the bridge, I think that we proved we could raise money and that we could design at a really high level,” Andrews said. “We could do something innovative and different. We could put out a plan and raise the money and get it done quickly and deliver it to the public so these weren’t pipe dreams. We were doing it in an ecologically sensitive way.”

Heart of the Park is ahead of schedule on the way to an end of September formal opening with a three-day music festival by Patriot Lake organized by The Consortium Memphis Music Town.

“For a long time, people who loved Shelby Farms in Memphis had to fight to protect it,” Andrews said. “Putting together the conservation easement, and the master plan and the nonprofit management was all about shifting from the fight to protecting the park with the conservation easement and then talking about possibilities.”

Beyond that, she said the conservancy’s funding mix from philanthropy and earned revenue will continue, with an evolving and different balance between the two.

“Prior to construction we did have some funding that came through earned revenue and that was people who wanted to rent the picnic shelter or hold a race or an event or festival at the park. So once Heart of the Park opens, we have our new event center which has a lakeside ballroom that will seat 500 people around tables for an event,” she said. “You can have a wedding … corporate retreats things like that. “Philanthropy will always be important to the park. But over time the percentage shifts so that we rely more on earned revenue while still trying to grow our philanthropy.”

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