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VOL. 133 | NO. 117 | Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tentative Tom Lee Park Plan Adds Trees and Festival Infrastructure

By Bill Dries

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There is a plan to add more trees to Tom Lee Park and other amenities and still keep the park as the home of the Memphis In May International Festival with some of the festival infrastructure becoming permanent.

The board of the Memphis River Parks Partnership got a look Tuesday, June 12, at how the mix of trees, utility hardware and different corridors from the riverbluff into the park would work after a review by Studio Gang designers, event consultants and Memphis in May leaders.

“You restart Beale Street Landing, you leverage Riverside Drive, diversify the park experience, relocate the utilities,” MRPP president Carol Coletta told the board in summarizing the design strategies. “You stretch the festival north, you modify festival operations – that’s how things come in. Build a flexible pavilion as part of the work that we will do. Maximize the hardscape. Plant resilient landscape.”

The festival currently has to bring in utilities to support the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, 901Fest and the Great American River Run events in the park.

“All the irrigation lines are broken. They have to run electrical,” Coletta said. “And those are all things Memphis in May has to pay to fix. What we want to do is put the infrastructure in this park that allows them to come in and other festivals potentially.”

A rendering of the layout for the barbecue contest with the new layout shows the contest featuring several hundred barbecue teams could actually expand.

Memphis River Parks Partnership president Carol Coletta reviews possibilities for the layout of the Beale Street Music Festival in a reconfigured Tom Lee Park at the Tuesday meeting of the MRRP board. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Studio Gang, the Chicago firm that came up with the city’s concept for overall riverfront development, estimates it would take 10 months to come up with a specific design and 18 months to build and reshape Tom Lee Park. That’s if Memphis In May remains in Tom Lee Park and the work on the park stops for the month of May. The timeline is shorter if the festival relocates for a year.

“We don’t want Memphis in May to go anywhere. They’ve had to do it before with barbecue,” Coletta said referring to flood waters in 2011 that reached Tom Lee Park prompting a move to Tiger Lane.

“I think the question is how do we make sure that we can run as fast as we can on the park and not slow that down and certainly not damage anything,” Coletta said, adding there should be cost estimates in two to three weeks.

“We still have to raise the money. But what we hope to do is get the design work started so we don’t lose time,” she said. “We want a great park as soon as we can get it and we want Memphis In May to have a better festival ground. Getting the funding to get started on design is what we are about right now.”

Meanwhile, the second year of RiverPlay, a pop-up park with an emphasis on athletic activities and some programming sponsored by the Memphis Grizzlies, opens Friday around Beale Street Landing and the landing parking lot. Last year, RiverPlay was on a stretch of Riverside Drive between Memphis Park and Mississippi River Park closed to traffic for several months.

This year’s version of RiverPlay will not involve any closing of Riverside Drive.

And new signage for the RiverLine trail running along the riverfront goes to the Design Review Board of the Downtown Memphis Commission at its July meeting for approval.

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