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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)

 

Long plagued by an open, skillet-flat terrain that sizzles in the summer sun, Tom Lee Park will be transformed by the addition of shade trees and small hills as part of a $45 million-plus project designed to accommodate the Memphis in May International Festival along with more traditional park activities, officials said Tuesday.

The project will take 10 months to design and no more than 18 months to construct. It will result in a radically improved centerpiece for the Downtown Memphis frontage on the Mississippi River, said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of Memphis River Parks Partnership, which is planning the project.

"In a little more than two years, we will have a transformed riverfront," Coletta told board members of the city-subsidized group formerly known as the Riverfront Development Corp.

The project's cost, estimated at between $45 million and $55 million, will be borne through a combination of private fundraising and city capital-improvement money, said George Abbott, director of external affairs for the MRPP.

The group manages riverfront parks and amenities under a contract with Memphis, which contributes nearly $3 million a year to its budget.

MRPP already has begun construction on improvements to another facility, Mississippi River Park, where a $1.6 million project includes a tree house play area, pavilion, a meadow and other features. Completion is expected by Labor Day.

In addition to the landscape changes, the Tom Lee project includes the relocation of utilities and improvements to Riverside Drive.

The park occupies about 20 acres of land reclaimed from the Mississippi nearly 30 years ago.

The Corps of Engineers, in a project to stabilize the Memphis bluff and improve river navigation, built a mile-long stone dike parallel to the bank and backfilled sand and dirt behind it.

The city then raised the acreage, developed walkways and other park features on it.

Despite its prominent location on the riverfront, Tom Lee Park long has been criticized for its lack of trees and topography.

For years, however, RDC officials maintained that their options were limited because modifications might create obstructions for the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest - the main events of Memphis in May.

But Coletta said new design, by the architecture and urban design firm Studio Gang, will ensure that "Memphis in May has what it needs for a great festival and that we have what we need for a year-round park."

Three main stage areas for the music festival and tent areas for the barbecue contest would be interspersed with forested areas.

Renderings provided by MRPP show a "shady grove" and "playful hills" in the park.

Changes to the "hardscape" and relocation of utilities also will make the process of installing and removing Memphis In May events cheaper, more efficient and less damaging than current practices, Coletta added.

Reach Tom Charlier at thomas. charlier@commercialappeal.com or 901-529-2572 and on Twitter at @thomasrcharlier.

The park occupies about 20 acres of land reclaimed from the Mississippi nearly 30 years ago. The Corps of Engineers, in a project to stabilize the Memphis bluff and improve river navigation, built a mile-long stone dike parallel to the bank and backfilled sand and dirt behind it. The city then raised the acreage, developed walkways and other park features on it.

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June 13, 2018
 
 
 

 

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