Governor pours $10 million into Tom Lee Park improvements

By Updated: April 18, 2019 9:27 AM CT | Published: April 16, 2019 12:27 PM CT

Gov. Bill Lee is putting $10 million of his $66.8 million supplemental budget into Tom Lee Park improvements. 

Released Tuesday as part of the first-term governor’s updated spending plan in the proposed $38.6 billion budget for fiscal 2019-20, the funds could complement riverfront improvements estimated to cost more than $200 million. A resolution for the funding was introduced this session by Rep. Kevin Vaughan, a Collierville Republican.

<span><strong>Gov. Bill Lee is putting $10 million of his $66.8 million supplemental budget into a Memphis riverfront development grant.</strong> (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)</span>

Gov. Bill Lee is putting $10 million of his $66.8 million supplemental budget into a Memphis riverfront development grant. (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)

Finance and Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter did not mention or explain the grant during a presentation to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee Tuesday morning. According to the administration, however, the riverfront project is being funded from several sources, including the state.

Mayor Jim Strickland later clarified details of the money coming from the governor, saying the $10 million is specifically for Tom Lee Park and not other aspects of the riverfront improvements.

The request for the money came from Strickland’s office, according to the Finance and Administration Office.

“We worked really hard with the governor's administration to get that into the budget,” Strickland said.

If approved by legislators, Strickland said the Tom Lee Park undertaking would have $40 million so far toward the $60 million goal.

“And they are optimistic about the other $20 million,” he said of the Memphis River Parks Partnership, which is overseeing riverfront development on a larger scale for the city, including the Tom Lee Park project.

“We’ve got to work hard with legislators to gain support for that,” MRPP president Carol Coletta added, referring to the project as an effort to ”transform the front door to the state.”

“It really does show how that this project transcends Memphis,” she said. “It’s important. … It extends to the state, to the region and to the nation. I think we are going to have the best waterfront park in America.”

Strickland also said the state funding could have an impact on the ongoing mediation process between the partnership and the Memphis in May International Festival.

Former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder is the mediator in a dispute over whether the partnership’s plans for Tom Lee Park add or take away space for Memphis in May events. The partnership said its plan will create more space than the festival has now, while Memphis in May says it will leave them with less space.

“The mediation between the two parties is working out really well,” Strickland said. “With this $10 million, I think it’s just going to accelerate it.”

Coletta was more circumspect. As part of the mediation process, neither side is supposed to comment on the specifics of what is happening.

“We look forward to completing that mediation and moving on with building this park,” Coletta said.

The wider project would, in addition to overhauling Tom Lee Park, improve Mud Island River Park, build a new cultural center including Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and restore a cobblestone landing.

MRPP's plan also calls for pedestrian links to points of interest, local neighborhoods and the Downtown business district.

The governor’s supplemental budget also provides $100,000 for the YWCA of Memphis, $50,000 for Memphis Music Banq and $110,000 for repaving walking paths near Quail Ridge and Rocky Ford parks in Bartlett.

In higher education projects, the spending plan puts $5.76 million toward the University of Memphis’ Lambuth Campus to go with $6 million from capital projects school bonds and other sources.

For fiscal 2019-20, the University of Memphis is also slated to receive $5 million for food service dining improvements, $2.8 million for field house improvements, $500,000 for the Larry Finch Plaza, $900,000 for Memorial Field artificial turf, $800,000 for Park Campus demolition, $1.8 million for student housing improvements and $750,000 for volleyball improvements.


Memphis River Parks Partnership Bill Lee Memphis in May Tom Lee Park Memphis Music Banq
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.

Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

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