Strickland puts Tom Lee Park mediation on hold for study of park terrain

By Updated: May 25, 2019 11:27 AM CT | Published: May 25, 2019 12:07 AM CT

The mediation sessions between Memphis River Parks Partnership and Memphis in May International Festival are on hold so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can review the partnership’s plans for Tom Lee Park.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced the hold Friday in his weekly email.

“We’ve made progress in mediation in recent weeks, but the proposed park changes are now on hold so our partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers … can review MRPP’s proposed design,” Strickland wrote.

“This may take a while, of course,” he said. “But it’s vitally important that any improvements continue to provide for the safe use of the park, and that they don't affect flood control, the stabilization of the bluff, or the river navigation channel.”

The mediation overseen by retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Janice Holder began in April with both sides in the talks adhering to Holder’s request that they not talk about what is being discussed.

The partnership originally intended to begin the park renovations as soon as this year’s Memphis in May festival ended, with the festival moving to other locations for 2020.

Bill Dries: Parks partnership says Tom Lee Park changes to start in fall

But then the festival concluded that the partnership plans for adding trees and contour to the flat and mostly treeless majority of the park would mean less space for the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest – MIM’s two biggest events in terms of attendance and box office business.

The festival’s conclusion was the opposite of the partnership’s, which early on said the changes would mean more square footage in the park for festival events while making the park more active the rest of the year.

Earlier this month, the partnership announced it would begin the park renovations this fall as long-planned work on the cobblestones landing adjoining the northern end of the park began. That work is expected to include the Beale Street Landing part of the park.

Strickland has said repeatedly he believes the festival can coexist with a park that has more activities the other 11 months of the year. He has also said that if the mediation doesn’t resolve the differences, he will propose a settlement similar to what he did in the Overton Park greensward controversy. Strickland acted when mediation of that controversy failed to produce an agreement between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy.

Strickland’s proposal to end overflow parking on the greensward by the Memphis Zoo was ultimately replaced by a city council-mediated plan to redesign the zoo’s existing parking to add 415 new spaces and encroach on the northwestern border of the greensward.

Sam Stockard, Bill Dries: Governor pours $10 million into Tom Lee Park improvements

Strickland suspended the Tom Lee Park mediation the same week that critics of the partnership plans began circulating on social media an April letter from an unidentified “retired rep” of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The letter specifically questions plans for more hills in a park that rises on its northern and southern ends – Beale Street Landing on the north and Ashburn-Coppock Park on the south.

George Abbott, director of external affairs for the partnership, has said the plans are tentative and that a geotechnical review was always a part of the process going forward.


Tom Lee Park Jim Strickland Memphis River Parks Partnership Memphis In May
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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