Holder to mediate Tom Lee Park talks

By Updated: March 25, 2019 3:06 PM CT | Published: March 25, 2019 2:08 PM CT

Retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder has been appointed to mediate talks between Memphis in May International Festival and the Memphis River Parks Partnership over plans to redesign Tom Lee Park.

The two sides have been meeting since late February, and each described the talks as productive.

Holder was appointed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. The mediation process begins about a month before the start of the festival’s month of activities, including its two biggest in Tom Lee Park – Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

Holder has been part of city mediation efforts before, serving with attorney David Wade in an attempt to mediate the dispute between the Overton Park Conservancy and the Memphis Zoo over how to end overflow zoo parking on the Overton Park Greensward.

The partnership has a plan to add trees and other features to the layout of the riverside park to make it a space for more festivals and smaller-scale events year-round. The plans include areas for concert stages and barbecue contest booths that the partnership said would mean more space for each event than is available presently in the park.

But festival organizers say their measurements show less space with the new plan.

The partnership wants to start work on the park’s new look as soon as the last of this year's festival events ends, with Memphis in May events for 2020 moving to other locations.

The festival wants to keep the 2020 events in Tom Lee Park and stage the park’s redevelopment around the festival.

Strickland’s position has been that the city will not do anything to hurt the festival. The administration also has said it believes there are several Downtown sites that could host the festival events for a year.

The mediation effort could include as one of several approaches separate meetings by Holder with each of the groups and, if needed, taking messages and/or counterproposals between them until there is enough agreement to get both sides talking in the same room.

A strict embargo is expected on disclosing details of the discussions, at least until some kind of agreement is reached.

The mediation effort in the greensward controversy ultimately did not result in a compromise. But it set the stage for the Memphis City Council to broker and approve a compromise around a reconfiguration of the zoo’s existing parking area to create 415 additional parking spaces in a $3 million project jointly funded by the zoo and the conservancy.

Even that effort didn’t prevent a later disagreement between the two groups over when they had to raise the private money to fund the project.

The first phase of construction on the zoo parking lot by Montgomery Martin Contractors is expected to begin this summer with work on the Prentiss Place parking area off McLean Boulevard.


Janice Holder Memphis In May Memphis River Parks Partnership Jim Strickland
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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