Partnership, Memphis in May relay 'productive' meeting Tuesday on differences

By Updated: February 26, 2019 7:49 PM CT | Published: February 26, 2019 1:20 PM CT

In an effort to get on the same page, the top executives of Memphis in May International Festival and Memphis River Parks Partnership met Tuesday afternoon to try and resolve issues related to a redesign of Tom Lee Park.

The redesign, by Chicago-based urban design firm Studio Gang and New York-based landscape architects SCAPE, is an effort to attract more parkgoers year-round and provide better access to one of the city's greatest assets, the riverfront.

Few details of what happened in the meeting were released, but MIM issued a statement late Tuesday saying the meeting was productive.

MIM representatives, the partnership, Studio Gang and Arch Inc. compared the test fits produced by both parties.

"We had a very productive meeting," MIM said in a release. "Our teams will continue to work together over the next couple of weeks to address the remaining issues with the goal of producing these two big Memphis in May weekends in a new signature riverfront park. We will meet again the week of March 18 and feel confident we’ll reach a solution together that works for the community." 

The partnership issued a similar, but separate release Tuesday afternoon.

After redesign plans were made public earlier this month, MIM publicized its own test fits last Thursday that showed the redesign would result in less space for Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the festival's largest annual events.

The same day, MIM president and CEO Jim Holt sat down with The Daily Memphian to discuss MIM’s concerns about how its signature events will not fit into the redesigned park. The partnership published a detailed account of “How the new Tom Lee Park can be a great host for our major civic festivals” on the online publishing platform, Medium.

George Abbott, the partnership’s director of external affairs, included a timeline showing MIM staff was involved in several meetings, including coordination, programmatic design and draft test fits of the music and barbecue festivals.

The new design for Tom Lee Park is built on MIM’s detailed specifications, Abbott said in the post, and compromises were made to allow for those major events.

Plans include “three great lawns that dominate the park,” he said, sized to accommodate the 30,000 people who attend music fest each of the three days, which is Holt’s primary concern.  

The lawns are estimated to hold about 42,000 people, assuming six feet per person, or roughly the amount of space one would have at a standing cocktail party.

To address MIM’s concerns about service trucks, which need access to pick-up trash or distribute food and beverages, the lawns have been designed next to Riverside Drive for easier access.

In addition, the new design recommends 30-foot-wide sidewalks to accommodate 18-wheelers bringing in stage equipment. Stages will be built on hardscape rather than grass with built-in utilities.

“Vendors are able to set up on the more than 165,000 square feet of hardscape in the ‘riffle’ section of the park and will find appropriately-located utility hookups in place,” Abbott said. “A network of 12 feet- to 19-feet-wide emergency egress paths are located throughout.”

To avoid “Memphis in Mud,” where rainy conditions mixed with thousands of festivalgoers result in muddy conditions, the lawns will be hardened with geoengineered fiber soil and drainage will be improved with stormwater drainage gardens.

The redesign includes a covered, multipurpose recreational court at the center of the park that the partnership sees as being easily adaptable as a concert venue to potentially serve as the Blues Tent during music fest or the judges’ tent during barbecue fest.

“A sound system will be integrated into the venue so that it is, essentially, plug and play and much easier than building a completely new tent,” Abbott said in the post.

The permanent court is 21,000 square feet, which Abbott says is much larger than the 15,000 square feet MIM requested.

The enhancements for festival producers will make production cheaper, easier and quicker, Abbott said.

“These enhancements will also open the door to more festivals and major events being held in the new Tom Lee Park," he said. "Already, multiple event producers have expressed interest in producing smaller festivals and concerts in the new park."

Another point of contention between Memphis in May and the partnership is how construction of the redesigned park could force festivities in May 2020 to be relocated. MIM wants construction to be phased so the festival can remain at Tom Lee and not moved to an alternative site for a year.


Memphis River Parks Partnership Memphis In May

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