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Tyree Daniels

Tyree Daniels is managing director at Duncan-Williams and vice chairman of the Memphis River Parks Partnership board of directors.

Daniels: New spirit shines through Tom Lee Park design

By Published: February 20, 2019 6:48 PM CT

There are so many reasons to be excited about Memphis today, but chief among them are the momentum, optimism and ambition that have been unleashed. If there is a timely symbol of this new spirit, it is the plan for a transformed Tom Lee Park.

When completed, the untapped value of these 30 acres will be leveraged to create what will be the most distinctive and spectacular riverfront park on the Mississippi River. Its impact is not just about a great Memphis riverfront but about creating an economic engine and driving a new level of development. In other words, it’s not just the riverfront that is being transformed. It’s also Downtown, the neighborhoods nearby and the entire region.

The dramatic new design of Tom Lee Park has emerged from the guiding principles for Memphis River Parks Partnership, which call for every investment made in Memphis to have a multiplier effect, so that the whole city benefits; for the riverfront to remain vibrant 365 days a year and not just during the 10 days of Memphis in May; and for the city to reject the attitude that “it’s good enough for Memphis.”

Already, the riverfront shows the results of this approach. The imaginative River Garden in only a few months has become a popular hot spot, and if an acre and a half can have that much impact, imagine what can be done on the 30-acre canvas of the city’s most visible real estate at Tom Lee Park. 

The thoughtful design of our largest riverfront park respects and amplifies the nature and ecology of the riverfront with options for each of us to create our own special experiences there. 

It’s a dream that has been 100 years in the making, but finally, with the continued support of the private, public and philanthropic sectors, we will begin in a few months to make it happen.   

Memphis’ first comprehensive plan in 1924 called for an improved riverfront, and it was just the first of more than two dozen plans with that recommendation. Just since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been at least three recommendations for a redesign of Tom Lee Park, including one in 2013 by urban planner Jeff Speck, who wrote: “A number of plans have been made for beautifying Tom Lee Park, with the main strategy of using copses of trees and shrubs to divide the 4000-foot-long park into a series of ‘rooms.’ People complain that all of these plans have been rejected by Memphis in May as conflicting with its needs. ... Conversations with Memphis in May suggest that such a reconfiguration of the park is not at all in conflict with its needs, but that prior design efforts have not included the organization as an active participant.”

That’s why we have worked to involve Memphis in May from the first days of the design process, and why we have given special attention and spent a significant amount of money to make sure the festival’s needs are not just met but exceeded.  As a result, Memphis in May will now have a place for its events that no other festival in the country can match.

In the end, we are building more than a new park, even a wildly impressive one. This is a vote of confidence for Memphis’ future and for all Memphians. This is a vote for a city where all of us, regardless of who we are and where we live, have a well-designed public place where we can come together and strengthen our special sense of community. This is the power of the Memphis riverfront and why so many Memphians are excited about realizing Memphis’ long-held dreams for one of the country’s great waterfronts. This park will represent to the world the potential of Memphis as a community that embraces its past but is not defined by it. 

With a renewed Tom Lee Park, we send a message about today’s momentum and making sure every Memphian has an opportunity to share in this progress. There’s no investment that we can make in our future that is more sustainable and says more about Memphis in its bicentennial than this bold new riverfront. It becomes the symbol for our commitment to equity, an inclusive economy and a shared future. 

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Tom Lee Park Memphis In May International Festival

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