New Tom Lee Park Plan Revealed

Posted by Holly Whitfield | May 20th 2020 1883 0

Today, the Memphis River Parks Partnership revealed an updated plan for the redesign of Tom Lee Park. It was broadcast live in the Daily Memphian website and YouTube.

You can watch the full presentation, which is still live right now, here. There’s also a virtual walkthrough on the new TomLeePark.org website.

Here are the bullet points, Memphis In May info, and some images:

Special thanks to the Daily Memphian for hosting a Q&A with Carol Coletta (President and CEO of Memphis River Parks Partnership) and Kate Orff (principal of SCAPE), and Jeanne Gang (principal of Studio Gang).

Some of the below bullet points were pulled from the video presentation and the Q&A portion:

Fast Facts and Memphis in May Info

  • The new plan meets the requirements set forth by the mediation between MRPP, Memphis in May, and the Army Corp of engineers including open space requirements for events.
  • Memphis In May will still happen in Tom Lee Park this fall (if everything goes as planned re: pandemic) and in May 2021.
  • Memphis In May is supposed be out of the park for one year only: 2022.
  • The space for BBQ team tents and stages for BSMF meet the requirements from the mediation.
  • The project will cost a total of $60 million. Sources of funding: Tourism Development Zone money, Shelby County, State of Tennessee, and private funding.

New Design Fast Facts + Observations

  • Vast and expansive grassy open spaces
  • Riverside Drive will remain as it is
  • There are the same number of parking spaces as today, but are spread out along the length of the park, including on both sides of Riverside Drive
  • Spaces for playgrounds, picnics, and a sand bar beach
  • Has some shade but preserves views of the river
  • Accessible ramp built down from the bluff
  • A “civic water feature” and shady grove near Beale Street Landing
  • A canopy in the Heart of the Park
  • A “very high above the river” platform on the South End


After renovation:


After renovation:


After renovation:


This new plan comes after some, um, consternation from some locals after the first plan was announced last spring. Mostly, supporters of Memphis In May were concerned the new plan wouldn’t leave adequate room for Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

According to the Daily Memphian, the mayor mandated that the Memphis River Parks Partnership work with Memphis in May and the Army Corps of Engineers to come to an agreement on the new design.

Memphians are in their FEELINGS about this. I may regret asking this, but—what are yours? Let me know in the comments, but keep it civil.

For more information:

Memphis River Parks Partnership’s Tom Lee Park Website

Show Comments


  1. Phillip Barrows says:

    We walk the park every day and love the new design, accessibility and functionality including the fact that MIM will still be held there. Really feel like this is a win-win for the community. Maybe Mud Island will be next up for renovation

    • Holly Whitfield says:

      Hi Phillip! It does seem like a win-win, doesn’t it? It’s great that people are using the park daily! My fingers are crossed for Mud Island, too.

  2. Tee says:

    Change is good. Although I love the park as is, making it more appealing and inviting is awesome too. I just wish a food court was down there. Any talks about that?

    • Holly Whitfield says:

      Hi Tee! I have a feeling that they’ll want park visitors to support the existing downtown restaurants. Hopefully, the new design will help to connect Main and Front Street businesses and restaurants with the riverfront more.

  3. veena says:

    I am so excited about this. It will make the park more accessible and useful for the entire year and will open up so many opportunities for programming and other uses. I look forward to seeing how this enhances the downtown experience for Memphians and visitors alike.

  4. Nerf says:

    I like the that while creating a year-round attraction, they kept more open areas for the larger events. I think the design could actually enhance the experience of Music-Fest, but I believe that foot traffic between shows is going to wreak havoc on the proposed landscaping.

    However, having festival logistic experience, I have serious doubts on how the latest design will work to keep BBQ-Fest in Tom Lee. The new design loses nearly a 3rd of the park’s flat ground, a significant portion of river real estate, and creates only 3 open spaces with zero sidewalks between them. (Also, circles are not good for building efficient grids of square tents!) In addition, losing much of the premiere priced “river-facing” spaces on top of limiting the amount teams will put a serious hurt on that total festival’s revenue. I just can’t see Jim Holt agreeing to that concession.

    • Holly Whitfield says:

      Nerf – I appreciate your insight! I think we all share some of those same concerns while hoping for a year-round park! I guess we will have to wait and see.

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