What's Up With Tom Lee Park?

The park is closed for a full scale renovation, and the new park will be impressive!

The new Tom Lee will feature:

  • big grassy lawns
  • playground with giant animals
  • 1,000 new trees
  • Gardens, groves, pathways, pavilions
  • Shoreline pollinator plantings and endangered butterfly habitat 
  • misting plaza
  • covered area for events
  • ADA accessible switch back entrance down the Bluff
tom lee park construction mostly dirt with M bridge and river in background
Holly Whitfield

When will Tom Lee Park reopen?

“2023” is the fastest answer to this question. I’ve been told that (barring any major delays) the park will be done enough to host Memphis In May in May 2023. Construction will continue after that, withCanopyCanopy full completion later in the year. 

Back To Today’s Story

After a year of construction, the new Tom Lee Park is starting to look like more than a dirt pile! A lot of what’s been done so far is actually under that dirt pile in the form of foundations, irrigation systems, and electrical hookups.

tom lee park construction 5 view of bluff houses
Holly Whitfield

I got a chance to tour Tom Lee today with Andrew Kiepe of Memphis River Parks and Garrett Uithoven, Montgomery Martin project managers. They were full of knowledge and passion for the place, and I really appreciated seeing how it’s taking shape. Thanks Garrett and Andrew! 

Based on my observations today, the priorities for the completed park are:

  • honoring Tom Lee’s heroism
  • improving accessibility to the park
  • adding in tons more native trees, plants, flowers, and grasses
  • creating unique spaces for lots of different events and activities 

What will the new Tom Lee Park be like? 

There’s so much going in that it’s hard to knock it all out in one of my usual bullet point TL;DR sections. But I’ll try. Keep scrolling for more detail and photos.

tom lee park under construction  with vertical poles and equipment
Holly Whitfield
Future site of the playground at Tom Lee Park
tom lee park construction 2 view of M bridge under bridge
Holly Whitfield
Part of the "Monument To Listening" area honoring the story of Tom Lee

—“Monument To Listening” installation honoring Tom Lee that incorporated existing bronze statue and a new lookout bridge

—three large grassy lawns

—a big awesome playground with giant animals (do not @ me; I laughed at first but now I think the animals will be so fun for kids)

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by SCAPE (@scape_studio)

—1,000 new trees and tens of thousands of grasses and plants

—switchback path leading down from the Bluff Walk across Riverside into a “Civic Gateway” entrance

—a mile-long garden of flood-resistant native plants on the riverbanks that encourages pollinators and provides endangered monarch butterfly habitat 

tom lee park construction 2 view of M bridge under bridge. It's mostly dirt.
Holly Whitfield
tom lee park construction 6 man holding rendering of Civic Canopy
Holly Whitfield
Future site of the Civic Canopy, a covered open air space for events and activities

—workout stations, basketball courts, restrooms, outdoor classrooms, groves, pavilions (including places for food trucks), decks for sunset viewing

—misting plaza (read more about this water feature and the Cobblestone Landing fountain via the best times)

—a “Civic Canopy” aka a big covered area for events and shade

—“quick travel” pathway for runners, bikers, scooters “along” Riverside Drive (separated from the road by a line of parking and median-style space of grass/trees

tom lee park construction 7 memphis mist plaza
Holly Whitfield
future site of the misting plaza water feature

who is Tom Lee?

The stunning bronze statue featuring river hero Tom Lee and one of his rescues will remain a centerpiece of the park, along with a new installation called “A Monument To Listening” from internationally-renowned artist Theaster Gates. 

Statue Tom Lee Park Memphis
The current Tom Lee Memorial sculpture will remain.

The weird old racist obelisk is gone. Crazy Memphis weather knocked it down not once but twice and we’ve finally taken the hint! 

Tom Lee was a Black Memphian who rescued 32 passengers from a sinking steamboat in 1925 by pulling them from the water in his small boat. You can read his full, incredible story here, and see a video here.

More Information

About Cutbank Bluff

Tom Lee Park’s entrance will be ADA accessible from the Bluff thanks to the series of ramped switchbacks. I didn’t get a great shot of this because our focus was the park itself, but this improvement will be completed this summer. 

 

How will I get to Tom Lee Park? Where will I park?

Tom Lee Park is located in downtown Memphis between the Bluff and the Mississippi River. Technically the address is "Riverside Dr, Memphis, TN 38103". You can access the park from downtown Memphis. 

Anytime there’s a new project, Memphians are really concerned about parking. We’ll have to sacrifice "14 spaces" of directly adjacent parking for this project. There will still be parallel spots along Riverside Drive and all the usual parking garages and metered spaces downtown. 

There’s also a new 900+ space garage going in next to the Orpheum that's a part of the Mobility Center that will help—it's a 6 minute walk directly west down the hill to the official park entrance (less if you count Beale Street Landing as the entrance.)

On a final note...

We’ve all had our questions and concerns about this park's renovation. I found answers and shared some of them in this article. Change is hard. But have faith, Memphis. I think this is going to be good. 

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