MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mud Island Park has been an iconic part of the downtown Memphis landscape since first opening in 1982.
It was designed as a park ahead of its time—offering prime riverfront real estate for retail and business tenants and a world-class Mississippi River historical museum, complete with a mock-up of the mighty Mississippi running right through it.
Not to mention, a 4400-seat amphitheater facing downtown and a monorail system bringing people right from downtown to the park.
In recent years, however, the park has been far from a destination.
Broken glass and boarded windows are now part of the landscape—the famous river mock-up now drained. The amphitheater and the monorail no longer in use.
This week, there may be hope on the horizon for the beleaguered park (in the form of $5.5 million approved by the Memphis City Council).
While Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP), who manages and operates the park, has not yet submitted any plans for the money (as that would require further approval from City Council), downtown community advocates are speaking out on how the money should be used.
Would restoring the monorail be worth it?
Memphis city councilman Martavius Jones, who proposed the original $10 million in capital funding to restore Mud Island Park, said in his proposal that he wanted the money to go towards restoring and reopening the Mud Island monorail, which has sat dormant since 2018.
MRPP, however, disagrees right now with allocating the money solely for restoring the monorail.
"The monorail is an attraction in itself, but what we've learned in the three or four years since it's been down is that people still enjoy walking over to the park, there are already ways to get to Mud Island," said George Abbott, the director of external affairs for MRPP. "We need to first develop a list of potential future uses and tenants for Mud Island, and then decide what we're going to do with this money."
Jerred Price, the president emeritus of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, also doesn't want the focus to be on the monorail, but instead is advocating for even more money to come into the park.
"There's no sense in restoring a monorail to bring people to the park in the condition it's in," Price said. "Our monorail is one of a kind, which means finding parts and mechanics to fix those parts is like finding a needle in a haystack."
The monorail came with the park in 1982, and is unique for being the only suspension railway system in the United States.
Park representatives had previously told ABC24 about the issues fixing the monorail, saying its motor is simply too expensive to fix and indeed has custom made parts which only one engineer can install.
This has resulted in the indefinite closure of the monorail, leaving the above pedestrian bridge the only way to access the island directly from downtown.
"What I really hope Memphis River Parks does is advocate for state and federal funding to directly go into bringing back the amphitheater, monorail and park," Price said.