MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Just three years after the completion of the Memphis Riverfront Concept, the city is breaking ground on its major riverfront park – Tom Lee Park. A virtual groundbreaking is set for 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 9, at the site of the park’s new gateway – the Cutbank Bluff -- and will run live on the Partnership’s Facebook page.
Everyone is invited to attend. The link to register is: bit.ly/TLPbreaksground. Attendees will have an opportunity to hear from park supporters and learn how they, too, can be “all in” for Tom Lee Park.
The new Tom Lee Park will create a spectacular new front door to Memphis, Shelby County and Tennessee. Construction is set to begin at Cutbank Bluff before moving into the park west of Riverside Drive next year.
“In 2017, I challenged my Riverfront Task Force to deliver a world-class riverfront in record time,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “This groundbreaking marks a major milestone toward that goal. Now, we can all begin to look forward to the day when we cut the ribbon to open the nation’s best riverfront park right here in Memphis.”
Support for the $60M park has come from the City of Memphis, Shelby County and the State of Tennessee along with a number of corporations, foundations and individual donors.
The New Riverfront
The new Tom Lee Park anchors Memphis’ ambitious riverfront transformation that is guided by the Memphis Riverfront Concept. To date, progress on the Riverfront Concept includes the 5-mile River Line trail and the transformation of two former Confederate parks into beautiful, inclusive gathering spaces named River Garden and Fourth Bluff Park.
“At the end of an unusually challenging year, it’s thrilling to be able to celebrate groundbreaking on Memphis’ next civic jewel,” said Tyree Daniels, board chair for Memphis River Parks Partnership. “All the meetings, planning, mediation and fundraising have led us to this moment. Almost a hundred years in the making, Tom Lee Park will serve Memphians for generations to come. Its transformation starts now.”
The design team for Tom Lee Park is led by internationally recognized design firms Studio Gang and SCAPE. Studio Gang was commissioned by Mayor Strickland’s Riverfront Task Force to lead the Memphis Riverfront Concept and has actively worked in Memphis since 2016. In 2018, landscape architecture and urban design firm SCAPE teamed with Studio Gang to advance a new design for Tom Lee Park.
“This is an important step toward the revitalization of the Mississippi Riverfront as a vibrant place for all Memphians,” said Studio Gang founding principal Jeanne Gang, FAIA. “Our design for Tom Lee Park responds to the observations, ideas, and knowledge shared by Memphians since we began working to envision a new riverfront with them in 2016. The new park will celebrate the diversity and enthusiasm of these voices by creating flexible and resilient spaces for community life to flourish along the water’s edge.”
“The groundbreaking of Cutbank Bluff represents a major benchmark for public space in Memphis,” said Kate Orff, founding principal of SCAPE. “It’s fitting that the first area of Tom Lee Park to break ground is a gateway to downtown—the new design aims to improve connectivity and equitable access across the park for all Memphians, celebrating the environmental and cultural history of the Mississippi riverfront."
The New Tom Lee Park
Tom Lee Park’s landscape and features are inspired by the dynamic rhythm and patterns of the Mississippi River. Guided by the inspiration of Tom Lee, Memphis’ Very Worthy Hero for whom the park is named, the park will be a place that welcomes all and where community thrives 365 days a year beside the river.
The new park features four zones of activity separated by generous, flexible lawn spaces. Together, the park features combine to create a dynamic and engaging experience with breath-taking river views at every turn, from north to south.
- The Civic Gateway features the Cutbank Bluff, a radically redefined park entrance and access point from Vance Ave. and the first ADA-accessible route up and down the bluff. The new access leads to the Gateway Plaza hosting a major water feature and natural stone seating nestled beside a shaded community tree grove.
- The central Active Core will buzz with activity as the home to the park’s signature all-ages play space and outdoor exercise equipment at River Fit. The one-of-a-kind 20,000 sq. ft. Civic Canopy will host music, sports, events and more with the unrivaled backdrop of the river. A river deck and two river lawns will play host to the free nightly show of spectacular Mississippi River sunsets while pavilions and shaded seating provide options for food and restrooms.
- Designed as the quieter, more serene and peaceful part of the park, the Community Batture will feature topographic changes that unlock new river views, sloping lawns for family enjoyment, meditative paths, a Peace Walk and a River Overlook that will accommodate smaller outdoor gatherings. Community Tables and Hammock Groves provide places to relax, unwind and gather in small groups.
- The Habitat Terraces, at the southern-most end of the park offer an intimate and immersive experience with nature, featuring educational spaces, sound and sensory gardens, and plenty of native plants and wildlife.
Throughout, Tom Lee Park prioritizes resiliency, survivability and sustainability with native plantings grown from seeds collected as part of the first-ever Massive Seed Project.
To learn more, donate and join the email list to stay current on park progress, visit tomleepark.org.