Memphis In May Officials Worry About Impact To Events With Tom Lee Park Redesign

Local News
Renovation plans for Tom Lee Park could hurt Memphis In May International Festival

There are new worries from the President and CEO of Memphis in May on how a proposed redesign of Tom Lee Park would shrink the size of the annual Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

According to architects hired by Memphis in May, if the redesign is built out as planned, the Music Fest would lose more than a quarter of its public space, and the barbecue contest would likely lose more than that.

MIM leaders said one of their greatest concerns stems from the fact that the test-fits from their local architect show a much larger reduction in attendance and team spaces beyond the thresholds initially provided.

Memphis in May leaders plan to meet with the Memphis River Parks Partnership next week to iron out their concerns and tweak the designs before construction starts. The goal is to limit the expected space lost for Memphis’ signature events each year.

In a $70 million private fundraising campaign, the Memphis River Parks Partnership plans to add new trees and wildlife around the existing Memphis in May festival areas. Architecture Incorporated estimates the public spaces in Tom Lee Park for the Beale Street Music Festival would fall from 73% to 47%.

With planned hills in the park redesign, the barbecue contest’s available space and number of competing teams could be impacted even more, according to Memphis in May President Jim Holt.

“With all of the hills and trees and bushes and this and that, it has an impact on where we are able to place things, and considerations of crowd flow comes into the picture, service vehicles that are used thoroughly out the park, so all kind of elements come into play,” says Holt.

Holt is fearful the average 35,000 or so attendance for BSMF would drop below 30,000 as a result. He said was Memphis In May organizers were prepared to take a reduction in space to the park, but requested the new plan accommodate no less than 30,000 attendees per day at BSMF and no fewer than 200 teams at World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

The WCBCC typically hosts 250 to 260 competing teams.

“I’m a size ten foot, no way I’m going to put on a size 6 shoe, and those embellishments and enhancements to the park are coming with a reduction in space,” says Holt.

“With any change to the park, there’s going to be changes of how you run the festival and the task in front of us is, let’s work together, and let’s find what works to make a great park for Memphis in May as well as a great park year-round,” says George Abbott with the Memphis River Parks Partnership.

If construction on the redesigned Tom Lee Park starts in June as planned, Memphis in May leaders hope for a staggered construction schedule so the 2020 Memphis in May won’t have to be moved.

If that happens, festival leaders are considering other downtown sites, but say no other place downtown would work as well as Tom Lee Park.

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