Mud Island River Park conditions spark controversy, clean-up effort

Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 10:29 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In the four decades and three days since its glorious opening day on July 4, 1982, Mud Island River Park has struggled mightily.

The city has done bare-bones maintenance, and it shows.

But now, Memphis River Parks Partnership and the City Council are working to envision three or four scenarios that will make Mud Island work as a unique welcome mat on the city’s front door.

”I mean, there’s not a lot to be impressed with. It was underwhelming,” said Charles Byers, a Memphis tourist.

Charles and Yvonne Byers visited Mud Island to make a selfie next to the city’s big “MEMPHIS” sign that they first saw online.

“The first observation was: it looked like it was closed. We saw signs that said ‘Excuse Our Mess,’ you know, and then we saw you had to pay to park, and we were questioning whether we wanted to get out and find it at all,” Byers said.

City Beautiful Commissioner and President Emeritus of the Downtown Neighborhood Association Jerred Price shares his frustration.

”It’s unlike anything else we have in Memphis and we’re letting it fall apart. Shame Shame. Shame,” he said.

Broken doors, signs, and missing ceiling slats were seen as Price gave a tour of the park.

”Busted windows at the top, taped with duct tape. That’s cute,” he said.

George Abbott works for Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP), which oversees the entire Memphis Riverfront Downtown, including Mud Island.

”There’s no secret Mud Island is more than 40 years old,” Abbott said. “It’s in need of a lot of investment. There are about $20 million worth of deferred capital expenses on the island, all across the Island.”

Abbott says MRPP is working to fix many of the broken basics that Price pointed out, but there’s a lot of work that goes unseen.

“There have been some new features added. Not a whole lot of it is sexy. There’s been a very big issue with electricity on the island. We’ve had to work very hard to repair the electrical connections on the south end,” he said.

Abbott says the parks partnership is now trying to offer city council a few options going forward with Mud Island that make financial sense.

“It doesn’t make sense to reinvest in what hasn’t worked in the past,” Abbott said.

The Byers got their picture but say Memphis could do better on its unique island.

“It has potential. It’s a very unique location and clearly people used to come,” Byers said.

MRPP says it will come up with three or four plans for developing Mud Island over the next four months.

The partnership says it is repairing long-broken escalators, elevators, lighting, signage and other basics, but will work with city council to find options that give the Island a sustainable future.

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