Clock is ticking for Memphis In May to ink Tom Lee Park deal

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 10:25 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Six weeks and still no deal worked out between Memphis In May and Memphis River Parks Partnership.

With the clock ticking, the future of the Bluff City’s most well-known festival is up in the air.

A photo on Facebook last week gave Memphis In May fans hope that the 2023 music fest and barbecue contest were locked in at Tom Lee Park, but that photo is gone. No one connected to the negotiations is talking.

It’s no secret the two sides involved in this discussion are like oil and water. There’s no love lost between Memphis In May officials and the folks who run Memphis River Parks Partnership( MRPP). Mayor Jim Strickland told the leaders of both non-profit organizations in August to pull up their bootstraps and work out a deal to get the festival back into Tom Lee Park.

The cover photo on the Beale Street Music Festival Facebook page last Friday proudly declared “Back on the River in Tom Lee Park May 5 through the 7 2023.”

Monday, the reference to the park was gone, replaced instead by “Memphis, Tennessee.” So what gives?

Memphis In May officials wouldn’t talk about how lease negotiations are going with MRPP, the group in charge of running Tom Lee Park.

“We have no updates at this time. We expect to make announcements shortly regarding the Memphis in May 2023 events,” the group said in a statement.

“Tom Lee Park is available to Memphis in May for its 2023 events prior to the park’s official opening. The next step is theirs,” said MRPP

In August, Memphis In May officials said they couldn’t afford the $1.4 million damage deposit MRPP was requiring to protect the $61 million in improvements made to the park. MRPP also offered a $375,000 deposit option with restrictions on which areas could be used.

Memphis In May CEO Jim Holt announced in May that the festival reported record losses in 2022, something he mainly attributed to the events being held at Liberty Park, the former fairgrounds, in Midtown.

Holt said in order for MIM to remain profitable and successful, the BSMF and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest need to be on the river. Memphis’ premier festival, he added, has had an excellent return on investment for the City.

“Over the course of 45 years, Memphis In May has generated a total economic impact on the City of Memphis of $1.4 billion, and we’ve done this without being a burden to the local taxpayer,” said Holt.

In an article for Common Edge, an architectural website, MRPP CEO Carol Coletta wrote, “We need to build great parks first as a quality of life consideration - let tourists and ‘economic impact’ be a secondary consideration.”

Read the full article here.

Tom Lee Park renovations won’t be finished by May of next year. However, work would be stopped and certain areas closed off if Memphis In May 2023 takes place on the river.

The official grand opening for the all-new Tom Lee Park is scheduled for the summer of next year.

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