Downtown's Tom Lee Park to Reopen With New 'Vibrant and Diverse Landscape'
There have been plenty of previews of the major overhaul of downtown’s Tom Lee Park. But on Saturday, the public at large will be able to see for themselves the long-awaited redesign of the 30-acre riverfront property as it officially reopens.
It took about two years of construction and $61 million of both public and private funding, but George Abbott with Memphis River Parks Partnership says the time and expense was worth the transformation.
“The first thing that you’ll notice is just the diversity of landscape that is now present in the park,” says Abbott, whose organization ushered in the redesign. “From what was a uniform, flat piece of grass with fewer than 50 trees and not many park features, we now have a very, vibrant and diverse landscape.”
That diversity includes the incorporation of more than 1,000 news trees, a large playground, a fitness zone, basketball courts, and spaces to hold fitness classes and concerts. Other highlights are a27-foot high, open-air canopy structure providing shade and places to buy food and beverages.
“With Tom Lee Park, our goal is to be the place where you come to see and experience and feel the Mississippi River,” Abbott says.
Prior to construction, Abbott estimates that the park had between 100,000 to 150,000 visitors annually, not including those from events the park hosted like the annual Memphis in May festival.
The River Parks Partnerships hopes to boost park attendance to 800,000 for the coming year.
“We know that tourists will follow the locals so if you create a place that’s attractive to locals, tourists will want to go there,” Abbott says. “It shows Memphis is a city that is proud of the assets it has, that’s willing to invest and willing to create these great, top-class amenities for the people that live here.”
Festivities for Saturday’s reopening of the park kickoff at 11 a.m. Activities include performances, park tours, and opportunities for participating in sports like yoga, volleyball and basketball.
Since 1954,the park has been named for Tom Lee, a Memphian who saved more than 30 people from drowning in the Mississippi River after their boat capsized in 1925.