There are myths about Tom Lee Park that even a stake through hearts can’t seem to kill. 

There’s the one about Memphis River Parks Partnership driving Memphis in May out of Tom Lee Park although it was the historic size of the festival’s red ink that led to that decision.  There’s the one about how the River Parks Partnership set out to kill Memphis in May when the festival actually committed suicide as a result of its  inflexibility and a product that resulted in poor ticket sales.  There’s the one that the River Parks Partnership organized the new music festival and proposed barbecue contest announced for next year when it wasn’t involved and it would have violated its fiduciary duties not to enter into an memorandum of agreement with the backers of the events.  There’s the one that Tom Lee Park was built for White elitists living on the bluff overlooking it, a fact easily dispelled by a single visit to the park where African Americans are voting with their feet to visit the park and enjoy its activities.

Then there is the notion that the park cost too much.  It was resurrected as recently as a few days ago in a comment by downtown businessman Chance Carlisle that the park’s cost was “pricey.”  We’re giving him a benefit of a doubt since his hotels and development aren’t known for their cheapness but for their emphasis on quality, not to mention that this signature waterfront park adjacent to his projects is a major  competitive advantage.

Its the lack of a national context and the “good enough for Memphis” mentality that have regularly resulted in projects here notable for their mediocrity .  

Here’s the thing: the reimagination of Tom Lee Park is part of a movement by cities to be smarter with their riverfronts and in more and more instances, the smart decision has been to invest in a unique, major park.  In Memphis, that nationally significant park is costing $61 million.  

There are complainers who question the cost as excessive, so out of curiosity, I researched the cost of some other waterfront parks, determined their cost per acre, and calculated what the cost of Tom Lee Park would be at that same rate. 

The costs of these parks have not been adjusted for inflation, which means that these amounts could have been even higher. 

If Tom Lee Park cost the same per acre as the following parks, here’s what it would have cost rather than $61 million:   

$66 million – Public Square, Cleveland (2016)

$67.3 million  – York Quay, Toronto (2010)

$72 million – Maggie Daley Park, Chicago (2014)

$76.7 million – Toronto Central Waterfront (2015)

$79.9 million – Governors Island, New York (2010)

$84.5 million – Lurie Garden, Chicago (2004)

$90 million – North Waterfront Park, Wilmington N.C. (2021)

$102.3 million – Louisville Waterfront Park Phase 1 (2000)

$102 million – Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park, Detroit (Underway)

$103 million – Nashville Riverfront Park (2016)

$112.5 million – Smale Riverfront Park I, Cincinnati (2012)

$120 million – Governors Island Hills + Art, New York (2016)

$135.9 million – Brooklyn Bridge Park (2010)

$140 million – Downtown Riverfront Park, Eugene, Oregon (2022)

$171.5 million – Tongva Park, Santa Monica (2013)

$198 million – Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II, New York (2018)

$199.3 million – A Gathering Place, Tulsa (2018)

$225 million – Corktown Common, Toronto (2013)


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