A Walk in the Park: Discover the New Tom Lee Park Designs

Helen Hope
Feb 16, 2019 · 6 min read

On February 2nd, the Memphis River Parks Partnership opened an engagement center where Memphis could experience a reimagined Tom Lee Park. Tom Lee Park is designed to be a signature public park for Memphis where community life can flourish year-round, grounded in the river’s dynamic rhythms and local ecology. Architecture and landscape work closely together to make the park a welcoming, comfortable, places for all Memphians and visitors, whether they’re taking part in outdoor activities or relaxing along the Mississippi.

The park’s 30 acres are laid out as a series of four districts zones that flow together to support a range of active and passive uses. The zones are inspired by unique features of the Mississippi River Basin: cutbank, oxbow, riffle, pool, and tailout. Together these dynamic forms create a template for diverse civic spaces and ecological revitalization in downtown Memphis.

Read below to discover the new Tom Lee Park designs elements.

GATEWAY: A new, enhanced connection between downtown Memphis and Tom Lee Park with a cutbank entrance that allows for ADA accessibility with spots along to rest and linger.

Cutbank Bluff

A terraced, universally-accessible pathway flows down the bluff to connect downtown Memphis to the new Tom Lee Park from Beale Street. Wide steps provide a comfortable place to sit and take in the views of the revitalized park and the river beyond

Beale Street Landing Promenade

A new outdoor cafe and riverboat ticketing area bring new life to the east side of Beale Street Landing. A lush variety of new plantings on the building’s sloping rooftop add shade, softness, and color that can be enjoyed by those spending time in the plaza or just passing by.

Oxbow Plaza

A welcoming entry plaza greets visitors and orients them to a range of riverfront and park activities, from boat cruises to basketball. In the heart of the plaza, water features and bright swaths of native plants evoke the movement of the river and provide photo-worthy moments for all ages. Large open areas within the plaza can accommodate public gatherings, art installations, and festival tents.

RIFFLE: Marked by the pattern of the river water flowing over stones, this Mississippi River condition serves as the inspiration for the heart of Tom Lee Park. The dynamic topography in the Riffle zone carves out new space for activities such as community markets and impromptu gatherings, while still providing more intimately scaled spaces for a game of hide and seek, or spending time enjoying nature with friends and family.

Activity Courts

Near the river’s edge, a central canopy floats above a set of Activity Courts, framing the river beyond and protecting the courts below that can be used for basketball and other sports, as well as events like concerts or weddings. Concessions, lockers, storage, and bathrooms are located nearby.

Game Day: On game days, the size, seating, and dramatic location of the Activity Courts make Tom Lee Park an iconic destination for riverfront basketball in Memphis and even across the country. The canopy’s light wells shield those below from the rain and sun while evenly diffusing sunlight across the courts to enhance players’ and fans’ experience.

Concert Night: On concert nights, the Activity Courts draw music lovers of all ages to Tom Lee Park for a one-of-a-kind live music experience. From local artists to international starts, the energy of the performance is amplified by the background of the Mississippi River and the glowing bridges beyond

Steps to the River

A new riverfront path shaped by stones, trees, and planting native to Memphis accommodates many different types and speeds of activity, from walking or jogging to lingering and enjoying the view. This softened edge is designed to function ecologically, contributing to a healthy and layered park environment

POOL: The open lawns in Tom Lee Park take their name from the wide, deep stretches of the Mississippi River known as pools. The pools in Tom Lee Park allow for flexible recreation and larger events.

The pools are the park “anchors” for large events and field activities — they support Memphis’ annual festivals and provide open space for activities like field sports, kite flying, or throwing the ball for the dog to fetch


The design of Tom Lee Park has high resiliency standards. The park captures stormwater and uses it to irrigate rain gardens and service park amenities. Rainwater capture from roof canopies creates demonstration re-use opportunities in the park service structures

Tom Lee Memorial Walk

The Tom Lee sculpture is framed by a memorial grove of stately specimen trees, which offer the opportunity for Memphians to memorialize loved ones. The Memorial Walk opens to a river overlook deck that offers a place to reflect with fantastic Mississippi River views.

TAILOUT: As water leaves the pools of the Mississippi River, the narrowing of the channel results in a swirling movement. Inspired by this condition, the Tailout marks the southern end of the Park as it transitions into a nearby wild and remote stretch of riverbank. Hands-on experiences connect children with nature, allowing for exploration and interaction with the unique ecology of the river. An outdoor classroom and experimental garden offer children the opportunity to learn about urban ecology and get their hands dirty.

Nature Adventure Play

Natural play areas, dynamic topography, rocky boulder outcroppings, and winding paths make the Tailout zone of Tom Lee Park a playtime paradise. An outdoor classroom, an experimental garden, and other hands-on opportunities give children a chance to connect with and learn about the unique ecology of the Mississippi

Habitat Tower

In the park’s wildest reaches, a dramatic tower stretches into the sky. An immediate landmark at the southern edge of Tom Lee Park, the Habitat Tower provides an attractive structure for birds to nest and rest and a memorable gathering space where park visitors can feel as if they’re hovering above the Mississippi

To see a scale model, try out virtual reality goggles, or ask our staff questions, come to the Tom Lee Park Engagement Center at Beale Street Landing open on Wednesdays from 4–7 PM and Saturdays from 12–3 PM. If you would like to schedule a group tour, email info@memphisriverparks.org.

ABOUT THE MEMPHIS RIVER PARKS PARTNERSHIP. The Memphis River Parks Partnership is a 501(c)3 that works with and for the people of Memphis to trigger the transformative power of our river. For more information, visit https://www.memphisriverparks.org/.


Memphis River Parks Partnership works with and for the…

Helen Hope

Written by

Program Associate for the Memphis River Parks Partnership


Memphis River Parks Partnership works with and for the people of Memphis to trigger the transformative power of our river.

Helen Hope

Written by

Program Associate for the Memphis River Parks Partnership


Memphis River Parks Partnership works with and for the people of Memphis to trigger the transformative power of our river.

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