“Asinine” and “elitist” are two of the words mayoral contender Dr. Willie W. Herenton spewed out when describing the plan to redesign Tom Lee Park and the people behind it during a press conference near the park on Thursday.
The former mayor condemned the Memphis River Parks Partnership, claiming that the organization has ill-intent to infringe on citizens’ rights.
The organization, which manages Tom Lee Park, unveiled a $60 million plan for renovation earlier this year with the goal to make the park more “attractive year-round.” Opponents of the proposal are concerned that renovations would force out Memphis in May, one of the city’s biggest festivals.
“This plan is to force Memphis in May out of Tom Lee Park,” Herenton said. “It will relegate this festival and our citizens to Tiger Lane-or worse – West Memphis, Ark.”
The plans are currently in mediation between Memphis River Parks and Memphis in May officials. Last week, MIM founders called on Mayor Jim Strickland to end the mediation and put a halt on the plans for renovation.
Herenton called the mediation a farce.
“I learned that Mayor Strickland was forcing Memphis in May to accept the plan through a private, closed-door mediation process. It’s a process where the citizens have no role and from which they have been excluded.”
Strickland’s campaign consultant, Steven Reid, has noted that Strickland supports Memphis in May and that he will keep the popular festival in the park, despite possible renovations.
“The Memphis River Parks Partnership organization does not own Tom Lee Park,” Herenton said. “The citizens do.”
Herenton also mentioned the riverfront improvements that took place during his 17-year-tenure as mayor.
“I created the predecessor organization to Memphis River Parks. Under my leadership, we made improvements to the riverfront, which we all now enjoy. The goal of these improvements was to provide citizens with greater and better access, not less.”
Herenton acknowledged that some of those “improvements” were controversial.
The Strickland administration challenged Herenton’s declared improvements, specifically the Beale Street Landing Project. Referencing Herenton’s stewardship of the riverfront, Reid said it brought a “wildly over-budget Beale Street Landing, taking money away from core city services and tons of delays.”
Herenton stood by his disregard for the plan to redesign Tom Lee Park.
“What confuses me is why the citizens of Memphis have to wait until after the election for Mayor Strickland to publicly state his position,” he said.
Herenton said he will make sure that Memphis River Park’s plan doesn’t move forward when, and not if, he’s elected mayor.
“If there’s any question in your mind about me being elected mayor, you need to get it out of there,” he said. “I’m coming back as mayor.”
The Memphis municipal election takes place October 3.