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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

There are plenty of things for Memphians to be proud of and to love about the newly improved Shelby Farms Park

There are plenty of things for Memphians to be proud of and to love about the newly improved Shelby Farms Park
By:  Michael Lander


The opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Heart of the
Park at Shelby Farms took place on September 1, 2016.  It
was attended by local dignitaries that included Shelby
County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Shelby Farms Board
Member and Hyde Family Foundation Chair Barbara Hyde.

One of the best urban parks in the U.S. just got even better.

Memphis’ very own – Shelby Farms Park - just received a $52 million facelift and celebrated what was the culmination of a 15-year effort with an official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 1, 2016.

The latest and final renovation of the park, was a $52 million Heart of the Park project that took six years and was part of a 15-year, $70 million investment in improvements that were made in the 4,500 acre park.

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (SFPC) Executive Director
Jen Andrews greeted an audience of several hundred who
came for the opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the
Heart of the Park.  Andrews assumed the position of the
SFPC Executive Director after Laura Morris retired.

Over the last six years, the roughly 50-acre Patriot Lake was completely reshaped and enlarged to 80-acres and was then renamed in honor of the Hyde family because of their generosity, which included a $25 million donation toward the park improvements through their Hyde Family Foundation.

Other work included the planting of thousands of trees, the construction of a new visitor center, a lakeside events center that houses a restaurant, as well as such amenities as an events stage, splash park, a wetland area, a boat house, a promenade, and a bike rental facility.

Barbara Hyde has served in a dual role with the Shelby Farms
Conservancy and the Hyde Family Foundation.  Hyde said
that she and her family were humbled and honored that the
lake in the Heart of the Park had been renamed from
Patriot to Hyde Lake.

As long and as painful as the process might have been for some who were involved in it, the work on the park could also be described as a labor of love.

“It sounds easy to say this now, but I must admit, that this experience has been a lot like childbirth.  It’s easy now to forget about the hard labor when we see and can embrace this beautiful baby,” Barbara Hyde said.

Hyde is a Shelby Farms Board Member and the chair for the Hyde Family Foundation.

The First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center was the location
of the opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Heart of
the Park.  The building has a large overhang for visitors to
relax and to sit in the shade with large fans overhead to
keep them cool in the Memphis heat.

“It was a little hard at times throughout the years when it just looked like dirt was being pushed around, but seeing it now, it was worth the wait,” Jen Andrews said.

Andrews is the Shelby Farms Park Executive Director.

“Some people said we couldn’t do this, but we did,” Andrews said.

Hyde attributes the success of this to people coming forward and coming together to make it happen.

“Because people stepped up, this has made the Heart of the Park possible,” Hyde said.

The FedEx Event Center is located at the eastern edge of
Hyde Lake and it has The Kitchen Bistro on the Southern
end of it for visitors to stop by and grab a bite to eat.

A common refrain by many of the speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was the fact that it took teamwork, and this often meant a private and public partnership that made it all come together.  

The park itself is owned by Shelby County, but it is managed by the private, nonprofit Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (SFPC).

Most of the money that was raised during the $70 million capital funds campaign came from private sources.  The only public funds came from a $1.6 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), $5 million in other state money, $3 million from Shelby County, and $150,000 from the City of Memphis.  Corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, and smaller individual donations provided the rest of it.


The event stage is located on the northern portion, and toward
the center, of Hyde Lake.  It offers a place where visitors
can gather for music and entertainment while sitting out on
the grass in front of it.

Throughout the entire multi-year process, Shelby Farms Park was able to keep everything on this project within budget.

“We accomplished this on time and under budget,” SFPC Executive Director, Todd Grimes, said.

With the brand new facilities now to take care of, the conservancy’s operating budget has risen from $2.6 million in fiscal 2015 to $3.5 million this year, with the costs expected to inevitably level out at around $4.5 million a year.

The conservancy currently receives about $575,000 a year from the Shelby County Commission.  After that, it must generate the rest through fundraising events and donations and revenue sources, which includes rentals and the leasing of their facilities.

A water play sprayground is near Hyde Lake and just down the
hill from the First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center.
 
The conservancy, according to Andrews, has a business plan and it has accumulated enough funds to cover their expenses for the first few years, and that should be enough until the park is able to generate a sufficient amount of revenues following that.

With all of the work that has been done, there are many who believe that Memphis now has something that we all can be extremely proud of.

“This is the beginning of a new chapter for Memphis with new opportunities….. and it is appropriate that this is being done on 9-01.  This will also change how we think of parks, and it will be a major landmark in our city,” Hyde said.

Cycling is a great way to get around Shelby Farms Park.  Behind
these cyclists is one of two picnic areas in the Heart of the Park.

Hyde and many others also believe that the newly renovated Shelby Farms Park will also be something that others people will admire and wish for in their own cities.

“The park now is unfolding and more natural with an undulating landscape that draws visitors around and toward it.  The buildings, together with the landscape, will help to redefine the reputation of Memphis,” Corner said. 

James Corner is the founder and director of the New York-based landscape and urban design firm that drafted the park master plan.

The changes to the lake and to the landscape in the Heart of the
Park is much more aesthetically-pleasing to the eye than what
it was only two years ago and the area offers so much more to
visitors than it ever did before.

“Shelby Farms is one of the largest city parks in the world and many times larger than other city parks like Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London.  It could become as well renowned as them, too and, with its size, there should be something for everybody,” Corner said. 

“Shelby Farms significantly enriches the culture of Memphis…. and it should help to improve the public health and fitness and bring a wonderful quality of life that will be the envy of others,” he added. 

Shelby Farms Park volunteer, Steve O’Dell also sees other benefits of the changes to the park as well.

There are two paved trails around Hyde Lake.  The 2.4 mile outer
loop is intended for cyclists and those on wheels.  The one near
the lake is meant for pedestrians.

“The renovation of the park is a historic occasion and the work that was done should help to preserve and protect our eco-system and will continue to provide an awesome and natural sanctuary for many years to come,” O’Dell, said.

Along with the changes in the landscape of the park, visitors may be equally impressed with the new buildings at Shelby Farms.

“The buildings were inspired by Memphis, itself.  They are distinctive and different from one another and they embody a city known for the blues and rock-n-roll, offering a subtle and deep appreciation of the land on which it is built,” Marlon Blackwell, of Marlon Blackwell Architects, said.

Of the many changes to the Heart of the Park, the most
significant one was to the lake.  Aside from a name change,
it also underwent a change in size and shape.  The
surrounding landscape was also modified with trees
and a new wetland area.

“Every building has its own porch and area of shade for refuge within a landscape that can be enjoyed in solitary or socially.  They offer a place of transition between the indoors and outdoors and they are subtly introduced to one another, ” Blackwell said.

“Not only do we have these beautiful buildings and this incredible landscape, we also have a thriving business that’s going to serve as a model for others to emulate,” Andrews said.

Throughout the 15 years of changes at Shelby Farms, it has survived political and fundraising setbacks and the worst financial downturn in recent history.

The efforts to get Shelby Farms Park to where it is today has
been in the works for 15 years and it has included an
investment of $70 million.  This transformation is expected
to be one of the many things that will be a big draw for
visitors and tourists and something that Memphians will
be able to enjoy and be proud of.

The entire process, according to retired Shelby Farms Park executive director Laura Morris began in 2001 when Ron Terry, then chairman of what was known as First Tennessee Bank, outlined a vision for an improved park. 

The County Commission had initially rejected a proposal to place the park under a conservation easement so a private group could manage it.  That finally did come, however, in in 2007, which allowed the Shelby Farms Conservancy to take over and to draft a master plan the following year.  Following that, the fundraising effort began and the rest is history.

Shelby Farms Park will have a bike rental facility on its north
side (near Farm and Mullins Station Rd).  The newer one is
near the First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center in the
Heart of the Park.
 
For cyclists, the new and improved Shelby Farms Park will be like an oasis and the perfect place to rest or grab a bite to eat when riding along an ever-growing network of bike trails and bike lanes that we will continue to see in the Memphis area in the years ahead. 

The park will provide something not only for cyclists, but also for walkers, runners, kite-flyers, kayakers, birdwatchers, picnickers, and so many others to enjoy and to be proud of for generations to come.

The park will be hosting 30 days of celebration in the month of September in which they will offer free events in the Heart of the Park.  Click here to learn more.

To find out more about Shelby Farms, visit their website at:  http://www.shelbyfarmspark.org/.

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