Tom Lee Park

Memphis, TN

Completed 2023

Memphis River Parks Partnership


31 acres


The city of Memphis is located on a great bluff that rises above the Mississippi River. Since the early 19th century, its riverfront has largely been used as a working yard for industry and transport, cluttered with terminal buildings, grain elevators, and barges that obstructed the public from directly accessing the river. Today, as Memphians embrace a renewed relationship with the Mississippi, the new Tom Lee Park catalyzes the reunification of river and city by transforming a significant piece of the riverfront into a signature park where community life can flourish along the water’s edge.

Developed in collaboration with SCAPE, the park’s design is informed by the dynamic patterns of flow that are so characteristic of the Mississippi, whose winding oxbows and other features have etched the region over time. Both architecture and landscape work together to smoothly facilitate the movement of people into and through the park, and to capture—on land—the sense of motion and change that the river exemplifies.

To open up access to the park and create a welcoming sense of arrival, the design includes five new and improved entrances with defined landing points that extend from major streets. From here, visitors are greeted by new topography, plantings, and paths that frame views of the river, guide them to specific landmarks, and connect them with the park’s outdoor spaces, which range in scale from open lawns for games and cookouts to wooded micro-forests for shaded rest.

The new entrances tie into a city-wide network of riverfront walking and biking trails, creating direct connections to key civic assets and institutions such as the National Civil Rights Museum and the future home of the Brooks Museum of Art.

Views of the Mississippi River are framed, preserved, and enhanced with the park’s new topography.

The new Tom Lee Park is comprised of four primary zones: the Civic Gateway welcomes visitors from Beale Street and Vance Park at the north end, an Active Core offers space for lively and flexible activities, the Community Batture provides shade and elevated views of the river, and the Habitat Terraces offer a more intimate experience of the natural landscape at the park’s southern end.

The park’s program incorporates the ideas and input of Memphians from across the city. Designed to support their ambitions and favorite activities, new structures emerge from the landscape to flexibly accommodate a range of uses—sports and fitness, outdoor education, community dinners, and concerts, to name just a few—and to elevate them with the living backdrop of the Mississippi.

The Point Bar Pavilions are constructed of reclaimed materials and provide park amenities such as food and beverage, restrooms, and storage space.

Inspired by the industrial structures that once operated on the riverfront, these pavilions and shelters introduce a material aesthetic that embraces the palette of Memphis and the patina that will come with time.

Throughout the park, regionally-specific plant species provide shade and beauty for people as well as critical habitat for wildlife. Well-adapted to life at the Mississippi’s edge, these trees, shrubs, and other plants make the park a resilient and ever-changing place that marks the passage of the seasons—a peaceful spot within the city for Memphians to reconnect with each other and nature’s rhythms.

The Cutbank Bluff forms the northern entrance to the park and a crucial connection to downtown Memphis.

Consultant Team

SCAPE, landscape architect

Kimley-Horn, civil engineer

Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer

Applied Ecological Services, ecologist

Innovative Engineering Services, MEP

DataBased+, sustainability

Randy Burkett, lighting design

Theaster Gates, Artist and Social Innovator for “A Monument to Listening”

James Little, Artist for Sunset Canopy Basketball Court

Montgomery Martin Contractors, contractor


Honorable Mention, The Architect’s Newspaper Best of Design Awards, Unbuilt – Landscape Category, 2019



The Architect's Newspaper — "Memphis’s long-neglected Tom Lee Park gets an overhaul, and Theaster Gates wants to honor its namesake"

“Work on a $60 million project to overhaul a long-neglected stretch of Memphis, Tennessee’s Mississippi River waterfront is moving swiftly. Begun in 2019, the transformation of the 30-acre Tom Lee Park into a public gathering space and resilient stormwater barrier is unfolding according to a master plan by Chicago’s Studio Gang and landscape and park design by New York’s SCAPE. Now, the redevelopment has gained another notable contributor: artist, educator, and urbanist Theaster Gates.”


Medium — "Construction Continues as Tom Lee Park Hits Funding and Design Milestones"

“As the new northern entrance to Tom Lee Park takes shape at the Cutbank Bluff, Memphis River Parks Partnership celebrates major steps forward as funding and design milestones are hit, powered by significant donations from acclaimed local brands. The $60M capital campaign is more than 80% complete with new funding commitments from leading Memphis-based companies.”

The design team will host an presentation of our latest design materials and an update on the ongoing construction:

April 14, 2021
4:30 p.m. CT
Live Broadcast (via Zoom)

Register here


Tom Lee Park to Break Ground

December 9
3 p. m. CT
Public event, livestream on the Memphis River Parks Partnership Facebook page

Register now


Los Angeles Times — "Goodbye, Guy on a Horse. A New Wave of Monument Design Is Changing How We Honor History"

The Los Angeles Times includes Studio Gang’s 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale installation Stone Stories in a commentary on the evolution of civic monuments.


Children and Nature Network — "New Tom Lee Park Will Be a Nature Game Changer for Memphis Neighborhood"

“Memphis is the nation’s second poorest large city, and its poorest zip code — 38126 — sits next to Tom Lee Park. Sixty-one percent of the people who live in that mostly-Black zip code are poor, and the median age is 24. In the other surrounding zip codes, 33 percent of the people who live there are poor.

In those neighborhoods, community centers and parks exist, but they tend to be places structured around sports and planned activities and not nature. Like most communities inhabited by people of color, green spaces are rare – and nature parks are rarer.”


The Architect's Newspaper — "2019 AN Best of Design Awards"

Five Studio Gang projects were selected for the 2019 AN Best of Design Awards.


Daily Memphian — "Tom Lee Park Design Retooled"

“An expanded area honoring the legacy of park namesake Tom Lee would join a centrally located cluster of multipurpose athletic courts and a nature area with a tower on the river at the 30-acre park’s south end.”


Memphis Flyer — "Riverfront Reboot: New leaders and New Plans for Memphis' Waterfront"

“To transform the flat, wide-open park…MRPP picked Studio Gang and SCAPE… to help the park ‘reach its full civic potential.'”


Memphis Commercial Appeal — “Memphis Riverfront Redesign Effort Hits ‘Warp Speed’ as [Mississippi River] Park Nears Opening”

Studio Gang’s project for Memphis’s Tom Lee Park, first proposed in our Memphis Riverfront Concept, will begin construction in 2019.


Metropolis — “At the Venice Biennale, Jeanne Gang Uses Memphis’s Cobblestones to Reflect on Monuments and Messy Civic Histories”

Zach Mortice pens an in-depth feature on the ideas and process behind Studio Gang’s Stone Stories installation for the US Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Biennale in Venice.


New York Times — “Creators of Architectural Exhibits Reach to the Cosmos for Inspiration”

Studio Gang’s Stone Stories installation is profiled along with the six other projects that make up Dimensions of Citizenship, this year’s US Pavilion exhibition at the 16th International Architecture Biennale in Venice.


New York Times — "Will World-Class Architecture Bring Civic Pride Back to Memphis?"

‘With a steady pace that has escalated over the last five years, downtown has been pulsing back to vitality. Two ambitious new projects by leading architecture firms are at the forefront of the renaissance, using design to lift Memphis’s image in the eyes of its citizens and the outside world. In a city where the gap between rich and poor, white and Black, can seem to yawn as wide as the river, the architects behind the projects cite their ambition to bind Memphians together. . . . Both [Jeanne] Gang and [Kate] Orff [of SCAPE] expressed enthusiasm about reorienting the city to the river, which was long viewed as a place for commercial, not recreational, activities. “It was exciting to think about reconnecting with it and making it accessible to all,” Gang said.’