Not only is Shelby Farms Park among the largest urban parks, it has become a magnet for Memphis’ economic development. What’s in the near future includes construction jobs, retail and professional space, social gathering spots, as well as living space meeting modern urban trends. All are enhanced by this award winning park with a bright future.
On the east side of Memphis is the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park with 6.5 miles of urban trail and an annual operating budget of $2.5 million. In 2019, the park received the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Regional & Urban Design award. According to AIA, "the 2019 Regional & Urban Design program recognizes the best in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development. The best planning accounts for the entire built environment, local culture, and available resources - modeling architecture’s promise and true value to communities."
The master-plan process for the park began in 2007 with an international competition to clearly define a set of principles reflecting the conservancy’s vision. At more than five times the size of New York City’s Central Park, Shelby Farms Park is too large for a comprehensive single phase master plan. What the team did accomplish is identify major challenges threatening the park’s long-term sustainability and the role it will play in the region’s economic and environmental health.
The plan envisions a park inclusive of all members of the community with an energetic cultural and food theme as well as a hub for nature-based recreation. The 195-acre core opened in 2016 as Heart of the Park and crown of the master plan. Aware that charitable and government support could not sustain nor grow the park infrastructure, the Heart of the Park includes revenue-generating venues such as the new boathouse, visitor center, restaurant, and is available for rental events. These provided almost 60% of the operations budget beginning the first year. Revenues are projected to continue growing.
Parkside at Shelby Farms continues moving forward with approval last September from the Shelby County Land Use Control Board. The plan is for 3 six-story buildings with 200-250 apartments each and other lower structures featuring garden style apartments for a total of 350-400 units. Also included are stores and offices with views of the north edge of Shelby Farms Park. A 130-room boutique hotel is the latest addition to the $375+ million development on 60 acres. With retail restaurants, bars, Parkside is destine to become a gathering place alongside the park.
The goal is to complete the entire project in five or six years during six phases. It will begin on the east side of the property and progress west. Although there is naturally some resistance by local residents, the growth is inevitable because the park is several times larger than Central Park in Manhattan (surrounded by high rises) and in an urban setting.
The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (SFPC) released a statement of support for the project in June 2018.
“We believe that the Parkside Development has the potential to complement the Park’s mission while enhancing the communities north of the Park, if it’s designed, built and operated well…
We’ve asked to review the project as designs come together to help make sure it has a positive effect on the Park and its visitors…”
Traffic congestion in the area has been a major concern that is expected to be relieved with the construction of Shelby Farms Parkway. As development on the parkway progresses, there will be other short term traffic and infrastructure improvements in the area. The parkway is planned to be 2.5-miles with a median of trees dividing the four-lane road. It will run north to south through the west end of park.
Also in the planning stages is Dwell at Shelby Farms. A $142 million development about two miles from the Parkside and located on the north side of Raleigh-LaGrange Road near the intersections of Trinity and Fischer Steel. This too will be a mixed used development with close to 1,000 residential units including townhouses, single-family houses, and senior living. Although not in the original application, there are plans for retail and office spaces on the ground floors. This development is also includes traffic flow enhancements with the addition of Dwell Parkway.
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Photo Credit : Alltrails