Questions and Answers about Morris Park
Why does Morris Park need $1.5 million in capital improvements?
Victorian Village, Inc. and the Memphis Medical Center believe that Morris Park has the potential to be a beloved major urban neighborhood park that serves as a gateway to the Downtown Medical Center and offers a range of recreational opportunities for neighborhood residents, Le Bonheur families, adjacent churches, medical center workers, visitors to Victorian Village, and citizens from the wider community.
In its current design, the basketball courts are well used by the community, but the rest of the park is often underutilized. With a lack of activity, the park creates an unsafe environment that is conducive to criminal activity. Although the City recognizes the need for additional investment in Morris Park, they have only budgeted $700,000 for improvements. Although $700,000 would help to improve the sidewalks, increase lighting, and add landscaping, this budget would do little in the way of offering additional amenities that are desired by neighborhood stakeholders. $700,000 would result in resolving deferred maintenance issues and leave the community with a basic greenspace; however, as a gateway to Downtown, the Medical Center, and historic Victorian Village, Morris Park should be more than just a basic city park. Morris Park should be one of the crown jewels of our community.
Ritchie Smith Associates listened to the neighborhood’s stakeholders and drafted a plan for Morris Park that would offer amenities attractive to a range of park-goers, including a new playground for neighborhood children and Le Bonheur families, a new shade structure with picnic tables for church and family picnics, enhanced basketball courts, a stage/performance area, improved walking trails, and places for community gardening. With only a $700,000 budget, most of these amenities desired by the community could not be developed. On behalf of the stakeholders of Victorian Village and the Medical Center, we are advocating for a $1.5 million budget for these site improvements that will better serve residents of all ages, Le Bonheur families, neighboring churches, visitors, and workers in the nearby hospitals.
Location, Location, Location
Morris Park is the gateway to downtown and the Medical Center on Poplar Avenue and Manassas Steet. It is one city block, 4.5 acres, with rolling terrain and many fully grown trees. Physical features include two half-court basketball courts, a children’s play area and several picnic tables. The park is named after Dean Morris, who was the priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral across Poplar Avenue in the 1920s and 30s.
Who does the park serve?
There is a resident population of 17,000 within a one mile radius with an additional 42,000 daytime employees, and 10,000 medical students for a total of 69,000 citizens served. The park serves a population in need of neighborhood open space and recreational amenities not available anywhere else nearby. Compare this to parks of similar size like Gregg Park in Raleigh or Lanier Park in Whitehaven also called neighborhood parks that serve about 11,000 people. Source: Midsouth Regional Greenprint GIS mapping service and Memphis Medical Center. Morris Park has been categorized by the Parks Division as a neighborhood park, thereby setting the CIP budget cap of $700,000 for the work. We believe that, based on the number of citizens served, that the park should be categorized as a major urban park, thus raising the funding standards for improvements.
Can the cost of park improvements be shared?
Yes and they are already. The Morris Park partners, made up of neighbors, churches, hospitals and other non-profits are splitting the cost of the design work ($70,000 total) with the City of Memphis. There will be other opportunities for private involvement once the conceptual design has been completed.
Why is a grassroots advocacy for the Park important right now?
Victorian Village Inc. has been working on the idea of Morris Park renovations since 2005. The Morris Park Partners group was formed in 2010 and includes Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, the Urban Child Institute, The Memphis Medical Center, St. Mary’s Cathedral and HCD. Funding in the city’s capital improvement five-year planning budget has been a line item of $700,000 since 2011, year after year the project keeps being deferred. The time for a unified request is now, before the five year budget is finalized.
What will be the cost of the improvements?
That depends on the final scope of work to be determined by the Park Partners, the Mayor and his administration. Mayor Wharton agreed to share the cost of the park redesign with VVI and the partners for a total design, engineering, and survey fees of $70,000 with a construction estimate of $700,000. The programming phase revealed 1.5 million dollars of needed improvements. The $800,000 difference could come from the City, county, the Uptown TIF district, State of Tennessee, or private sources. We are limited in our ability to seek additional funding until we have a physical design to sell. The cost of the design work will increase as the Scope of Work increases based on the public input and other factors like handicap accessibility.
Where are we in the design process?
The City entered into a contract with the landscape architects in the summer of 2012. Eighty percent of the programming work has been completed. There are four stages to the design process: Programming, Conceptual Design, Design Development and Construction Documents. We are now waiting on the Administration and City Council to make a decision on the total funding so that the conceptual design phase can begin. Once the conceptual design has been approved, the Morris Park Partners’ matching funds of $35,000 will be used for the design development and construction document stages.
The Public Meeting process revealed these priorities:
Public safety, lighting, visibility
Improved playground, basketball courts and pavilions
Design for more current trends such as cycling and open space use
Increased play opportunities for children
Gateway Signage, neighborhood identity
How are the residents and public engaged in the process?
VVI held the first public meeting in the late summer of 2012 with 35 people in attendance. The input from that meeting helped guide the architects during the programming phase. In April of 2013 there have been four informational meetings. Winchester Park residents with over 100 neighbors in attendance, St. Mary’s Cathedral (250) Collins Chapel C.M.E. Church (80) and Victorian Village Stakeholder’s (30). At least two more meetings will be held. The next is at the end of the programming phase, and the final meeting at the end of the Concept Design Phase.
Is the park a dangerous place?
The perception and reality is that Morris Park is unsafe. Memphis Police statistics show that there were 187 crimes in Morris Park in 2012, including rape and armed robbery. There is a high level of drug dealing and prostitution, especially around the southwest corner across from Collins Chapel Church. The majority of the population who could be enjoying the park does not because it is unsafe. The first public meeting in the summer of 2012 listed safety as the greatest concern.
What are the goals of this grass roots effort?
To unite the community in the common goal of improving Morris Park.
To have the Mayor and City Council understand the importance of the park base on population served and it’s critical role within the Medical Center.
To identify the park as a Major Urban Park instead of a neighborhood park.
To have the City increase the architectural and engineering fees in the 2014 budget to cover the additional design costs based on the community need. ($45,000 est.)
To have the City increase the 2015 Capitol Improvement Project budget from $700,000 to 1.5 million to cover needed improvements.
Prepared by Victorian Village Inc. Scott Blake, Executive Director. April 25, 2013