It's hard to believe we're already celebrating the 5-year anniversary of Heart of the Park opening to the public! We caught up with Shelby Farms Park Conservancy's CEO, Jen Andrews, in a Q+A below, to find out how the project has shaped Shelby Farms Park's future and what her favorite observations are of the space over the last five years. But first, here's a quick history of Heart of the Park and how it came to be:
At 9:01am on 9.01.2016*, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy opened its biggest improvement project to date⏤Heart of the Park. This project focused on the transformation Shelby Farms Park's largest lake and surrounding landscape, and it served as the keystone for the first phase of the Park's Master Plan. When you visit the Park today, Heart of the Park is a community hub⏤a place to get moving or relax, soak up an unrivaled sunset, grab a bite to eat, rent a boat or bike, splash around at the Water Play Sprayground, or shop in the Lake's Edge Gift Shop to support daily Park operations. At the request of the community in the planning process with world-renowned landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, Heart of the Park was designed to give the community a special space to gather and connect, while allowing the rest of the Park a little wilder with more opportunities to explore.
*For non-Memphians, 901 is our city's area code, and we couldn't think of a better date and time to celebrate the community that helped make Heart of the Park's transformation possible!
While this renovation was a massive undertaking, the project was completed on time and on budget⏤a $52 million budget to be exact⏤and with tremendous public support and minimal disruption to daily park access. In just 24 months, Hyde Lake (formerly Patriot Lake) grew from about 50 acres to roughly 80 acres and the entire watershed was reshaped, creating a healthier, more ecologically sound body of water. In tandem, the First Horizon Foundation Visitor Center and FedEx Event Center we constructed along the lake's edge, creating designated spaces for gathering like the AutoZone Front Porch.
Fun fact: The first beam in the First Horizon Visitor Center went up at the same time the first tree was being planted in Heart of the Park!
Why was the completion of Heart of the Park significant for Shelby Farms Park/Shelby Farms Park Conservancy? And for Memphis?
Opening the Heart of the Park amenities to the public represented the culmination of more than a decade of dreaming, planning, pushing, pulling, designing, fundraising and building. Dozens of teammates, community leaders, board members, volunteers, donors, elected officials, friends and supporters gave untold hours to make this dream a reality. It was a huge, heavy community lift, and Memphis should be proud of the gift it has given itself in Shelby Farms Park.
We set out to create a world class public park for our community, and we did it! We wanted this project (along with the Greenline and Woodland Discovery Playground) to set a new benchmark for what’s possible in our city and to inspire us all to expect more from our public realm.
Any special memory from opening day (9.01.16) that you’d like to share?
What a day. Some of us had been working out of our new visitor center offices for a few months prior to the area being open to the public. It was magical just to see visitors sitting in the Adirondack chairs under the big fans on the front porch, taking in the gorgeous lake view. We all went out to talk with visitors and ask them what they thought. People were astonished and delighted. It was so much fun! For years, we’d been promising something truly special, and getting to see people finally enjoy it was pure joy.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony (appropriately held at 9:01am on 9/01), I remember looking at my teammates in the crowd and feeling tremendous pride and gratitude. The strength of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy has always been in the people who gather to support it. This park is a magnet for talent, passion and people who love a challenge!
Heart of the Park Ribbon Cutting • September 1, 2016
What has surprised you most in the last 5 years?
We knew the new park would be popular, but it would have been hard to guess just how many people it would draw. We are regularly astounded and totally delighted by the crowds.
This is a very thoughtfully engineered and designed site that we spent many years working on, workshopping and revising. Fortunately, it functions more or less as we had hoped. It is a very complex site, with hundreds of acres of turf, thousands of trees, wetlands, hundred of irrigation heads, wildlife, meadows, a sprayground, boat launches and beaches, more than 2 miles of lakeshore, more than 5 miles of trails and paths, site furniture, lighting, a stage, a great lawn, an event center, two restaurants, a visitor center, staff offices, a gift shop, a geothermal HVAC system, a boathouse and more. Operational expertise has to range from mechanical systems management, to IT, to drainage, to habitat management, to janitorial, and on and on.
Heart of the Park Construction: Baptist Memorial Health Care Promenade, Water Play Sprayground, Geothermal System under Hyde Lake
Do you have a favorite spot or activity in Heart of the Park?
This is an impossible question! It’s so hard to pick a favorite.
James Corner Field Operations' beautiful landscape design work yielded a remarkably varied experience for visitors. The north side of the lake feels like a vibrant urban park hub. As I’m typing this, I’m watching a family kick around a soccer ball on the Visitor Center lawn. Yesterday, there was a fashion shoot on the front porch! But as you walk the Promenade, your views and perspectives shift with each turn and cove. Sometimes the view feels expansive and vast, and other times you’re sharing an intimate cove with the blue heron standing on the lake shore. Then you emerge into pastoral meadows and hilly terrain. As you approach the Forest Walk, the landscape begins to feel softer, wilder and quieter. As you enter the young cyprus forest, the Promenade is suspended over a wetland with cattails and tall grasses on either side. In a few hundred feet, you’re treated to the big water view from the farthest eastern corner of the lake stretching all the way to the west.
But I think everyone here knows that my real favorite is getting to enjoy all the dogs that visit Heart of the Park. Other than the truly amazing people I work with, seeing and petting all of your dogs is my #1 job perk. Shoutout to Peabody, Mac, Murphy, J.J., Hugo, Glen, Gumbo the Hedgehog and all the regulars.
Your office overlooks a large portion of Heart of the Park. Describe a typical day through your window.
First - I am so spoiled. This view is unbelievable and inspiring.
There is no such thing as a typical day at Shelby Farms Park. The only thing any days have in common is that anything could happen. I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never once been bored.
Here are some things I’ve seen from my office window this week:
-So many dogs (I love all of them)
-Kids playing football
-Kids playing soccer
-A group of teenagers painting
-A cross country team stretching
-A stroller workout class
-A corporate meeting
-A fashion shoot
-Tik Tok videos being filmed
-A rainstorm rolling in over the lake
Did someone say, "celebrate?"
Shelby Farms Park Conservancy's vision is to give rise to a celebrated 21st century park that defines and shapes a great city, and our mission is to manage, operate, restore and improve Shelby Farms Park in partnership with and for the public. With the support of our volunteers, donors and partners, we are doing just that! Each year, SFPC privately raises funding for Shelby Farms Park and Shelby Farms Greenline through general donations, corporate and foundation support. If you believe in this mission and want to give back to the park you love and to help make projects like Heart of the Park possible, please click here.
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