Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Plan Would Give Mayor, Council Authority Over 5-Mile Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

City officials will propose an ordinance next month to give the mayor and City Council control of 10 riverfront parks, Mud Island River Park, the cobblestones and the historic promenade.

The council and mayor would then contract with a new nonprofit group - the Riverfront Development Corp. - to develop, promote and operate the city's 5-mile waterfront.

The new ordinance would amend one that gives the Memphis Park Commission control of all parks and end a turf battle stirred up when the riverfront steering committee sought authority over the riverfront parks a few months ago.

The committee, appointed by Mayor Willie Herenton last year, chartered the nonprofit in November in order to raise corporate and foundation funding and speed up riverfront development.

Both the ordinance and contract could have council approval by late March, Public Works director Benny Lendermon told the steering committee Tuesday. Lendermon will retire from city government to become executive director of the RDC later this year.

"We're real happy and plan to keep the council informed and involved, as well as the mayor," said John Stokes, committee chairman. "We're happy about dealing directly with the council."

Committee leaders did not want to seek approval for their ideas from both the Park Commission board and the City Council, Stokes said. "None of us are interested in wasting time."

City Council member John Vergos, a riverfront committee member, said he expects no difficulty among council members about carving the riverfront parks from the park system.

"They still are city parks . . . We can get them back anytime."

Herenton explained his support for the plan last weekend in a council retreat, Lendermon said. The mayor also alerted council members that his city budget proposal will include $250,000 to help pay RDC's operating costs.

At the same planning session, council members told Herenton the Memphis Park Commission has outlived its usefulness and should be dismantled. Council member Tom Marshall pledged to hold hearings within a month to determine the commission's fate.

Lendermon, Stokes and riverfront committee vice chairman Kristi Jernigan have met with a half-dozen council members and will meet with the remainder to discuss the committee's goals.

"There was no disagreement expressed by those (at the retreat) or from those we met with since" about the parks proposal or operating funds, Lendermon said.

Herenton has committed the estimated $1.5 million in city funds used to operate and maintain the riverfront to the RDC. As the new organization identifies and pursues specific projects, its leaders would seek approval and funding for each from the City Council.

Stokes, Lendermon and Jernigan will ask the Plough Foundation board in February for $250,000 a year for three years for administrative costs.

A year ago, the Plough group provided $19,000 to support a series of public sessions to discuss riverfront objectives.

Jernigan is negotiating a possible location for RDC in the Falls Building.

Parkway Properties, which manages the building, also is developing the historic William R. Moore building and a new garage for AutoZone Park, in a deal made by Jernigan and her husband, Dean, co-founders of the Memphis Redbirds and the foundation that is building AutoZone Park.

The company is considering giving the new organization the space at cost.

"They're great people, and even though they're based in Jackson, they want to be part of this community, and I want to give them some credit for that," Jernigan said.

The committee will apply for federal Economic Development Administration funds to support a master plan and public hearing process that will cost $250,000 or more, Lendermon said.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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