Thursday, January 18, 2001

Guest Editorial: Considering All Options Will Produce Best Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Dean Jernigan

Dean Jernigan is co-founder of the Memphis Redbirds and chairman and chief executive officer of Storage USA.

FOUR years ago, when my wife, Kristi, and I began thinking about bringing a higher level of baseball to this region, we considered many options. We weighed the option of purchasing the former Memphis Chicks against soliciting Major League Baseball for a triple-A expansion franchise.

We considered renovating Tim McCarver Stadium vs. building a new ballpark in east Shelby County vs. building a state-of-the-art ballpark in the core of downtown Memphis. We considered whether to follow traditional roles of team ownership or to give ownership of this amenity to the citizens of the Mid-South.

A tremendous amount of public discussion surrounded each element of these options. The Commercial Appeal published articles and editorials. Every talk radio host seemed to have a different opinion about every option but one: The one clear consensus was that the new ballpark should be built in east Shelby County - it didn't really matter where, as long as it was far away from downtown.

Still, Kristi and I insisted on giving careful consideration to all the options. Last season, more than 900,000 people enjoyed baseball in AutoZone Park, and many of them were re-introduced to downtown Memphis. I think most were pleased.

Similarly, we must consider all options in the riverfront master plan. There is a very important reason for hiring planners from diverse regions who possess varying experiences with waterfronts: They bring a fresh and informed perspective to elements that those of us who are closest to them might not otherwise see.

World-class planners make great efforts to learn and understand the nuances of a new place and the culture of its people before they begin the planning process. Cooper-Robertson & Partners has met with more than 200 people from our city and county to do just this for the Memphis riverfront.

A world-class riverfront will have a significant cost structure. The best way to secure the required finances is through development opportunities. The planners have been charged with creating a plan that is economically feasible. Therefore, they must identify city land that can be developed and generate a revenue stream.

The Overton Heirs property is one prominent area of our city that our founders had the foresight to set aside for public use. This land probably cannot be developed for private commercial use.

The city has full control of this promenade, which unfortunately includes many visual and physical barriers to the riverfront. By eliminating some parking garages and other poorly designed structures, we can enhance and create a great civic green space, while removing barriers to the riverfront. This space could become our Central Park.

Tom Lee Park is a wonderful green space on Riverside Drive, but it is grossly underused throughout the year, except during the Memphis in May festival. It is important to study the concept of moving Tom Lee Park into the core of our central business district, onto the Overton Heirs property along the bluff and Front Street.

This green space could benefit all of downtown, and could be used 12 months out of the year. I don't know what the best use might be for the land opposite Riverside Drive that is the present site of Tom Lee Park, but I strongly doubt it would need to be green space if we are successful in moving Tom Lee Park onto the Overton Heirs property.

We need not worry now about that ultimate use. Instead, we should pursue with vigor such things as the development of Mud Island, the creation of a magnificent lake at the foot of our bluffs, and a beautiful new green space in the middle of our downtown named Tom Lee Park. The new Tom Lee Park could become a great home for Memphis in May, allowing it to have an economic impact on all of downtown.

Our master planners are extremely competent and are presenting a number of options for our collective consideration. We do ourselves and our city a tremendous disservice by deciding against one or another of these options prematurely.

We must be big thinkers, and we must venture outside of our comfort zones. Let us commit to having open minds in considering all possibilities.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Friday, January 05, 2001

Riverfront Planners Get Message: Hands Off Tom Lee Park

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Riverfront planners left Memphis Thursday to begin revising proposals for developing the Wolf and Mississippi river banks, but Memphians had made it clear they firmly reject one idea: housing or anything else on Tom Lee Park.

Other alternatives, from damming part of the Wolf River Harbor for a lake to clearing and redeveloping the historic promenade property, will be evaluated and discussed in coming weeks with Memphians and a cadre of consultants, expert in areas from finance to traffic systems, said planning team leader Brian Shea, a New York architect.

Shea, of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, heads the team hired last summer to craft a master plan for redeveloping Memphis's waterfront - from the north end of Mud Island southward to the Harahan, Frisco and Memphis & Arkansas bridges. The nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. selected the team, which will be paid $700,000 with city funds.

Shea presented alternatives at three public hearings Wednesday and Thursday and asked Memphis to react. He gave three possible versions of a harbor lake, three routes for a relocated Riverside Drive, three locations for an expanded river museum and three ways to use land in Tom Lee Park, Mud Island River Park, the promenade and the cobblestones.

He asked participants Thursday "to dream about what you'd like your riverfront to be 30 years from now."

A lake in part of the current harbor was supported by several in Thursday's sessions.

The biggest lake proposal, which would be created by filling the area between Mud Island and Tom Lee Park, drew little support.

The smallest lake proposal would dam the water at the Auction Avenue bridge and create recreation for neighborhoods on Mud Island and in Greenlaw, which would not help lure development in the core of downtown, said team member Candace Damon.

Shea and Damon asked participants whether Tom Lee, Mud Island or the promenade blocks between Court and Auction should be developed or used as park land.

Damon had suggested that low-rise residential development could be successful in Tom Lee Park and provide revenue for other public projects.

Shea had suggested that the promenade blocks, dedicated to the city for public use by its founders in 1828 and referred to by planners as the Overton blocks, could become Memphis's Central Park or be a mixture of green space and development.

Veteran Memphis developer Bob Snowden, an heir of the founding families, urged the planners to identify facilities that should be retained and prioritize needs.

"We don't need another park," Snowden said. "We need to enhance what we have."

He asked if development on the promenade would be high-rise. Midrise, Shea replied.

Snowden objected to anything as high as 10 stories. "People on Front Street have rights, too."

Planners made a note to not block views with future development.
Memphis resident Willie Martin warned that "all Memphians have ownership of Tom Lee. For you to make drastic changes for something they feel they own, you're going to make a mistake and people are not going to have an open mind."

Shea said the team's ideas were aimed at prompting the community "to start thinking about these facilities in new ways, in many different ways, in inventive ways."

RDC president Benny Lendermon said the team will return next month, probably for a series of similar public meetings at different times and in different locations, possibly the Agricenter.

Consultants hope to finish work on the plan by the end of April and present completed documents in June.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Riverfront Development holds workshops; Throws around ideas big and small

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston and Chris Przybyszewski

Urged to think big and avoid practical details for now, Memphians sounded off about plans to redevelop the riverfront, Mud Island, Front Street, and Tom Lee Park. Listening were members of the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), a public-private partnership looking at ways to improve the riverfront.

Key players of the RDC include Kristi and Dean Jernigan, patrons of AutoZone Park, and Benny Lendermon, former director of public works for Memphis and a designer of Tom Lee Park. At this week's series of meetings, commission board members and politicians stayed in the background while consultants presented broad themes and encouraged small groups of Memphians to respond.

"This session was specifically meant to provoke people," said consultant Brian Shea. "It's not that we're personally pushing any of these crazy notions." Shea is director of the lead planning team of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, a consulting firm based in New York City. He went on to say that the goal of these discussions was to determine, “what are the most important battles to fight,” and which aspects of the riverfront should be left until after major renovations are complete.

This could be difficult considering the myriad of special interest groups, whose concerns stretch from the historical to the environmental to the residential. However, Randy Morton, a member of the consultant team, warns that the current plans will not have a specific thematic approach, such as concentratingon on every historical marker on the river. “We can’t make everything on the riverfront special or it would all be normal,” he said.

Ideas tossed around included: developing housing in Tom Lee Park to raise money for other riverfront projects; a museum spanning the Wolf River and connecting downtown to Mud Island; commercial and residential development of Mud Island; turning the Wolf River harbor into a lake blocked by a dam; taking traffic off of Riverside Drive or rerouting it even closer to the Mississippi River; and making Memphis in May a street festival spanning Beale Street to Main Street instead of a Tom Lee Park festival.

Here's some of what they said:

Shea said one of the consultants' starting principles is that "it is difficult to enjoy and access the riverfront because of barriers." These include Riverside Drive, the cobblestones, and the hands-off development policy toward the west side of Front Street.

Planners suggest taking traffic off Riverside Drive and putting it on Second and Third Streets and turning the trolley from a "tourist toy" into a real transit system.

Mud Island has the potential for a "point park" at its southern tip where the Wolf River harbor and Mississippi River converge. Shea cited Pittsburgh as a city with such a point park.

Developer Robert Snowden urged planners to not get carried away with plans that ignore Memphians' disinclination to walk. He also discounted the need for any more public parks. "We don't need another park, we need to enhance what we have," he said. And Snowden warned that current residents and tenants on Front Street "are going to raise holy hell if you block their view of the river."

Candace Damon, an economic feasibility consultant, said "downtown desperately needs new office development." Planners see Front Street as the most likely site for such development if Memphis can overcome restrictions in the Overton promenade agreement with the heirs of the city founders.

Shea said that as a visitor he found the existing museum on Mud Island inadequate because "for one thing, you never see the river." But others defended the museum. "The concept of having that kind of Mississippi River museum must be maintained," said Susan Jones. She also urged planners to consider running tour boats to destinations such as Chucalissa or Shelby Forest.

Options for the Wolf River include leaving it alone, closing it off at the foot of Beale Street, or closing it off closer to Harbor Town to create a smaller lake that would not fluctuate with the rise and fall of the Mississippi River. A show of hands in one group found the most support for the smaller lake.

Such a lake, however, would close off the existing Wolf River marina from access to the Mississippi, potentially alienating boat-owners. One possible solution is to build a lock at the proposed lake’s mouth, which — though costly — would provide a better access road to Mud Island, and a dam for the Wolf River. The opposing argument is to create a land bridge at the site, providing development space that could pay for the cost of construction as well as serving as a dam.

Parking downtown was another major concern of one of the focus groups. Morton said that the problem is not so much in quantity as in organization. “Downtown [Memphis] has 20,000 parking spaces, more than the current developmental need,” he said. However, he noted that people are not able to find parking when they need it. The problem, Morton said, is that most of the parking in Memphis is not shared, but is used for a single purpose. As an example, Morton noted that the Pyramid boasts 6,000 spaces which are not used except during Pyramid events. By opening up such spaces to the public, parking problems could be lessened.

Tom Lee Park shapes up as one of the most controversial elements in the planners' inventory. Damon said developing it residentially could provide money to do other things, but realistically "you can't take a park without giving a park somewhere else." Others suggested such development would detract from the view of the river from the Bluff Walk.

The RDC will continue these discussions with the public for the next three months as part of its year-long study of the riverfront. Memphians can continue to contribute to the discussion via online access at the RDC’s website at

Copyright 2001 The Memphis Flyer

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Thursday, January 04, 2001

"Big" Ideas Move Riverside Dr., Put Houses in Tom Lee

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Tom Lee Park could sprout houses, Riverside Drive could move to the river's edge, Wolf River Harbor could become a lake and bluff-top "Overton blocks" could become Memphis's Central Park in development options offered Wednesday by riverfront consultants.

These and other "big moves" were laid out during two public hearings hosted by the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. A third public hearing on development alternatives begins at 8 a.m. today in the Plaza Club on the second floor of the Toyota Center beside AutoZone Park.

The Riverfront Development Corp. hired a team led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York to analyze and plan redevelopment of 12 miles of waterfront, from the Wolf River to the Harahan, Frisco and Memphis & Arkansas bridges.

Reaction and comment from the public meetings and other sessions will let planners refine the options, said team leader Brian Shea of Cooper, Robertson. The proposals also must be filtered through finance, marketing, engineering and historic considerations.

A Wolf River Harbor lake concept, proposed in 1996 by Mayor Willie Herenton and shot down by citizens in riverfront workshops in February 1999, reappeared in three versions.

Shea drew a small lake north from a dam near the Auction Avenue bridge, north from Poplar with a "land bridge" between Poplar and Court connecting Mud Island to downtown or with infill connecting Mud Island to the city near Beale Street, making the whole harbor into a lake.

He suggested a new museum dedicated to river history and culture could occupy the land bridge, or such a facility could sit at the foot of Beale Street to pull the historic district's entertainment zone to the river's edge.

The promenade property, dedicated to the city for public use by founders in 1828 and referred to by planners as the Overton blocks, could be developed with public and private uses, be a mixture of green space and development or be purely parkland from Union to Auction.

Tom Lee Park could remain a park or could become residential development with Riverside Drive moved nearer the water and a public promenade constructed along the river's edge.

Likewise, Mud Island River Park could be all park with new access from Poplar Avenue, or it could be a mixture of uses or entirely developed with only a linear park on the Mississippi River side, Shea said.

The cobblestone landing could be preserved as is, be reduced to the section from Union to Beale or be more radically reduced to a portion near the "land bridge" river museum and lake.

Memphis in May International Festival could move from Tom Lee Park to Mud Island or into a new park in the Overton blocks.

Kristi Jernigan, RDC vice chairman, was a sole supporter of the "big lake" in one of three discussion groups that followed the first public presentation Wednesday.

Its controlled water level would permit restaurant and other retail development on both banks, she said.

But most of the two dozen other participants in Jernigan's group spoke in favor of a partial lake, to preserve a protected harbor and the natural rise and fall of the river level.

"The real river is more compelling than an artificial lake," said landscape architect Lissa Thompson.

Expert users of the river also warned that the "big lake" plan was flawed because it would push large riverboats into a dock on the Mississippi with its powerful current.

And, they said, any lake plan that ended commercial river traffic in the Wolf also would put about $250,000 in dredging costs on city taxpayers.

Tom Lee Park was beloved, participants said, for the excellent river vista it provides.

It's not working as a park, said Candace Damon, the planning team's finance and marketing expert, but would be "very, very desirable" for residential and neighborhood retail uses.

Memphis in May executive director Jim Holt told the group the success of MIM's music and barbecue festivals is linked to the location on the river.

But Jernigan suggested that if the festival events were in a new park on the Overton property, nearer to downtown restaurants and businesses, its economic impact would increase.

Past legal interpretations have said that control of the promenade area, now about 80 acres west of Front Street from Union to Jackson, could revert to the founders' heirs if other development is attempted without their concurrence.

At an RDC board meeting earlier Wednesday, Jernigan said lawyers with Baker Donelson had researched issues related to the promenade land and the Overton heirs.

"They're ready to give us options and ready to deal with whatever comes out of that (master plan)."

While continuing to shape the master plan, Shea and his team also have been brought into two long-planned projects that the RDC took over from city officials earlier this year.

At their insistence, designers are taking a new look at plans for the Ron Terry Plaza and cobblestone walkway, even though the project is under construction to link Jefferson Davis and Tom Lee parks. The planned 8-foot wide walkway is too small, consultants have said.

A construction contract for improvements to Riverside Drive also has been delayed until spring.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal

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Wednesday, January 03, 2001

RDC Board Meetings - 2001

Here are the RDC Board of Directors meeting minutes for the entire year 2001, scanned into a single PDF file.

Click here to download the PDF file [1.2 MB]

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RDC Executive Committee - 2001

Here are the RDC Executive Committee minutes for the entire year 2001, scanned into a single PDF file.

Click here to download the PDF file [2.5 MB]

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