Sunday, November 18, 2001

Aim of Reshaping Harbor is New Land, Not Man-Made Lake

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Wolf Lake would replace much of Memphis's Wolf River Harbor in the Riverfront Development Corp.'s vision for reshaping the waterfront.

Five grain or cement businesses, the Coast Guard, two marinas and Mud Island River Park would be displaced or relocated at an unknown cost.

But the lake is not the goal, planners say. Money is.

About 50 acres of new land, created by filling in a portion of the harbor to Mud Island River Park, would generate money by being leased to developers for public and private projects.

That income would let the RDC finance projects to reach its real goal: drawing people to the Mississippi River.

Studies of how other cities paid for waterfront projects, from Portland to New York and Cincinnati, showed that controlling land that could be developed was key to having money for parks, greenbelts and other public spaces, said RDC chairman John Stokes.

"We don't think we can accomplish what we're trying to do without the land bridge," Stokes said. "We're trying to give Memphis and this region access to the real river ... but if somebody can give us a better idea, I want to hear it."

The nonprofit RDC, borne from Mayor Willie Herenton's riverfront task force, calls its vision a 30-year or even 50-year plan.

However, boaters and environmentalists are alarmed that years could pass while officials do nothing to upgrade the harbor's water quality.

And beyond the estimated $75 million construction cost of the land bridge, the RDC could face paying cement makers Lone Star Industries and Lafarge Corp., Bunge North America and Cargill Inc. grain terminals, molasses shipper Westway Terminal Co. and the Coast Guard to move off the harbor's east shore.

The land bridge would take seven years to build north from Adams to Poplar. After another three years, it would be stable enough to build on.

Poplar, Jefferson and Adams would continue across the new land toward the Mississippi River. A pedestrian bridge would connect to Mud Island from Union Avenue.

Water south of the land bridge would remain a harbor for tour boats with a marina for private boats.

Water north of it would become a 150-acre lake that might require new pumping technology to regulate depth.

In 1999, the RDC took on the task of managing and developing Memphis's 12-mile waterfront, from the north end of Mud Island to the three bridges south of downtown.
Its massive masterplan would work in phases. The RDC board hopes to take a plan to the City Council for review early next year.

"The purpose of people on the board ... is to create a world-class, wonderful, dynamite riverfront for the city and region and state here in Memphis, Tenn.," Stokes said.

In addition to the land bridge, the masterplan proposes a landing at the foot of Beale Street for large riverboats; preservation of the historic cobblestones; and redevelopment of Mud Island River Park and the blufftop blocks on the west side of Front Street. Consultants are still computing cost estimates.

While the RDC begins "doing projects that work whether there's a land bridge or not," issues of timing and real costs of the land bridge will be further explored, said Benny Lendermon, RDC president.

The city's original riverport, with its historic cobblestone landing, was partially enclosed over time by the river's creation of Mud Island and was shut off at its north end after World War II by the Corps of Engineers.

Development of McKellar Lake Harbor and Presidents Island industrial area south of downtown supplanted the old harbor in the 1950s.

Wolf River Harbor today accounts for less than 10 percent of the river tonnage in Memphis, which is the second largest port on the lower Mississippi, behind St. Louis.

Of 16.61 million tons handled here in 1999 (the latest year for which figures are available), 1.21 million tons came out of the downtown harbor, mostly in grains, cement and soybeans.

The rest moved through McKellar Lake, in the West Memphis Harbor or at Fullen Dock and Warehouse at the mouth of the Wolf River north of downtown.

Phillipe de Laperouse, director of business development for Bunge North America Inc., said the lake plan "would put us out of business at that location."

Farmers from Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi haul their harvest to the Bunge, Cargill and Westway terminals on North Second. Barges are loaded overnight to carry the soybeans, corn, soft red winter wheat and other products to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

"We're leasing from the city, so we're not in a position to say what we would do if we found ourselves forced out," said de Laperouse.

The Coast Guard cutter would require a new Memphis port, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Lopez, commanding officer of the Lower Mississippi Group. Its crew and the staff in command of them and five other cutters that maintain navigation aids from Cairo, Ill., to Baton Rouge, La., are housed beside the Auction Avenue bridge on land owned by the federal government.

Lopez's superior officer has made clear that if the land bridge is built, "we have to be physically relocated," Lopez said, so the Coast Guard would "explore with the (RDC) here the financial issues to do that."

RDC has had "very little" conversation with harbor businesses and Coast Guard officials because the plan has not been formally adopted and the land bridge construction could be years away, Lendermon said.

"Long-term we think there're better locations for that activity," Lendermon said.
The area is being rezoned in the Uptown Redevelopment Plan for North Memphis because planners for it and the RDC "came to the conclusion that you would never redevelop that area with industrial users remaining," Lendermon said.

"If the community as a whole wants industry to remain in the harbor long term, over the next 30 years, then our efforts to do anything in that area, including Uptown - we ought to stop," Lendermon said.

City officials have talked for more than two years about how to address the stormwater runoff and water quality problems, said public works director Jerry Collins.

It's littered with Styrofoam, plastic and metal each time rain washes street litter through the massive stormwater system that drains below the city and into the harbor.

"We certainly have continual battles to try to raise the consciousness of people so they will not litter," Collins said. The city also has tried to increase street-cleanings.

City engineers have studied automated, self-cleaning bar screen systems for the huge drain pipes that are part of the pumping system to keep the city from flooding.
The harbor would require larger, more expensive screens due to the pumping system. If it is replaced in the transition to a stillwater lake regulated by gravity, less expensive screens could be used. While officials wait to know the RDC's plans, Collins said, funding for the screens is in city budgets "four or five years down the way."

Boaters and environmentalists worry that the uncertainty of the lake plan will delay the screens too much.

"I would like to see a fallback position where we take care of the harbor as it is,'' said kayaker Joe Royer, president of Outdoors Inc. and a member of the Tennessee Environmental Council. "I don't want to wait 30 years for the 'big plan' to take care of our water."

Don Richardson, local chairman of the Sierra Club, said the chemical content of sediment in the harbor also should be examined and considered as the lake is studied.

And if a lake is created, Richardson said, the upper harbor area should remain undeveloped where red fox and cranes can congregate.

"On what other riverfront in America can you see an animal associated with wilderness doing their thing?" Richardson asked. "Open space and land can be extremely valuable ... without having some kind of cell tower or building on it."

Under the Riverfront Development Corp.'s masterplan, the lower riverport for the Coast Guard Group and its cutter the Kankakee would have to relocate. Joshua Feeler cleans the Kankakee's radar device.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Tuesday, November 13, 2001

River towns reconnect with waterfront potential

Christian Science Monitor
By Craig Savoye

MEMPHIS, TENN. - For decades, this city on the banks of the Mississippi, like an estranged child, grew apart from Old Man River.

Even in prosperous times, smokestack industries and their effluent made the riverfront and the waterway itself unattractive places to visit. Then, in the 1950s and '60s, factories started fading, further dispiriting riverfront neighborhoods. A highway completed the segregation of land and water.

But at the dawn of a new century, this nearly 200-year-old city is trying to reconnect to its riverfront, abetted by a public-private partnership that will evolve a sweeping plan of grand civic spaces and commercial development grounded in aesthetics and environmentalism.

"The interest in this is huge," says Benny Lendermon, who heads an independent agency overseeing riverfront redevelopment. "We've done a lot of meetings on this - and I've done public meetings all my life - and we have yet to have a room with enough seats. People show up because they truly love the river."

From California to New England, cities are re-engaging with their rivers. Last month, Pittsburgh's Riverlife Task Force unveiled a sweeping plan for Three Rivers Park, a makeover of 10 miles of riverfront along the banks of the city's three intersecting waterways. Cincinnati's $1 billion riverfront redevelopment effort is starting to gather steam: A second municipal stadium is being completed, and work may soon begin on a National Underground Railroad museum, a 52-acre park, and highway and parking reconfiguration.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are also transforming their riverfronts. So is Sacramento. Hartford and Louisville are beginning Phase 2 of their efforts. And the phenomenon is not limited to large cities. Omaha and Peoria are redeveloping their riverfronts. Augusta, Maine, tore down a dam several years ago and is redeveloping along the banks of its rediscovered river.

"It's a booming trend," says Betsy Otto, director of the Community Rivers Program at American Rivers in Washington. "In many of these cities, the reason for their founding is their location on the river. By reconnecting to what makes them unique, they are reviving themselves and their identity."

The riverfront redevelopment has been driven by a number of intersecting trends. The final demise of industry along riverfronts has freed up land, the Clean Water Act has helped revive polluted rivers and made them once again attractive to recreation, and a booming economy throughout the '90s fed civic dreams of reinvention.

Now, however, the nation's economy is reeling, and cities are trying to trim budgets. The new economic realities may slow redevelopment efforts, though it's unlikely that those already under way would be scuttled midstream. But cities still in the planning stages, such as Kansas City, may find themselves taking a hard look at new expenditures.

Here in Memphis, the "final" riverfront redevelopment plan is expected to go public after the New Year. The project will include a wide land bridge out to nearby Mud Island, new residential units, commercial space, marinas, acres of parks, and a landing for tourist paddle-wheel boats.

While design specifics of riverfront rebirth vary by city, several guiding principles of the Memphis plan come close to being universal. One is that water's edge belongs to the public. In Memphis, the goal is to have all five miles of river's edge in the redevelopment area under public control.

Having streets flow down to meet the river is another popular consideration. In Memphis, not a single downtown boulevard currently extends to the water; they dead-end either into a building or parking garage.

In general, riverfront redevelopment plans nationwide benefit from - and perhaps would not exist without - a transformation in thinking about aesthetics over the past two decades, according to experts. Once viewed as an expensive luxury, aesthetics are now seen as a critical design component that drives economic development.

"There was a time when people thought you had to pack every square inch with concrete and steel to get the most gross leasable square footage," says Jack Rouse, who owns a design firm in Cincinnati and also chairs that city's redevelopment advisory agency. "That turned out not to be a very good model. It's the parks and amenities and fountains and walkways that really do drive economic development and underlying real-estate values."

The same holds true for environmental considerations, some experts say. "People want to get down and see the river and see natural habitat - in addition to having walkways and festivals and restaurants and everything else," says Ms. Otto.

Riverfront redevelopment is also seen as a partial antidote to suburban sprawl. Memphis now enjoys one of the highest rates of urban repopulation in the US - with new residents snatching up renovated apartments and loft space as soon as it comes on the market. Riverfront redevelopment is expected to fuel continued demand and further anchor the downtown area.

One of the keys to riverfront rebirth is often the establishment of a quasi-private nonprofit agency that's shielded from politics and bureaucratic entanglement. That is the model in Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Memphis.

In Memphis, it is hoped that $300 million in public spending over a decade or more will be matched by $600 million in funding from developers. "At the end of the day, it's all about getting development into the hands of an organization that runs in a true public-private partnership mode, as opposed to development being at the whim of politicians and elections," says Mr. Rouse.

Despite current financial woes, and a lack of success in certain cities that had attempted redevelopment, such as Toledo, optimism runs deep in many river cities.

"My level of confidence could not possibly be higher than it is," says John Stokes, chairman of the Memphis redevelopment agency. "The right people are involved in this thing, the design is a good one, and the people of Memphis are behind it. Now is the time."

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Friday, November 09, 2001

Mud Island property purchase finalized; Developer buys Mud Island property

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Sue Pease

Local developer Kevin Hyneman finalized the purchase of 21 acres on Mud Island, bringing plans to build on the vacant land closer to reality and continuing to raise questions about the property, which lies in the heart of the Downtown riverfront.

According to a special warranty deed filed in the Shelby County Registers Office, Kevin Hyneman Cos. bought the land from Echelon Residential LLC for $2.5 million Oct. 26.

A related trust deed also was filed in the registers office, with a lien on the real estate for $2.6 million.

While Hyneman, an independent developer, now owns the land, the property sits among the Downtown riverfront area, between the Mississippi and Wolf rivers. It would fall within the boundaries of a publicly initiated master plan, which might affect the way the property is developed.

At this point, Hyneman said he is still uncertain of what he will build on the property.

Hopefully, well be doing something the city will be proud of, he said.

Before the land purchase was finalized, Hyneman said he had discussions with the Riverfront Development Corp. Both groups considered a joint venture, but a decision wasnt agreed upon.

We went to the RDC for a proposal for a joint venture, and I think there is still an opportunity there, but I had contractual obligations so I had to close (on the property).

Of the 21 acres, about 14 usable acres are suitable for development, he said. It begins on the south side of Auction Street near the intersection of Island Drive.

Hyneman said discussions between both parties were positive. Regardless of whether a joint venture is realized, it would be developed with RDC input.

He said he is discussing a plan for the area with Atlanta-based Post Properties, in case plans dont materialize with the RDC.

In February 2000, the RDC was formed, backed by Mayor Willie Herenton, and given the task of redeveloping 12 miles along the Downtown riverfront.

The RDC, a public-private partnership, is creating a master plan for the waterfront with the help of consultants.

The board hopes Hynemans project will fit in with their plans.

Benny Lendermon, RDC president, said although the board had many discussions with Hyneman, a specific proposal hadnt materialized, but plans on both sides werent at different ends of the spectrum.

We don't think our goals, in both cases, are that different, he said.

Lendermon said types of uses the RDC would like to see would be similar to what is on the north side of the Auction Street Bridge.

Urban residential development, similar to Harbor Town, which increases in density closer to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, would be optimal in RDCs opinion, he said.

Mary Baker, Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development deputy director, said the area is currently zoned R-MM, multifamily, which allows 30 units per acre at a maximum height of 125 feet.

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