Friday, June 29, 2007

Branston: T or F: Memphis is Greener Than Other Cities. A: True!

Memphis Flyer [link]
By John Branston

Memphis has a lot of park land - maybe more than any big city in the country.

And the debate over what to put in downtown parks and Shelby Farms is very similar to the debates going on in many other cities.

Those two things are made clear by a story in Friday's Wall Street Journal, "The Focus-Grouped Park," on the "heated debate" about what to put in them.

Although Memphis isn't mentioned in the story, the cities that are - Seattle, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Minneapolis, Houston, and Orange County, California - all have multi-million dollar park improvements or expansions underway.

"On a scale not seen since the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th century, public green spaces are proliferating," the story says.

The report says the real controversy is over what to do with them, with suggestions ranging from passive activities to zip lines, climbing walls, riding trails, bocce ball, and free wireless internet. And, of course, how to pay for those things.

Anyone following the debate over Tom Lee Park, Beale Street Landing, the downtown promenade, or Shelby Farms will find many familiar notes. What's most striking, however, is that the biggest park in the Journal story is 1,347-acre Great Park of Orange County. The story notes that this is "60 percent larger than New York's Central Park."

Well, as many Memphians know, Shelby Farms is five times the size of Central Park. And downtown Memphis, with 250 acres of parks, is also park-rich.

Corporate sponsorship, naming rights, and private donations are helping pay for the new parks in other cities. Gold Medal Park in Minneapolis was financed by a $5 million donation from a United Health Care executive, and Millenium Park in Chicago has named prominent areas after SBC, Boeing, and British Petroleum. So far, Memphians have taken a dim view of private development on park land, preferring to seek state and federal funds to bolster local funding. Meanwhile, rival groups engage in an intellectual arms race by bringing in friendly experts and consultants to rally supporters and publicize their views.

Friends of Shelby Farms, the Riverfront Development Corporation, and Friends For Our Riverfront take note: Memphis has an embarrassment of riches. And the story suggests that focus groups, consultants, and visiting experts may help the process along, but ultimately nitty-gritty decisions are made at the local level by concerned citizens battling it out.

"It's much more challenging to satisfy everyone's notion of what a park should be," says Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism quoted in the story. "You want to please as many people as possible, but we've become so different."

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The Focus-Grouped Park

Cities are building new parks at a rate not seen for 100 years. Jon Weinbach on the increasingly heated debate about what to put in them.

Wall Street Journal [link to original]
By Jon Weinbach

There's a new status symbol for American cities and it's not a soaring office tower or retro stadium. To many civic leaders, nothing says progressiveness and prosperity like an elaborate urban park.

Hudson River Park, New York; 550 acres; Opened 2003 Construction, partly on top of old piers, is continuing along Manhattan's West Side. It's the largest open-space development in New York since Central Park, with green spaces, trails for bikers and Rollerbladers, and free wireless Internet.

On a scale not seen since the "City Beautiful" movement of the late 19th century, public green spaces are proliferating. In Irvine, Calif., work has begun on a $1.1 billion recreational area that will be 60% larger than New York's Central Park. Private donors in Houston financed the bulk of a $93 million downtown greensward, while the mayor of Louisville, Ky., wants to ring the city's borders with 100 miles of trails. In all, 29 of the nation's biggest cities have added nearly 14,000 acres of new parkland in two years -- the equivalent of about 11,000 football fields.

But even grass and trees can be complicated. Citizens and planners across the country are getting tied up in a larger debate about what a park should be -- one that often pits people who believe in peace and quiet and the soulful contemplation of nature against those who prefer zip lines, Frisbee golf and hang-gliding.

In the Twin Cities, some residents don't agree with the decision to build a public sports field with artificial turf. Park builders in Dallas are trying to find room in one new project for a backgammon area. And an effort to rehabilitate Manhattan's Washington Square Park has been met by three lawsuits so far -- including an attempt by preservationists to keep the city from moving the central fountain about 15 feet to the east. "You'd think we were proposing to build a nuclear waste dump," says Adrian Benepe, the city's commissioner of parks and recreation.

Gold Medal Park, Minneapolis; 7.5 acres; Opened 2007 Built on a set of old parking lots, site aims to foster quiet activities like picnics and strolls rather than sports. It was financed by a $5 million donation from former United Health Care chief executive William McGuire.

At a public meeting earlier this month in Louisville, about 150 people came to weigh in on Floyd's Fork Greenway, a 27-mile stretch of parks, bike paths and canoe launches to be built along a scenic creek. After the presentation, residents furiously scribbled suggestions on project maps that hung around the room. Among them: "A nature trail can't run along a highway!"; "Leave an area large enough for a hot air balloon launch"; and from one particularly agitated person, "Many people were not notified of this meeting." Ralph Stanton, a goateed tile contractor in his mid-50s, was concerned that the park plans didn't include a trail wide enough to accommodate all three of his horses. "Kentucky is the home of the Derby, but we've got to go to Indiana to ride," said Mr. Stanton, clutching his cowboy hat. "They ought to get the horse people more involved."

Symbols of Democracy

For decades, local and federal governments had cut back on park budgets as funding needs grew for education, health care and safety. That marked a change from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when urban parks were held up as symbols of democracy, public health and progressive social planning -- and received generous government support. There was another surge of park building during the "Great Society" era of President Lyndon Johnson, but as more city residents fled for the suburbs, many urban parks were not properly maintained -- and green spaces deteriorated or disappeared.

Federal money is still hard to come by. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that provides grants for state and national parks, will receive about $28 million this fiscal year, down nearly 80% from 2002. Another initiative, the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program, has not been funded in five years.

BeltLine, Atlanta; Over 1,200 acres; Opening unknown The initiative, which awaits funding, would double Atlanta's park acreage. It calls for converting this former quarry into the city's largest park.

A number of factors are spurring the current parks boom, from research about the health benefits of green space to interest from private donors and corporate sponsors. Developers who once fought with conservationists are now pushing the idea, after discovering that successful parks -- such as Manhattan's Bryant Park and Atlanta's Piedmont Park -- can dramatically increase property values.

City leaders are also using parks as a marketing tool. In an effort to draw young professionals and graying suburbanites, a number of cities including Denver, Philadelphia and San Diego have gentrified their downtowns recently. But politicians are finding that most of the new residents grew up with access to running trails, sports fields and the like -- and expect to have the same access in the city.

The largest increases in park space over the last two years took place in sprawling municipalities like Houston and Jacksonville, Fla., but even densely packed older cities such as Cleveland (with 187 new acres) and Philadelphia (22 acres) are finding ways to create new open space, often on former military bases or industrial sites. Seattle's nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park, opened earlier this year, was built on a former oil-transfer site. Other cities have focused on building parks on reclaimed brownfields -- industrial or commercial sites tainted by pollution -- especially near valuable waterfront or downtown real estate. Pittsburgh, the long-time hub of the U.S. steel industry, redeveloped a 283-acre slag dump along the Monongahela River a few years ago, converting it into a residential complex and 200 acres of green space.

New York is in the midst of "the biggest period of park construction and redevelopment since the 1930s," says Mr. Benepe, the parks commissioner. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sat on the boards of two local park foundations before taking office, recently increased the parks department's operating annual budget to about $355 million -- double the total in 2000. The city's most ambitious projects are building a park on top of an abandoned elevated railway line in Manhattan and converting the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island to a 2,315-acre recreation area.

As cities increasingly rely on corporate donors, real-estate developers and private, not-for-profit entities for park funding, they're facing some criticism. When Chicago's Millennium Park, opened in 2004, named prominent areas after corporate sponsors such as SBC, Boeing and British Petroleum, some traditionalists cried foul. Several cities have recently devised guidelines for sponsorship and naming rights -- in Denver, a company has to contribute 50% of all capital costs to get its name or logo on a new park

Millennium Park, Chicago; 24.5 acres; Opened 2004 Some have criticized the park for naming prominent areas -- including the Frank Gehry-designed BP Bridge, pictured here -- after corporate sponsors.

But in most cases, the arguments revolve around one issue: the purpose of a park. In Chico, Calif., work on the city's new master plan for Bidwell Park has been hamstrung by a fight between preservationists and disc golfers who have been using a remote part of the park to play the Frisbee-inspired sport. Environmental advocates say the golfers are damaging trees and compacting the soil. At a meeting earlier this month, two golfers said their course should not be treated any differently than bike or hiking trails.

Planners for downtown Houston's 12-acre, $93 million Discovery Green park, which is set to open next year, wanted to create a "critical mass of activities" to generate buzz in a long-forgotten area of town, says Philip Myrick, vice president of Project for Public Space, a New York nonprofit that helped conceive the park's programs. Throughout 2005, the group conducted about a dozen small meetings with different "stakeholders" -- ranging from Hispanic community leaders to downtown employees to elementary-school students -- and held workshops for anyone interested in contributing ideas. The Hispanic community wanted open space for events, while the students proposed adding a "zip line" ride, a pulley suspended from a cable wire that allows thrill seekers to fly through the air.

The final park plans included a dog area, a jogging trail, a puppet theater and a "birthday veranda" for parties -- but no zip line.

Bocce Ball and Dogs

"Just having a baseball diamond, a grove of trees and a couple soccer fields is really the old model," says landscape architect James Burnett, whose firm is designing a $80 million park in downtown Dallas that will cover a sunken eight-lane freeway. The current plans for the site, tentatively called Woodall Rodgers Park, include a bocce ball court, a backgammon area, spaces for leashed and unleashed dogs and a botanical garden. "The program list can get very long," he says. "The discussion is always heated."

Great Park of Orange County, Orange County, Calif.; 1,347 acres; Opening 2009 (projected) Plans for the $1.1 billion project, on a former military base, include a 2.5-mile man-made canyon and a massive wildlife corridor. Most visitors will need to drive there, since it's far from residential neighborhoods.

In some ways, the skirmishes over space mirror previous controversies over park land. After Central Park opened in the 1800s, New York City commissioners were overwhelmed by public requests for boat rides and more activities, even though landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted imagined the park as "purely passive space," says Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania and author of a 1999 biography of Mr. Olmsted.

But now that prime urban real estate is much more scarce and expensive, "it's much more challenging to satisfy everyone's notion of what a park should be," he says. As a result, many of the new projects share a theme-park quality, with neatly organized areas catering to different groups. "You want to please as many people as possible, but we've become so different," he says.

Few parks today match the cost or scope of the Great Park of Orange County in Southern California, on the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The decision to build the park came after years of battles over the fate of the base, which closed eight years ago. In 1994, county voters narrowly approved a plan to convert the base into an airport, but opponents stalled the effort until 2002, when voters approved a measure overturning the airport plan in favor of a park.

The Navy handled the sale of the base, dividing it into four parcels. In 2005, Lennar Corp., the nation's second-largest home builder, bought all four lots for about $650 million. In order to build on the site, Lennar had to turn over a chunk of the land to the public for park development, contribute $200 million toward the creation of the park, and spend another $201 million on infrastructure. For its part, Lennar plans to create a sprawling, 3,400-unit residential development around the park, as well as a 750-acre "Lifelong Learning" area that's slated to include a college campus and senior housing.

The park won't begin to open until 2009, though its first attraction, a balloon ride that will take riders 500 feet in the air, is scheduled to debut on July 14. (The balloon will be orange, naturally.) Last March, the park's designers announced a projected cost of about $1.1 billion -- not including the funds needed to construct a planned set of museums or a botanical garden.

No to Advertising

To generate revenue, the park is exploring sponsorship, naming rights and sublease options, as well as charging fees for parking and certain events and activities, like evening softball games. However, earlier this month the park's board of directors voted not to put advertising on the new balloon ride, despite estimates that it could bring in as much as $250,000. (Visitors may be charged for parking though.)

Like most park projects, this one has youth sports organizations and enthusiasts of every stripe angling for prime turf. Last year, the board asked for suggestions how to develop the park's 165-acre sports area -- and got an avalanche of proposals. The list includes a "casting pond" to teach aspiring fly fishermen, a research center to study children's exercise habits, and a "California Sports Hall of Fame" honoring local athletes. Mike Meier, a 56-year-old hang-gliding manufacturer from Orange, Calif., concedes his request for hang-gliding space probably won't get top priority. Nonetheless, he spent "about 30 or 40 hours" putting together a 12-page proposal, which included sketches of a bowl-shaped hill where beginner-level pilots could learn how to take off. "It wasn't a Madison Avenue-like production," he says. "I'm not holding my breath."

In contrast to most urban green spaces, which are centered around pedestrian access, few people will be able to walk to the Great Park -- aside from residents in Lennar's new homes. (The site is in a remote area a few miles northeast of Interstate 5, far from anything resembling a neighborhood.) There are plans to create a light-rail service that will connect an enlarged train station in Irvine with stops at the park and a nearby shopping center, but even Roy Cooper, the park's operations director, admits that transportation is a major obstacle. "If we provide alternative, convenient transportation, we might have a shot at getting people out of their cars -- but this is Orange County," he says.

Discovery Green, Houston; 12 acres; Opening 2008 The park -- located between the city's two recently built sports venues, the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Field -- is expected to cost $93 million.

Write to Jon Weinbach at

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Editorial: Landing project needs oversight

Commercial Appeal [link]
June 27, 2007

Although a group of protesters showed up at Memphis City Hall last week to raise questions about Beale Street Landing, the proverbial boat had already left the dock.

City Council members weren't inclined to change their minds about the $29 million project, which means construction work on the boat dock/park is expected to begin during the fiscal year that starts July 1.

After a lengthy debate about the project, council members decided it would be a good addition to the city's riverfront. But their involvement shouldn't end there.

If they want to avoid repeating some past mistakes or possibly making new ones, they need to take their oversight role regarding Beale Street Landing very seriously.

They should carefully scrutinize everything from the project's financing to the design plans to the progress of the actual construction work. They shouldn't be lulled into abdicating that responsibility in exchange for vague assurances that everything will work out well in the end.

That wasn't the case with the expansion of the Cook Convention Center, which cost more than twice as much as expected largely because there wasn't adequate oversight during that project's planning and design phase. Building and maintaining a facility that's subject to the Mississippi River's changing water levels won't be easy, either.

More oversight might have also helped with FedExForum, in which grant funds were improperly spent on a parking garage -- a mistake that eventually cost the city $6.3 million worth of federal funds for future projects. It's worth noting that the Beale Street Landing will rely heavily on state and federal dollars for its financing, too.

Closer oversight into a $1.5 billion bond deal involving the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division might have headed off some of the controversy about a transaction in which some of Mayor Willie Herenton's political supporters benefited financially. Who will profit from Beale Street Landing? That remains to be seen.

Closer oversight might also have been beneficial on the Memphis Networx deal, which now has some council members trying to figure out how $28.6 million of MLGW ratepayer money was spent on a financially unsuccessful telecom venture.

Maybe none of those types of issues will crop up with Beale Street Landing. Maybe new issues will.

But if council members want to avoid being blind-sided by whatever challenges might arise, they should stay engaged with this project.

Ignoring the details could allow the worst fears of the project's critics to come true.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Branston: A Victory Lap for the Riverfront Development Corporation

Memphis Flyer [link]
By John Branston

When you’re selling the glories of Mud Island River Park to people old enough to remember its grand opening 25 years ago, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. That's what the Riverfront Development Corporation's support tag-team did at the Memphis City Council. The purpose of the presentation wasn't clear. The council voted to keep $29 million Beale Street Landing in the budget last week. The RDC won. So move on, and make the best of it. The RDC may, after all, be right.

But RDC President Benny Lendermon and his board members sound more like they are trying to talk themselves into believing their own Power Point propaganda.

One slide displayed Tuesday called the intersection of Beale Street and Riverside Drive the most important historic tourist destination in America. Take that, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington Monument, Golden Gate Bridge, and Grand Canyon!

Beale Street Landing's biggest fan is city councilman Joe Brown, who thinks it will put the Memphis riverfront on par with the Chicago lakefront and the St. Louis Arch. He praised the tranquility of the Mississippi River and its benefits on community mental health.

Miraculously, other council members in the meeting managed to keep from bursting out laughing. A couple of weeks ago Brown publicly called a colleague "retarded," prompting a memo to all council members urging decorum.

Board members said they had rounded up $10 million in state and federal funds for Beale Street Landing that would go unused if the project is stopped. In other words, we are spending $19 million in local money to save $10 million in "free" money.

The presentation on Mud Island, which is part of the RDC domain, was condescending. Whatever you think of their arguments, Friends For Our Riverfront is comprised of conscientious long-time Memphians who don't need to be lectured and -- unlike the RDC’s staff and consultants -- work for nothing. As anyone who goes there knows, Mud Island River Park is nicely maintained and the river model is impressive -- to visitors seeing it for the first time. The concerts have been a welcome addition.

But attempts to jazz up the park with boats and overnight camping suffer from one obvious problem: It is too damn hot in Memphis in the summer, especially before 5 p.m. when the park closes. The place downtown where you can actually see people on the riverfront at all hours of the day is the Mud Island Greenbelt, which offers nothing more than a sidewalk, parking, acres of well-cut grass, pretty views, and some shade.

A few years ago, Memphis architect Frank Ricks proposed putting a ferris wheel at the tip of Mud Island. Throw in a sprinkler park for kids along with some shade and a portable concession stand at Tom Lee Park and clean up the cobblestones, and that's still the best and most economical idea I have heard for improving the riverfront.

But it looks like the battle is over. Bring on the boat dock, and let's hope it works.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

RDC Board of Directors Resolution re-approving Beale Street Landing

Signed and dated June 13, 2007 by Chairman Greg Duckett: "[R]e-affirms its previously stated support" and authorizes its staff to "move forward with the design and construction of the Beale Street Landing Project as previously approved."

Click here for a PDF scan of the signed resolution.[245KB]

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Tourism zone bill gets nod

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Richard Locker

NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee legislature approved a bill Thursday and moved close to approving another to help facilitate two major Memphis redevelopment projects: the Graceland area and the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

Both measures authorize the city to create tourism development zones (TDZs) at the sites, and define the legal parameters for allowing some local taxes collected within them to be used to help finance the projects. They prohibit the shares of local property and sales taxes earmarked for schools from being abated.

Potential developers of both have said public support in the way of tax abatements or incentives are crucial.

The Graceland project is further along, and the bill approved by the House on Thursday is on its way to Gov. Phil Bredesen to sign into law. Executives of Graceland have announced plans for a $250 million improvement plan to transform the area surrounding Elvis Presley's home.

Included are a new "boutique" convention hotel, possibly a second hotel, a visitors center, new attractions and shops, all designed to make Graceland an even bigger tourist draw. The visitors center is still in the design phase and construction won't start until at least next year, Todd Morgan, Graceland's director of media and creative services, said Thursday.

The entire project could occur within five years, provided local and state governments commit to an unspecified amount of funding, Robert F.X. Sillerman, chief executive of Graceland parent corporation CKX Inc., said last week.

The bill sponsored by state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, and Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, won House approval 87-5 Thursday. It requires a project of at least $200 million to qualify.

In both cases, the City Council would ultimately decide whether to create the zones and the tax abatements, incentives and in-lieu-of-tax payments.

"I think it's a great economic and community development tool that can be used statewide, although Elvis Presley Enterprises asked for it," Todd said. "The area out there will be enhanced greatly by what they are planning to do."

Graceland's Morgan agreed. "The purpose of seeking the tax break is to enhance our efforts. It's very good news as we move forward with our plans for redeveloping the area around Graceland."

The TDZ bill for the fairgrounds was first proposed by Memphis developer Henry Turley, who hopes to win the city's approval to be the site's master developer. Mayor Willie Herenton later endorsed the bill.

A city committee is studying how to redevelop the 170-acre site, bounded by Central, East Parkway, Southern and Hollywood. No plans are final; no developer, or process for selecting one, has been chosen.

Under Turley's scenario, the project would be a mix of new retailers, open space, athletic fields, the Salvation Army's planned Kroc Community Center, the existing Fairview School and Children's Museum of Memphis, and whatever the city decides to do with Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the Mid-South Coliseum.

That bill won House approval 87-3 but returns to the Senate next week for concurrence with amendments.

Lawmakers amended both bills with requirements for minority contractor participation.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

WREG-TV: Beale Street Landing Debate

Reported by Daralene Jones

Link to video report on WREG's site (opens in separate windows).

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why Beale Street Landing Is a Go

Memphis Flyer [link]
By John Branston

Tom Lee pulled 32 people into his boat and saved them from drowning in the Mississippi River and got a monument and a park named after him.

On Tuesday, seven members of the Memphis City Council did their version of a Tom Lee reenactment, saving the Riverfront Development Corporation, aka the Retired Directors Club, which will now spend $29.4 million at Tom Lee Park so people can get close enough to the Mississippi River to drown in it.

No word yet on whether there will be a monument to "the very worthy councilmen" to go with the one to "the very worthy" Tom Lee.

The RDC should be careful what it wishes for. Beale Street Landing, a glorified boat dock, will apparently let visitors get close enough to scoop up a handful of water or dangle a toe in Big Muddy. At a time when homeowners, parks, and colleges are taking down the diving boards at their swimming pools to save on insurance costs, Memphis is going to put some floating concrete lily pads out in the river. How long will it be before some child or Memphis In May party animal slips through the rails and plunges into the Mississippi River and drowns or slaps the city with a lawsuit? And if it costs $20 million to bring Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium into ADA compliance, how much will it cost to make B.S. Landing safe for boatloads of senior citizens and their walkers?

Come back, Tom Lee, and bring your boat with you.

Politically, at least, B.S. Landing is unsinkable. It survived the elimination of the land bridge, the decision of Delta Steamboat Company to shun Memphis in its corporate relocation, public apathy (the only person to speak for it Tuesday was RDC President Benny Lendermon) and various design revisions. Several people – let's say at least 32 of them -- came to the council meeting Tuesday to oppose it, but although their spokespersons were sensible and even eloquent, they might as well have been trying to dam the river.

"My job is to recruit bright young people to work in Memphis," said Susan Caldwell. "I can unequivocally say that not one of them is making a decision on where to live based on a new commercial boat dock . . . I ask you to consider: What real community needs and future needs will be cut in order to build this project? What maintenance will be ignored? What libraries and parks will be closed?"

Nice try, but no sale. Only Carol Chumney, Jack Sammons, and E. C. Jones voted to remove B.S. Landing from the capital improvements budget. There are at least four reasons why the project is alive.

First, it gets about $10 million in state and federal money, which in the minds of some council members offsets the $19 million in local money -- even though $19 million is six times the amount the council is going to give LeMoyne Owen College.

Second, the politically savvy and well-heeled RDC played smart and got the project through as part of the riverfront master plan when it was in its infancy, then told council members they had already approved it on subsequent votes, even though the design, cost, and rationales had changed.

Third, fiscal restraint takes a back seat to a juicy public project every time to a majority of local politicians at crunch time. There are simply too many perks, contracts, and jobs to divvy up and too many political IOUs to hand out or call in. Reports of Mayor Willie Herenton's political demise are greatly exaggerated. The seven yes votes for the RDC included potential mayoral rivals Tom Marshall and Myron Lowery, who fell docilely in line behind the mayor; Scott McCormick, who got Rickey Peete’s seat on the RDC board after Peete was indicted for bribery; Edmund Ford, previously cast as the black-hatted villain in the MLGW Follies; and Dedrick Brittenum, who is quitting the council after this term is up.

Finally, "green" is white. When black members of the City Council looked out at the audience of RDC opponents, they didn’t see many, if any, people who looked like them. The failure of B.S. Landing to make a bridge to Mud Island will be a problem, but the failure of environmental groups with their smart growth, coffee shops, and bike paths to bridge the racial divide will be a bigger one.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

WMC-TV: Memphis City Council approves $29 million Beale Street Landing

WMC-TV Channel 5 [link]
Reported by Janice Broach

Below is the full text of the Channel 5 report as posted on the Web. Click here to download an iPod video (9 MB file) of the broadcast segment, which was the lead story on the 10:00 news. It will also play in the latest version of Quicktime. Note: A technical glitch toward the end of the broadcast segment has been edited out, truncating E.C. Jones' remarks.

After taking the project off the table just weeks ago, Tuesday night the Memphis City Council approved Beale Street Landing, a $29 million project that will change the face of Memphis' riverfront. At Tuesday night's council meeting, many in attendance made it clear they didn't like the idea.

"My big problem with the design for the Beale Street Landing is that it does not say 'This is Memphis.' It is not could be anywhere," said Linda Ireland.

"The price tag is 29.4 million dollars," said Susan Caldwell. "It's a lot of money. It's almost half of what we paid for the Pyramid, and all of it is taxpayer money."

"There are a lot of assets downtown with much less money with views, public access, and with things to do," said Steve Sondheim. "There's really nothing the public can do in this facility but look at each other and wait for an occasional boat that may or may not come."

Council member E. C. Jones said Memphis needs to spend the money on more important things.

"Every time you put a project downtown it takes away from somewhere else in the city," he said. "I think we spent a lot of money downtown. We got the river walk. The mayor's done a great job on downtown. At some point, are you going to just continue, and forget about the other people in the city?"

$10 million of the $29 million project cost of the project will come from state and federal money. That money can only be used for this riverfront project, and if there had been any more delays in approving Beale Street Landing, the money would have been lost.

Work on the Beale Street Landing project could start as early as this fall. It is expected to take two years to complete.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Letters: Don't dock taxpayers again

Commercial Appeal [link]
Letters to the Editor

When will the Memphis City Council wake up? A new commercial boat dock? The Riverfront Development Corporation is asking us to spend $18.8 million of city taxpayers' money (not to mention federal earmarks) on something that simply isn't needed (May 25 article, "Beale St. plan restored / City Council puts it back on capital improvements budget").

The part that might be useful ("a place to buy a Coke," as RDC president Benny Lendermon says) could be accomplished far more cheaply with soft-drink machines or licensed street vendors in Tom Lee Park, on the cobblestones or in Jefferson Davis Park. The new hotel at Beale and Wagner will have a restaurant.

Beale Street Landing is a leftover from the repudiated land bridge plan that would have ended the docking at the cobblestones. A new landing is no longer necessary. The steamboat operators hate this floating dock idea. Memphians and tourists think it's fun boarding at the historic cobblestones, and simply want improvements like better walkways, seating and historic information.

Beale Street Landing is an artificiality we can't afford, a make-work, job-protection program for a corporation whose middle name is Development.

Meanwhile, the rest of Memphis languishes, with a high crime rate, a shortage of jobs, poor health and bad roads.

Michael Cromer

This $29 million boat dock is being promoted as a tourist attraction, as in, "Hey let's go to Memphis, they've got a great boat dock," but it is understood that it will be used as a base to transport folks to Tunica for gambling. Hmmmm.

This project is being discussed as money well spent, but we have an empty unpaid-for pyramid, a three-story garage that was supposed to be four stories and a monorail that's not even open year-round that leads to a recreation area with closed shops and restaurants. All paid for by taxpayer dollars. Are we throwing good money after bad?

This project is being promoted as benefiting all Memphians. All Memphians need funded hospitals, libraries, parks, jobs, and good, clean, safe schools and homes before they need a $29 million boat dock.

Our council members are scheduled to vote on this Tuesday. $29 million? Tell them we've had enough.

Kay Guenther

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Profile: Watchdog

Lifetime appreciation of open spaces drives Virginia McLean to fight for the riverfront

Memphis (a service of Memphis Business Journal) [link]
By Christopher Sheffield

Virginia McLean laughs at being tagged an activist but gladly accepts the role.

And not because it massages her ego, but because what she's fighting for has such significance and importance for Memphis, says McLean, president of the now 4-year-old citizens' group Friends for Our Riverfront.

"This is the most important land in our city, historically, geographically," she says. "And it is the public's, and it should pass on to future generations."

But McLean and others felt that lineage was threatened in 2003 when the Riverfront Development Corp. unveiled a $50 million plan to commercially develop a four-block section along Front Street for retail shopping and condominiums. The plan has gotten mixed reaction from city leaders.

That strip of land -- home now to a fire station, two garages, a city library and future University of Memphis law school -- was meant to be public space and not handed over to private developers, she says.

"If we build buildings on that land for private condos, it will be gone," says McLean. "There's plenty of more space for private development."

Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford has been supportive of the RDC's plans, but says McLean's leadership through Friends for Our Riverfront has had an impact.

"Clearly, as founder of Friends she has helped to raise the community's consciousness about the riverfront," Sanford says. "She has been nothing if not tenacious."

The face-off with the RDC, and, to a larger extent the city, is noteworthy given McLean's family history.

John Overton Sr., McLean's great-great-great-grandfather, purchased the original 5,000 acres of bluff land on which Memphis was founded in the early 1800s.

A Nashville lawyer, Overton acquired the land in 1794 from North Carolinian John Rice. In 1819, Overton and partners Andrew Jackson and James Winchester hired a land surveyor to draw up plans for Memphis.

"It was wide open Western real estate and they saw it as a great place for a city someday," says McLean, whose husband was distantly related to the McLeans of Memphis but grew up in Greenwood, Miss.

Ironically, John Overton Sr. never lived in Memphis, but multiple generations of Overtons since have, starting with John Overton Jr., who moved here from Nashville in 1967.

The family has produced two of the city's mayors, S. Watkins Overton (1928-1939) and Watkins Overton (1949-1953). The Overton family since has largely been part of the city's quiet upper class.

McLean's father, William Overton, was a vice president and later treasurer for the tobacco company Conwood Corp., one of the city's larger, but reclusive, companies.

McLean grew up in East Memphis on West Cherry Circle between Goodlett and Perkins, an upscale neighborhood today but at the time very rural.

"It was way out in the country," she says. "We had chickens in the back yard."

Her interest in public spaces and historic preservation began as a child, fueled by travels abroad, she says, but it took a little time to figure out how to apply that.

She got a degree in English at Vanderbilt University, with a minor in history, and returned to Memphis and briefly wrote obituaries for The Commercial Appeal.

What she wanted to do was find a way to combine her love of art and architecture so she returned to college and got a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia with the goal of writing about cities.

"I had always been fortunate to travel and I loved great cities and great spaces and I think I have a real sense of curiosity and that's why I came back and looked at Memphis again," she says.

She returned to Memphis in 1976 with a young family.

While Memphis' Downtown was still on a downhill slide, she says it was beginning to turn around and there was hope.

Her book, The Memphis Guide, which she published in 1981, gave her the chance to look at the city through fresh eyes after essentially being gone for nearly a decade.

She served on the board of directors for Memphis Heritage, was president of the Red Acres Neighborhood Association and for the last few years has served on the board for the University Neighborhood Development Corp.

But it's Friends for Our Riverfront that has become a particular passion.

"I would have never labeled myself as an activist," she says. "But now, I guess, I sort of got my tennis shoes on and I really believe in this."

Virginia McLean
President, Friends for Our Riverfront
Age: 61
Education: Bachelor's of art, English, Vanderbilt University; Master's of art, city planning, University of Virginia
Family: Husband, Hite; son, Hite III; daughter, Mathilde
Hobbies: Gardening, travel, reading, Bible study 259-1726

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

5 goals set toward making Memphis 'choice' city

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

In local economic development efforts, "green" refers to more than just money.

According to a draft version of the economic development portion of Memphis Fast Forward -- an economic growth strategy spearheaded by the City of Memphis, Shelby County, Memphis Regional Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow -- Shelby Farms would act as the eastern anchor of a countywide "greenprint" strategy that could help attract and retain highly coveted "knowledge workers."

Making Memphis a place of choice for knowledge workers -- young, highly educated, upwardly mobile -- is one of the five goals of the economic development plan and the "greenprint" is one of 15 strategies designed to reach the goals.
"This is a comprehensive economic development plan that will help grow the economic pie for all the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County," said John Moore, president and CEO of the chamber.

Goal 1: Develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism

From Kemmons Wilson, who forever changed the hotel industry, to Frederick W. Smith, who revolutionized the package delivery business, the Bluff City has produced a long list of entrepreneurs and forward thinkers in business.

The economic development plan seeks to capitalize on those past successes and drive the creation of new high-value ventures and jobs.

To do that, the plan calls for the creation of a national entrepreneurship "center of excellence."

The Memphis Entrepreneurial Institute would license intellectual property from local and national universities and company research departments. It would also create business plans and secure management teams to start new companies based on the intellectual property.

The plan also calls for growing the share of minority firms in existing markets like roofing or food services that are underrepresented by minority vendors.

The program would include the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurial Development, the business incubator launched recently by the Mid-South Minority Business Council.

Goal 2: Market Memphis and Shelby County

"Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy," Ken Glass, co-chair of Memphis Fast Forward and former president, CEO and chairman of First Horizon National Corp., parent of First Tennessee Bank, recently told members of the County Commission.

Instead of harping on the negative, Glass and other officials want residents to accentuate the positive locally and abroad.

One strategy includes crafting a marketing campaign designed to convince Mid-Southerners that Memphis and Shelby County are great places to live, work and play -- a potentially tough trick in a city with violent crime and public corruption issues.

The campaign also would urge Memphians to "talk up" the city when they travel.

"We have a lot of great stories and we need to tell them," Moore said.

Goal 3: Pursue target industries

The city and county would target four key industries: logistics, music/film, biosciences and tourism.

The plan calls for revising local payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentives so they are more aligned with the targeted industries.

Much of that has already been done. The City Council and County Commission recently enacted sweeping changes to the PILOT program of the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board. Part of those changes centered on awarding extra points to companies in targeted industries.

The plan also calls for developing a comprehensive logistics and aerotropolis strategy. Again, much of that is already in the works.

Tom Schmitt, president and chief executive of FedEx Supply Chain Solutions, is heading a 15-member aerotropolis committee.

The group has hired John Kasarda, who coined the term aerotropolis, which refers to powerful centers of commerce growing up around airports. They are in the process of raising funds from the private sector for an estimated $200,000 yearly budget.

The plan also calls for executing the Memphis Music Industry Strategic Plan, which includes bringing national and international music events to Memphis, recruiting new artists and labels, and establishing the Sam Phillips Center for Independent Music, a planned resource center for local musicians and others in the industry.

The five-year plan calls for $4.4 million to make the Sam Phillips Center a reality, including almost $1 million in the first year.

Goal Four: Grow existing firms

The chamber and a host of other local groups would attempt to recruit and create additional venture capital firms, which "seed" start-up companies and help growing firms expand.

The plan also calls on the MMBC, headed by Luke Yancy III, to deploy its Joint Venture Initiative to pair small Memphis firms with large minority firms outside of Memphis for execution of local contracts.

Goal Five: Make Memphis a place of choice for knowledge workers

All across the country, cities are increasingly competing for people, particularly the young, upwardly mobile knowledge-based workers of the future.

Because these workers are in such high demand, it is often the intangibles -- parks, recreational activities, nightlife, museums and institutions of higher learning -- that can "close the deal."

The plan places high priority on two controversial Downtown issues.

One is the construction of Beale Street Landing, a planned $29 million improvement to Tom Lee Park that includes a boat dock.

Recently, the Memphis City Council's budget committee for capital improvements reversed a previous vote by other members of the committee that deleted the project from the city's plans entirely. To stay afloat, Beale Street Landing needs the support of the full council when it meets Tuesday.

The plan also calls for resolving the legal issues surrounding the Promenade, a four-block area of Front Street between Union and Adams set aside by Memphis founders for public use.

The Riverfront Development Corp. wants private development on the Promenade to pay for public improvements, a plan that has been met with resistance by some citizens, particularly a grass-roots organization called Friends For Our Riverfront.

The plan also calls on establishing Shelby County's park system as one of the country's best by creating a "seamless system" linking Shelby Farms with Downtown parks and other green spaces via the Wolf River Greenway, Memphis Greenline and other green corridors.

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