Sunday, October 19, 2008

Riverfront plaza to replace lot

Renovation project to include walkway, pedestrian bridge
By Tom Charlier (Contact), Memphis Commercial Appeal [link]
Sunday, October 19, 2008

In a reversal to the old Joni Mitchell tune, a Memphis agency wants to pave over a parking lot and put up a bit of paradise.

Under a project being designed for the Riverfront Development Corp., the parking lot behind the old Custom House and Post Office on Front Street will be transformed into a walkway and plaza on the Downtown bluff overlooking the Memphis waterfront.

The $2 million project also includes a pedestrian bridge over Court Avenue to connect the plaza and walkway with Confederate Park.

The project will be built in conjunction with the renovation of the Custom House and Post Office into the new home of the University of Memphis law school.

Design work should be finished early next year, with construction expected to be completed in time for the reopening of the building as the law school in January 2010.

"It'll be part green space, part plaza, part walkway," said RDC president Benny Lendermon. "It'll be just a nice public space behind the law school."

The walkway and pedestrian bridge should provide for greater use of Confederate Park, also, he said. Because land on both sides of Court rises high above the street, the bridge will be at-grade, requiring no stairs.

The project will be funded in part through $500,000 to $750,000 in donations from private groups, including the Hyde Foundation, Lendermon said. The rest will come from the city's capital budget.

Lendermon said land with such a commanding view should be put to good public use. "We don't want parking lots sitting on the bluff overlooking the river," he said.

With the loss of the lot, parking will be shifted to nearby garages and street spaces.

Jim Smoot, former dean of the law school who oversees the renovation project as chairman of the building committee, said the parking lot "by anyone's estimation is ugly" and should be replaced.

"We agreed (with the RDC project) and we're pleased that it'll be much more beautiful and fit in with the riverfront," he said.

The historic Custom House and Post Office will be transformed into the law school through a $42 million state-funded project. Private donors chipped in $5 million to $6 million for acquisition of the property.

-- Tom Charlier: 529-2572
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