Wednesday, May 21, 2008

RDC CIP Budget Meeting audio

Click the link below to listen to an MP3 audio recording of the City Council committee hearing on the RDC CIP budget on May 21. The recording lasts about 1.5 hours. If you download it to your own computer (in Windows, right-click "Save target as...") the resulting file is about 15.5 MB (megabytes).

Click here for entire 88-minute CIP budget audio (15.5 MB MP3 file). Selected highlight clip(s) below.

Cobblestones Preservation Project

In the course of the CIP budget hearing, there was a 12-minute discussion between Chairman Boyd and Benny Lendermon about the Cobblestones Project. To our knowledge, this is the first detailed discussion in a public forum of what the RDC has been planning. In the course of this discussion, Lendermon makes it clear that the RDC would like to move the riverboat daily-excursion operation away from the cobblestone area and over to Beale Street Landing.

Click here to listen to the discussion or to download it as a podcast (2.2 MB MP3 file).

Click here to read the transcript of this audio.

Barbara Ware asks: When will this all be done?

Click here to listen to the 4-minute discussion or to download it as a podcast (0.7 MB MP3 file).

Shea Flinn asks: Why a new boat dock?

Click here to listen to the 7-minute discussion or to download it as a podcast (1.2 MB MP3 file).

Wanda Halbert asks to understand the Master Plan.

Click here to listen to the 10-minute discussion or to download it as a podcast (1.8 MB MP3 file).

Chairman Bill Boyd asks about a water taxi.

Click here to listen to the 1-minute discussion or to download it as a podcast (0.3 MB MP3 file).

Jim Strickland asks about the parking lot.

Click here to listen to the 3-minute discussion or to download it as a podcast (0.6 MB MP3 file).

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Memphis Landmarks Commission

The Memphis Landmarks Commission meets Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 5:00 pm in City Council Chambers (Lobby) to consider a number of current Certificate of Appropriateness applications. One of them is Beale Street Landing (08-067) in the Cotton Row District. Click for more...

Click here to download the Agenda for the meeting and the Staff Report for Beale Street Landing (PDF, 1.8MB).

Click here to download the Memphis Landmarks Commission Design Review Guidelines, August 1988 (16pp., PDF, 5.8MB).

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Work finally set to start on Beale Street Landing

Waterfront plans revised after historic group had objections
Commercial Appeal [link]
By Tom Charlier

Satisfied that modest design changes will protect the Downtown cobblestones area, Tennessee historic-preservation officials have cleared the way for construction to begin on the Beale Street Landing project.

The Tennessee Historical Commission dropped its objections to the $29million riverboat dock and waterfront amenity after the city's Riverfront Development Corp. agreed to change color schemes and relocate and downsize one feature of the landing.

With the revisions, the project will not "adversely affect" the cobblestones area, which is part of the city's historic landing on the Mississippi River and within the Cotton Row Historic District, commission executive director Patrick McIntyre said in a letter last week.

The commission's consent was needed because federal grant money will help fund the project.

The decision removes the last barrier to construction, which will begin "real, real, real soon," said RDC president Benny Lendermon. Completion is expected in 2010.

"We're really pleased to get this resolved as quickly as we did," Lendermon added.

The landing, situated at the foot of Beale between Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones, will feature an elaborate docking facility serving excursion and cruise boats and other vessels no matter how high or low the Mississippi might be. It also will include terraced pods designed to help bring people closer to the river.

Critics, however, have described the project as an extravagant boondoggle.

The RDC, a nonprofit group overseeing improvement projects along the city's frontage on the Mississippi, had been planning to begin work more than two months ago when the historical commission ruled that the original design would have adverse effects.

State officials said the vertical profile of the landing was out of character with the downward-sloping cobblestones.

Although the commission outlined six conditions for dropping its objections, the key changes clearing the way for the project included:

Making the color of the dock and ramp structures "earthen rust" rather than the originally planned red.

Moving the "island," or pod, closest to the cobblestones to the east, closer to Riverside Drive, and reducing its size by 15 percent. As a result, it won't stick out as much over the cobblestones.

A prominent critic of the landing said the revised design represents an improvement.

"It kind of calms it down, makes it less intrusive," said Virginia McLean, president of the group Friends for Our Riverfront.

She's not sold on the landing yet, though.

"It's going to cost a lot of money," McLean said.

[More on the decision here.]

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

BSL Design Revisions - TDOT/SHPO Approvals

On December 5/6, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) approved, and the State Historic Preservation Office conditionally approved, a set of proposed design changes for Beale Street Landing.
Quoting TDOT's letter, "[t]he assessment proposes several design changes including shifting and reducing the height and size of Island A, softening the transition between the project and the historic cobblestones, innovative interpretation techniques, and changing the red accent color to rust."

The complete Design Revision Submission, as prepared by the RDC, together with the TDOT cover letter dated December 5, 2007, can be downloaded as a 2.11 MB PDF file compatible with Adobe Reader v5 or later. Click here.

The Tennessee Historical Commission's "conditional" non-adverse-impact letter dated December 6 can be downloaded here (PDF, 105KB).

For more information about the Consultation Meeting that led to this, click here.

Note: The Librarian has made a non-substantive, technical change to the Design Revision document. An oversized and complex architectural drawing on page 10 made the document bulky and clumsy to read. We have substituted a 150dpi JPEG rendering of the same diagram. We also made it compatible with older versions of Adobe Reader.

For the convenience of those who cannot download the full document, the most important pictures from it are reproduced below.

Page 10. Architectural drawing shows the largest pod moved back toward Riverside Drive by approximately 40 feet.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tennessee preservation group wants educational kiosks on Beale Street Landing

Commercial Appeal [link]
by Tom Charlier

State historic-preservation officials might drop some of their objections to Beale Street Landing if educational kiosks and other interpretive features are added to the project, an official said Wednesday.

Tennessee Historical Commission executive director Patrick McIntyre said the kiosks could explain to tourists and newcomers the past importance of the cobblestone landing to the Memphis riverfront.

The comments by McIntyre came at a meeting in which local and state officials and interested groups discussed ways to reduce the project's effects on the cobblestones, which lie within the Cotton Row Historic District.

Earlier this fall, McIntyre's office ruled that the landing "as currently proposed will adversely affect the historic property through the introduction of out-of-character elements into its setting."

The decision effectively blocked this month's planned start of construction on the $29 million project by the Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC)

Linking Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones, the landing would serve as a riverboat docking facility and an amenity providing terraced access to the water's edge on the Mississippi. Critics have described it as a costly, impractical and unnecessary.

After the meeting, RDC president Benny Lendermon said interpretive features will be included in the landing.

On Wednesday, McIntyre elaborated on the state's objections to the project. He said the "uplifted" landing is out of character with the downward sloping cobblestones, and the construction would occur on areas once part of the cobblestones.

Some of the concerns voiced by citizens in attendance included the need to restore the cobblestones, which have deteriorated and now cover less area because of work done by the city more than 15 years ago.

Lendermon said the RDC has secured $6 million from Congress for the cobblestone-restoration work. But that project also must win approval from historic-preservation officials, and they won't take action on it until issues with the landing are resolved.

"We're ready to move forward," Lendermon said.

Some critics of the project also said it should be relocated, while others argued for a more distinct separation between the landing and cobblestones.

Lendermon said the RDC will work with preservation officials and review the concerns expressed at the meeting before submitting proposed project modifications to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the process.

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Kickin' Around the Cobblestones -- in Downtown Memphis

Rocks On Our Mind And In Our Heads
Memphis Flyer [link]
by John Branston

On a day when most Memphians concerned themselves with such mundane matters as rain, work, school, crime, foreclosures, and the fights and shootings that broke out at four city schools, 40 of us met at City Hall Wednesday to hear a two-hour discussion of rocks.
The rest of you can be excused for wondering if we have rocks in our heads.

The rocks in question are the cobblestones at the foot of downtown. The rock hounds included two reporters, representatives of the Tennessee Department of Transportation and various state and local historic preservation groups, and supporters and foes of the proposed Beale Street Landing.

The rocks are next to the landing. To a handful of people, the rocks are a historic treasure comparable to Beale Street or the Mississippi River itself. The $29 million landing might have "an adverse impact" on the rocks, which are slated for additional millions. Hence Wednesday's meeting.

"The current design reflects a primarily recreational use of boarding and disembarking pleasure boat and cruise ship passengers," says the state report. "In doing so, the design overwhelms any sense of the historic commercial use of the riverfront."

This is the problem with projects like Beale Street Landing and the proposed new stadium at the Fairgrounds. They absurdly inflate the importance of something that matters little if at all to most people and prevent progress on smaller and easier projects with potentially far greater benefits.

For decades, the cobblestones were so treasured that downtown workers and visitors used them as a bumpy and treacherous parking lot. Now they might be "adversely impacted" by the "verticality" of Beale Street Landing. As Benny Lendermon, the head of the Riverfront Development Corporation, noted, the elevation of the river fluctuates 57 feet. In high water, most of the cobblestones are submerged. In low water, big touring riverboats can’t get in the harbor.

Hence the proposed landing at the north end of Tom Lee Park. It will be used by recreational boats, small day-tour boats, and big, fancy, cruising boats like the Delta Queen. That is, if the Delta Queen doesn't go out of business in 2008 because the government has deemed it a fire hazard, as The New York Times reported Thursday.

The design of the docking part of the landing is unique. After some sharp discussion Wednesday, it was determined that "unique" means nothing like it has ever been built before. RDC engineer John Conroy said its structural soundness has been certified.

The people from state government who hosted Wednesday's meeting are not "big-picture" deciders. They are, as one of them explained, a "pass-through" agency. They will go back to Nashville and weigh the historic considerations and announce, sooner or later, if and how the project can proceed.

Beale Street Landing, whose cost may now fluctuate like the river elevation, is to be funded by a combination of local, state, and federal funds. Some of the federal funds come from the Department of Homeland Security, because there are ferry-boats involved.

And you thought Homeland Security was just to protect us from terrorism.

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Smart City and Friends

How a blog and a citizen activist are shaping the riverfront debate
Memphis Flyer [link]
by John Branston

Tom Jones and Virginia McLean are making the Riverfront Development Corporation irrelevant.

Jones is the cofounder and main writer for the Smart City Memphis blog ( McLean is the founder and chief activist of the nonprofit Friends for our Riverfront (

They are often on opposite sides of riverfront issues, including the proposed $29 million Beale Street Landing. Jones has emerged as its most articulate and well-informed defender. McLean, equally hip to the latest ideas and trends in parks and cities, is the RDC's most passionate and dogged critic.

Both of them run on shoestring budgets and receive no money from local government or the RDC. Jones, a former newspaper reporter, was a spokesman and policy-maker for Shelby County government for some 25 years. McLean is an heir to the Overton family that was one of the founders of Memphis.

Their websites are timely and frequently updated, and they have become bulletin boards for unusually thoughtful comments, speaker listings, and even occasional news items. When a state official weighed in on Beale Street Landing this month and delayed the project, Jones and McLean were ahead of most if not all of the news pack spreading the word and collecting different points of view.

The RDC, in contrast, often seems muscle-bound. Created six years ago to focus public and private resources and cut red tape, it has a staff of former city division directors and City Hall cronies making six-figure salaries. It also has a blue-chip board of directors including public officials and downtown bigwigs. And it is consistently outhustled, outsmarted, and outmaneuvered by Jones and McLean and their helpers.

While Jones and McLean embrace the Internet and rough-and-tumble debate in real time, the RDC's website is outdated and trite. "Steal away to a day's vacation in the city's front yard," says the home page. "Nowhere else can you feel the rush of the Mighty Mississippi as its breeze flows through your hair and its sunsets warm your soul." The most recent "news" is a June 12th press release and a year-old item about the Tom Lee Park memorial. The description of the master plan still includes the aborted land bridge to Mud Island and pegs the total public cost at a staggering $292 million, which "will spur $1.3 billion in private investment in real estate alone" and bring "a minimum" of 21,000 new jobs and 3,400 new residential units to downtown.

Meanwhile, Jones and McLean are slugging away about the latest delays to Beale Street Landing and the next meeting of the Shelby County Commission. Within the last year, each of them helped bring national experts to Memphis for well-attended discussions of parks and citizen activism. The RDC, meanwhile, made a by-the-numbers Power Point presentation to the Memphis City Council aimed at justifying its own existence as much as informing public officials.

The RDC is not without is success stories. Its park maintenance is exemplary. Its concert series and improvements at Mud Island have made the park more attractive. Its structure involves business leaders and nonprofits in a way that government cannot, although the group's standard claim that it saves money is difficult to prove.

But the riverfront — Tom Lee Park in particular — often seems antiseptic and sterile, like a set-piece instead of a true park. On Sunday afternoon, for example, hundreds of people came to Overton Park in Midtown to beat on drums, whack golf balls, ride bikes, pick up trash, have picnics, toss balls, exercise dogs, visit art galleries, stroll babies, and do whatever. Midtown has no development authority, but funky Overton Park is surrounded by neighborhoods that feel invested in it.

Beale Street Landing looks more and more like a bet-the-company deal for the RDC. Without a big project — the land bridge (aborted), the promenade (still stalled), the relocation of the University of Memphis law school (coming soon) — why not turn its duties back over to a reenergized park commission and city administration? The Memphis riverfront, from The Pyramid to Mud Island to the trolley to proposed Beale Street Landing, doesn't lack for big investments. It lacks vitality, a decent public boat launch, walkable cobblestones, a skate park or something fun to watch, a working fountain next to the Cossitt Library, and enough shade and sprinklers to give tourists a fighting chance against the heat.

If those things happen, it will be because of citizens like Jones and McLean and their readers as much as the RDC.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Beale Street Landing Consultation Meeting

Updated: The minutes are now posted (click below for full article).

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) - Environmental Division today sponsored a Consulting Parties meeting for the proposed Beale Street Landing Project. The TN State Historical Preservation Office (TN-SHPO), also known as the Tennessee Historical Commission, has commented that the current design would have an "adverse effect pursuant to 36 CFR 800.5."
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to avoid the adverse effects to the Cotton Row Historic Preservation District that are thought to be associated with the current design of the proposed project.

The adverse effects associated with the current design were outlined in a document that was handed out at the meeting today. Click here (1.7 MB, PDF) for the document.

Updated: Click here (1.6 MB, PDF) for the official minutes that were taken of this meeting. Comments and recommendations from all sides are included.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

'Memphis Fast Forward' political ties, accountability questioned

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Alex Doniach (Contact)

A debate among County Commissioners erupted Wednesday about whether to put $1 million in county funds toward an economic development campaign that has pledged to produce thousands of new jobs and millions in new tax revenue.

The development plan, one piece of the economic growth strategy "Memphis Fast Forward," will attempt to create 49,395 jobs by 2011.

The Memphis Fast Forward initiative is spearheaded by Memphis Tomorrow, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and the Memphis Chamber of Commerce.

But on Wednesday, some commissioners said they weren't confident how the funds would be spent.

They also expressed concerns about using taxpayer dollars for a plan that would give money to MPACT Memphis, a nonprofit that Commissioner Henri Brooks said has direct ties to New Path, a separate organization that endorses political candidates.

Brooks said New Path co-founder Darrell Cobbins is a former president of MPACT Memphis. He currently sits on the board of advisers.

"MPACT has a direct relationship with New Path; New Path endorses candidates," Brooks said. "We are not going to give money to political organizations."

Commissioner Sidney Chism agreed that the commission should stay clear of any efforts connected to New Path.

"All I want to do is make sure that we keep politics out of a funding effort that we've got something to do with," Chism said.

The economic development plan is broken down into 15 strategies that rely on the participation of local organizations, such as the Mid-South Minority Business Council, the Memphis Regional Chamber and MPACT Memphis, to create jobs and attract people to Memphis.

The City Council and state government have already pledged $1.5 million each. The private sector has given about $5 million.

Memphis Tomorrow president Blair Taylor reassured commissioners Wednesday that MPACT Memphis is a nonprofit that, by federal law, is not allowed to endorse political candidates.

She also said the commission's funds could be left out of MPACT Memphis' piece of the project.

And Commissioner Mike Carpenter reminded the commission that New Path is a separate organization that is not listed on the plan.

"Let's not get into, in this process, a lot of cherry-picking about what things get funded and what things don't," Carpenter said. "We've got to move this community forward and we've got to move it in a big way and in a fast way."

But there were other concerns about the plan. Commissioner Steve Mulroy found little support in a motion to keep county dollars away from the controversial Beale Street Landing project, which is included in the plan.

Brooks and Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said they were still unclear about how the county's $1 million would be used.

In light of the concerns, Chairman David Lillard delayed the vote until the full commission meets Monday.

Editor's note: The following extract was taken from page 22 of MEMPHISED: Memphis Area Economic Development Plan, prepared by Market Street Services on behalf of the Memphis Fast Forward. This is the program that Shelby County is being asked to help fund. Click to see the entire page.

Click here to download our scan of the entire, 40-page Memphis Area Redevelopment Plan. Warning: 6 MB PDF file, requires Adobe Reader version 6 or later. (7 MB copy for Reader version 5 here.)

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Friday, October 12, 2007

MBJ: Beale Landing hits roadblock

Project delayed by historic concerns
Memphis Business Journal
by Andy Ashby

The Riverfront Development Corp. would like to be seeking construction bids right now for its 29.4 milliom Beale Street Landing Project, but a state historical preservation office's ruling could delay the process up to six months.

MBJ article page 1 [PDF, 50KB]
MBJ article page 2 [PDF, 126KB]

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Editorial: Another look at the Landing

Commercial Appeal [link]
October 9, 2007

Beale Street landing suffered another setback last week when state officials questioned whether the $29 million boat dock and riverfront park would be a good fit with the surrounding neighborhood.

Patrick McIntyre, executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, wrote that changes to the Landing's design are needed because the project "as currently proposed will adversely affect the historic property through the introduction of out-of-character elements into its setting."

The Riverfront Development Corp., a quasi-governmental organization that had been spearheading the project, got word about the state's concerns just as some of the work was about to go out for bid.

Benny Lendermon, the RDC's president, said state officials will schedule a meeting, probably later this year, to discuss possible changes to the design. Groups that expressed concerns about the project to the commission will have an opportunity to attend and provide input.

While this delay won't make life easier for Lendermon and his staff, the commission's decision could be a blessing in disguise if it eventually leads to greater public acceptance for the project.

June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, said her group has a number of concerns with the project as proposed. Chief among them is that the Landing would incorporate a modernistic design located next to the Cotton Row Historic District's riverfront cobblestones.

"It's not an ageless design," West said. "It may be bright and shiny for a number of years. Over the years, I'm not sure it'll wear well. I think that as it ages, it's going to be hard to maintain and keep it looking shiny."

The design was chosen from among 171 entries in an international architectural design contest in 2003.

While the winning design would certainly be distinctive-looking -- with a chain of islets shaped like guitar picks and linked by bridges -- it doesn't have the sort of retro feel that would blend into the district.

West said Memphis Heritage is also concerned about the technology that would be used to raise and lower the boat dock as the water level on the Mississippi River rises and falls. And that the project will require taking some land from adjacent Tom Lee Park. And that the RDC isn't doing enough to properly maintain the cobblestones.

It remains to be seen whether those issues and any others raised during the meeting can be resolved.

But let's hope so. The Memphis riverfront is an underutilized asset -- and it's in the whole community's interest to see it reach its full potential. A successful project at the foot of Beale Street could provide a key link to the entertainment district and the rest of Downtown.

However, that project needs to have widespread community acceptance if it's going to succeed. The state's meeting could be an important step in that direction.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ruling delays plans for Beale Street Landing

Historic group cites threat to cobblestones
Commercial Appeal [link]
by Tom Charlier

Construction of Beale Street Landing, which had been scheduled to go out for bids as early as this week, will be delayed by a new state ruling that the project threatens the historic cobblestones on Memphis' riverfront.

The decision by the Tennessee Historical Commission means the city's Riverfront Development Corp. must meet with all groups interested in the project and explore alternative designs.

Changes are needed because the project "as currently proposed will adversely affect the historic property through the introduction of out-of-character elements into its setting," commission executive director and State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick McIntyre said in a letter.

Situated between Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones, the $29 million Beale Street Landing would serve as a riverboat docking facility and an amenity providing terraced access to the water's edge on the Mississippi. Critics have described it as a costly, impractical and unnecessary.

RDC president Benny Lendermon said that he's disappointed in the ruling but still confident the project can proceed.

"It's a little disheartening but part of the process," he said. "We were ready to go out for bids this week if we got approval."

The head of a group opposing the RDC plan praised the state decision, saying it could lead to more public scrutiny.

"I think the ruling is pretty wise," said Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront.

The cobblestones, part of the city's historic landing on the Mississippi, lie within the Cotton Row Historic District.

The approval of historic-preservation officials is needed as part of a more encompassing permit required of any project receiving federal funds.

Roughly $7 million of the cost of Beale Street Landing would come from federal sources. Another $3 million or so would come from the state, with the city responsible for the rest.

Although the specific part of the project to be bid first won't involve federal funds, Lendermon said RDC officials don't want to start construction without the permit.

"We don't want to spend any significant dollars on the project until all the hurdles are cleared," he said.

Lendermon pledged to meet with interested groups and review alternatives.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Letters to the CA: Beale Street Landing

Click the "complete article" link below to read the letters to the Commercial Appeal [link] in response to last week's Hot Button question, which was:

Do you think Beale Street Landing, as designed, will attract residents from across Greater Memphis to spend time on the riverfront regularly?

I'm always frustrated and disappointed when I have clients or family and friends in from out of town and they ask me where they can go to get something to eat on the riverfront. Plus, I work Downtown, so it would be great to be able to walk a few blocks and go to a nice lunch or dinner on our riverfront. We will finally have that with Beale Street Landing!

I think the space will attract live music, which always draws a crowd. And what family wouldn't want to bring their kids down to the river for boat rides and cool places to play games?

Adrienne Timberlake

I've longed (for the 44 years I've lived in Memphis) for more ways to enjoy the Mississippi River. I think being able to get so close to the water is the most compelling feature of this complex project. A restaurant on the riverfront that is easy to get to, family-friendly areas and many more trees are amenities that are much needed.

Lucia Gilliland

Has anyone even thought of the parking situation? Or the traffic congestion? Why is someone always trying to turn the Downtown area into an amusement park? And a floating dock no less.

Which brings to mind the one thing that surely would have attracted Memphians as well as visitors down to the river more often -- a casino! There are a number of examples of this that have taken Memphians and visitors a little farther down the river.

Frank B. Tate

Instead of spending 29 million taxpayer dollars on something so risky and unnecessary, why don't we spend this year's Riverfront Development Corporation budget on redevelopment of Mud Island to achieve the same goals? We already have the infrastructure in place. The river park is shamefully underutilized but already paid for.

Everything that can be done with a new expensive boat dock can be accomplished across the harbor even closer to the mighty Mississippi! Add a trolley bridge, a pedestrian drawbridge and easier access for cars via Harbor Town and we might just accomplish our goal of reuniting Memphians with the river for about a tenth of the cost.

Jeffrey Chipman

I've looked at the four artist renderings of Beale Street Landing that were shown to City Council in May, and I now see accidents and crimes waiting to happen. There are too many places where an unattended child could get hurt or climb over a wall and go splat, or splash, below. There are too many walls, "islands" and strips of trees obstructing visibility, so that if someone was hurt or in trouble, they wouldn't be seen. Beale Street Landing is going to require 24/7 security.

Michael Cromer

I'm all for scrutinizing city projects to make sure the money is well spent, but it's time we gave the RDC a break. They have a great track record for making cost-effective riverfront improvements that help lend much-needed civic pride.

Memphians need to shed the cancerous cynicism and come together in excitement over this project.

Beale Street Landing will not only be a docking facility but primarily a place where the public can enjoy the river, regardless of the river level. The plans also include 100 new trees for shade and a green roof component, so it will only make the riverfront look better.

It will be a great way to start giving Memphians more tangible reasons to turn back to the river.

Hunter Sharpe

We go to Paducah, Ky., regularly on weekends. They have a community get-together called Downtown After Dinner every Saturday from May to September, with music of every variety and other activities and displays. Their riverfront has the tiers and walkways that are proposed for here. There is also a feeling of safety there, no matter where you walk.

Before our city officials spend money to draw people Downtown, they need to put the $29 million in city coffers to cover lawsuits, turn the police loose on the criminals, and allow them to clean up the city.

Until that is accomplished, no amount of money spent is going to attract people. Rape, robbery and murder have always been known to take the vibrancy out of any area.

Norma Wilson

Not too long ago, I had the experience of seeing some elderly friends who were visiting Memphis for the first time off on a riverboat cruise. It was quite embarrassing to take them down to the river and see them awkwardly try to navigate the cobblestones. We had to look at mounds of garbage that had been unloaded and heaps of luggage and supplies being loaded out in the open.

Later that same week I traveled to Pittsburgh for a meeting in the Three Rivers district. Across the river from my hotel was a beautiful riverboat landing, bustling with activity. The entire riverfront scene in Pittsburgh was beautiful, inviting and something that the former steel mill city takes great pride in. What a shame that Memphis, the city that defined river trade and entertainment in America, lags so far behind. Let's make our riverfront something to be proud of.

Robert Carter

I believe an addition such as this is long overdue. Both New Orleans and St. Louis have vibrant waterfront areas with numerous restaurants and places of entertainment that encourage not only their own citizens to visit downtown, but tourists as well.

Jack Wilson

Oh, please. Beale Street Landing will bring the same folks as The Pyramid, Peabody Place, Mud Island, the current river park and the Madison Avenue trolley. Will the City Council appoint Joseph Lee as head of the project?

James Dean Moss

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Beale Street Landing "satellite view" diagrams and more

To give you a better idea of the scale and location of the Beale Street Landing project, we've prepared these unofficial diagrams overlaid on Google satellite images. Click the "complete article" link to see all of them. Click the link(s) below each picture to enlarge it to 100dpi or 150dpi (in a separate window). Note: That would be 100-150 dpi if printed in landscape on lettersize paper.

Outlined in yellow. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [150 dpi]

Beale Street Landing is outlined in yellow. The planned One Beale towers complex is outlined in blue for comparison.

Filled-in. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Here we've painted in the major architectural features of the project. Details, such as the contents of the pods and small elements on the roof have been omitted. Colors are not true. Nevertheless, the diagram is accurate as to size, proportions, and location.

The light green object is the sloping roof of the restaurant. Both ends actually reach the ground. The restaurant itself is outlined in gray. Darker green represents grass and vegetation. White and gray represents concrete terraces and sidewalks. Colored in red is the helical walk to the boat dock.

The parking was originally planned to be underground with entrance and exit ramps from Riverside Drive. Due to issues with water level, it is now going to be a 65-space parking lot on Tom Lee Park (seen at the lower end in the diagram). The entrance and exit ramps have been retained in the plan for other purposes.

Compared to Master Plan. [Enlarge to 100 dpi]

Here we have overlaid an outline (in yellow) of the current Beale Street Landing design onto the 2002 Master Plan. The purple object within the yellow outline represent the Beale Street dock as was contemplated by the Master Plan's designers, and you may be able to discern a puple steamboat docked beside it. The present version, over three blocks long, is about 2 1/2 times as large. Outlined in light blue is the One Beale project.

What's there now. [Enlarge]

Here is the section of Tom Lee Park (plus a portion out of sight to the left) that will be consumed by the Beale Street landing project. This is one of the four large sections of the park that have been used for the Memphis in May concerts (3 stages and a tent). This is the location of the northernmost stage where Jerry Lee Lewis has played.

Architectural plan. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

The diagrams were based on the above architectural plan, as photographed in the RDC offices.

3-D Model. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [250 dpi]

Our diagrams were also based on the above model, as photographed in the RDC offices. Dark green objects are trees. The restaurant is beneath the long, sloped, light green roof.

The model doesn't show the parking lot (out of view to the right), which was relocated to Tom Lee Park after the model was constructed. The model doesn't show the One Beale project, which replaces the large, low building with the articulated roof directly behind the model.

Restaurant detail.

This is an official artist rendering that shows the restaurant, the roof, and platforms at the south end more clearly.

Artist Renderings

Courtesy of the RDC, we were able to obtain printed copies of the Beale Street Landing renderings that were furnished to City Council for the recent CIP review. We have scanned them in and they are below. There are four of them and they are dated May 11, 2007 Click the link(s) below each picture to enlarge to 100dpi or 200dpi (in a separate window). Note: That would be 100-200 dpi if printed landscape on lettersize paper.

Looking eastward. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Looking westward. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Looking north. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Looking south. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beale Street Landing renderings

Courtesy of the RDC, we were able to obtain printed copies of the Beale Street Landing renderings that were furnished to City Council for the recent CIP review. We have scanned them in and they are below. There are four of them and they are dated May 11, 2007 Click the link(s) below each picture to enlarge to 100dpi or 200dpi, if printed landscape on lettersize paper.

Looking eastward. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Looking westward. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Looking north. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

Looking south. [Enlarge to 100 dpi] [200 dpi]

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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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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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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

RDC Capital Improvements Plan 2008-2012

Click each image below to enlarge. Or download all five pages in a single PDF file (616KB).

RDC Summary (click to enlarge)

Beale Street Landing (click to enlarge)

Cobblestones (click to enlarge)

Park Improvements (click to enlarge)

Current vs. Proposed (General Obligation Bonds) (click to enlarge)

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

River has something for all

Race helps spur interest in Mississippi's charms

Commercial Appeal [link]
by Bryan Brasher

Before many Mid-Southerners have breakfast Saturday morning, more than 500 people will begin paddling canoes and kayaks from Green Belt Park south toward Jefferson Davis Park on the main body of the Mississippi River.

For some of the paddlers, the 26th annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race will be their first exposure to the Mississippi.

But many others have been enjoying the legendary waterway for years -- and in ways you might not have imagined.

Once feared by even the surliest river rats, the Mississippi has become a hotbed destination for a vast array of people who simply can't stand to spend their free time within the confines of four walls.

City officials who are marketing the Memphis Riverfront expect that interest to continue growing.

In fact, they're counting on it.

"The river and river front are free to use, so there are no actual numbers -- no paper trail -- to tell us how many people are going out there," said Dorchelle Spence, director of communications for the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation. "But we see anecdotal evidence from our windows all of the time. We have a front-row seat from our offices on Front Street -- and I can say without a doubt, recreational interest in the river is growing."

Paddling frenzy

Spence said companies like Outdoors Inc. and the Mississippi-based Quapaw Canoe Company have helped raise people's knowledge of the river by providing safe, easy, educational trips onto the water.

Saturday's race is a perfect example.

When Outdoors Inc. owner Joe Royer started his Canoe & Kayak Race back in 1981, one of his chief goals was promoting the river -- not only abroad, but to locals who may have been ignoring the river their whole lives.

"I understand that people love to get away to Yellowstone for a week or to the Smokies for a week to have a great experience outdoors," Royer said. "But that's not always possible -- and if you live in this area, it's not even necessary. We have one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world right here in our own backyard."

Royer's race has introduced thousands of paddlers to the river in a safe, structured environment. People who have grown up fearing the river's legendary whirlpools and cross currents have paddled his course incident-free for more than a quarter-century with safety officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency looking on.

Even people who dare not venture out onto the water in a canoe or kayak have gained an appreciation for the Mississippi River during the race.

"For some people this is a race," Royer said. "For others, it's an event.

"You'll see people gathered along the banks of the river watching the race. There will be people barbecuing and playing with their kids. All of those people are enjoying the river, even if they're not on the water."

Little bit of everything

On its web site at, the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation has a list that shows the tremendous diversity of activities available along the river.

The list includes everything from canoeing and kayaking to meditating and relaxing. It lists new-age activities like yoga, Pilates and rollerblading, and age-old pursuits like painting, kite-flying -- and even dating.

"Sunsets in Memphis are just like the sunsets that people get in the West," Spence said. "You have the sun setting over the water against a pastoral plain, and it's a very romantic setting.

"Certainly, it's a popular dating destination -- and an inexpensive one, too."

For those who don't see dating as a true form of outdoors recreation, the Riverfront Development Corporation is working to make traditional outdoors pursuits more readily available.

The Development Corporation lists 11 downtown parks on its riverfront map, including Mud Island River Park, which is now renting canoes, kayaks and pedal boats for use in Mud Island Harbor.

Plans are also in the works for Beale Street Landing -- a modern docking facility that will allow people to get close to the water without boarding a boat.

"Right now, there is really no place where you can dip your feet in the water or sit close to the Mississippi," Spence said. "If you walk down the cobblestone bank, you get into that muddy, mucky section, and it just isn't that much fun.

"The Beale Street Landing facility will allow people to experience the river up close."

Construction is scheduled to begin on Beale Street Landing this year as soon as the high water subsides. The project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

An artist's rendering of the project is available at

(Cat)fish of a lifetime

While many people are finding new ways to enjoy the Mississippi, one long-time river pursuit -- the pursuit of giant catfish -- is also growing.

Famed Mississippi River fishing guide James Patterson takes a solid stream of catfishermen onto the river on day-time trips that range in price from $250-$400 for two people.

His web site at features more than 50 photos of customers holding catfish that weighed 20 pounds or more -- and those fish were caught in 2006 alone. A separate gallery features dozens more pics of catfish as large as 61 pounds.

Such world-class catfishing has led to national attention for the Memphis portions of the Mississippi River, and it's prompted visits from numerous major tournament trails.

The Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest Tournament Trail will visit Memphis on July 28, and the Cabela's King Kat Trail will return on Aug. 25.

"I get excited every time we come to Memphis because you just never know what sort of fish might be brought to the scales from that Mississippi River," said Darrell VanVanctor, director of the Cabela's King Kat Trail. "People who haven't experienced catfishing on the river owe it to themselves to try it just once."

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Playing Placemaker

Fred Kent pushes ideas over icons and gives Memphis a mixed review.

Memphis Flyer [link]
April 5, 2007
by John Branston

A visionary is someone with a healthy ego and big ideas who agrees with you.

In its never-ending efforts to better itself, Memphis has engaged at least a half-dozen consultants in the last few years to tell us what to do with our parks, downtown, Shelby Farms, waterfront, and bike paths. Whether any of them are visionaries depends on where you happen to be standing.

Want to tell Memphis what you think? Get in line. Recent visitors and their sponsors include city expert Ken Jackson (Urban Land Institute), park experts Alexander Garvin (Shelby Farms) and Charles Jordan (Friends for Our Riverfront), and waterfront experts Cooper, Robertson & Partners (Riverfront Development Corporation, or RDC).

Last week it was Fred Kent's turn to take a whack at the waterfront. A New Yorker most of his adult life (he organized Earth Day in 1970 when John Lindsay was mayor), Kent's Project for Public Spaces has turned Placemaking with a capital "P" into a brand of sorts. Sixty-something, easy-going, and casually dressed, Kent and his son Ethan, who is in the family business, log something like 150,000 miles a year compiling lists of places good and bad. Their big idea is that big ideas for city improvements are often wrong, especially if they're architectural monuments. The Kents think a lot of little ideas from a lot of "stake-holders" usually produces a better result. They call it the "power of 10," as in 10 destinations that each have 10 things to do

Not surprisingly, Fred Kent is no fan of The Pyramid or the proposed $27 million Beale Street Landing with its floating pods in the Mississippi River at Tom Lee Park.

"That will be one of the great design disasters that will haunt you for 20 years before you have the guts to take it out," he predicted. "And The Pyramid -- what a bad symbol for a city. I would tear it down. The only question is, will you do it 10 years from now or next year."

The Kents came to Memphis at the invitation of Friends for Our Riverfront and Memphis Heritage to tape a television interview and run one of their patented Placemaking workshops for about 140 people last Saturday. We split up into groups and headed via the trolley to seven downtown destinations, pencils and report cards in hand. It was Saturday morning, and the rain hadn't blown in yet. The COGIC funeral and the ballgame at AutoZone Park were far enough away that they didn't interfere. The downtown parks looked like they usually do -- generally well kept but lightly used except for the Kemet Jubilee parade that was winding down at Tom Lee Park.

"You guys are going to come up with all these amazing ideas," Kent said.

Well, maybe. At the cobblestones, my assigned destination, I trekked along the sidewalk on Riverside Drive and down the steps, averting a thrown-away sanitary napkin. I crossed the stones that group leader Susan Caldwell told us were once used to balance the loads in riverboats. A few cars were parked near the tour boats, and two powerboats and a kayak glided through the brown water of the harbor.

"It's not attractive to the eye," said Sybil McCrackin, from the Kemet parade.

That was the consensus of our group, too, when we summarized our scribbling at lunch. Short-term suggestions were to remove the utility poles, put in historic markers, eliminate parking, add a patch of grass, and put public art on the long gray wall beneath the sidewalk. Long-term ideas included a floating restaurant, Wi-Fi, paddleboats, and concession stands. As RDC president Benny Lendermon told me later, however, a floating restaurant failed several years ago, MudIsland is experimenting with boat rentals, and the Landmarks Commission objected to painting the wall.

"We wanted all of that," said Lendermon, who also played the game and met for an hour or so with the Kents. Beale Street Landing, the RDC's signature project, is still a go, but the underground parking garage has been scrapped.

There was much similarity to the seven groups' suggestions (see -- vendors, bathrooms, and street performers, which made me wish Flyer columnist Tim Sampson (All Mimes Must Die!) had been there. No one pledged the first $1,000, but the total bill wouldn't have approached $27 million.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ideas for riverfront flow at workshop

Proposals include fountains, cafes, concessions, play area

The Commercial Appeal [link]
April 1, 2007
By Pamela Perkins

For anyone walking along the Mississippi River bluff in the stifling Memphis summer heat, just looking at a large body of water is not enough.

It would be nice to have public water fountains at parks that overlook the Mississippi River -- among other user-friendly touches at areas along Front Street and Riverside Drive, such as garbage cans, more cafes, food and beverage vendors and bicycle racks.

Those were the prevailing ideas at a "Placemaking" workshop led by New York-based Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit agency that helps make public areas more attractive. Its projects include Rockefeller Center in New York and Chapel Street in New Haven, Conn.

"They say, 'This is your space. How would you use it?'" said Virginia McLean, board president of the nonprofit Friends for Our Riverfront, which organized the workshop along with Rhodes College, the University of Memphis Mid-South Planning and Zoning Institute and Memphis Heritage.

The workshop's 135 participants included Downtown residents, planning students from the U of M and Rhodes, and Center City Commission officials. They divided into groups, and toured sites along the river, interviewing visitors.

Upon returning, they presented their findings, many of which included more landscaping, lighting and signs that explain the historic nature of sites such as the Cossitt Library, Confederate Park and Court Square.

The rusty fountain at Court Square should be working, one group suggested.

Cafes, concessions and more public events would do well at Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park, which also needs a play area for children, better seating and water fountains, they suggested.

Also, the cobblestone area on Riverside near Madison could be given a name as well as seating and signs.

"We're going to try to put it all together and get a report done," McLean said. The group eventually may present the report to city officials.

The Friends group has been wary of the city-owned Riverfront Development Corp's. plans, which it believes diminishes Downtown's character.

Dianne Dixon, a founding member of the RDC board who also attended the workshop, said what she heard at the workshop jibes with the Riverfront group's plans.

After the $27 million Beale Street Landing project is completed, the RDC wants to restore the cobblestone area in a "preservation manner," she said.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Editorial: Riverfront group needs scrutiny

Commercial Appeal [Link]
February 26, 2007

When Memphis mayor Willie Herenton floated the idea of turning management of the city's riverfront over to a nonprofit group, his pitch was simple.

The Riverfront Development Corp., as the nonprofit came to be known, was supposed to be able to handle the oversight work more efficiently than city government could.

But has the RDC fulfilled that promise? About seven years after the agency was founded, it's a question worth evaluating.

We know this much: The RDC has been very good for some former city employees.

As Jacinthia Jones reported in a story last week, the three highest paid employees on the RDC's payroll are all former city division directors. They're collecting pensions from the city while continuing to work for the agency, which, in turn, gets most of its funding from city government.

Benny Lendermon, who's been running the RDC since its founding in 2000, makes $198,290 a year, plus a $4,800 auto allowance and other benefits. That's more than Herenton's $160,000 annual salary and it's roughly double the $99,800 Lendermon made as the city's public works director. John Conroy, a former city engineer, makes $126,052 a year and Danny Lemmons, a former general services director, makes $98,437.

And that's only counting what they're earning now at the RDC. Their annual pensions range from Conroy's $36,204 to Lendermon's $61,116.

If the RDC had to operate like most nonprofits do -- begging and scraping for funding from private contributors -- then that wouldn't be a cause for public concern.

But the RDC isn't that kind of nonprofit. Under the terms of its contract, the RDC gets $2 million annually to manage riverfront parks, plus revenue generated from concerts, Mud Island museum admissions and park rental fees on city-owned property.

The RDC gets about $250,000 from private sources like the Plough Foundation, but Lendermon admitted that without the city funding, "we'd go away." So really, whether Lendermon or his charges care to admit it or not, the RDC is just like an arm of city government.

That doesn't mean it always acts like one.

During the RDC's short history, some City Council members have complained that the agency hasn't provided enough information about its planned expenditures during annual budget hearings. And some riverfront activists have complained that the RDC doesn't open up its meetings and records the way a public agency should.

With the RDC poised to tackle its largest project ever, the $27 million Beale Street Landing, now would seem like an opportune time for council members to evaluate whether RDC's claims of operating the parks more efficiently ring true.

There's a joke around Memphis City Hall that RDC stands for "Retired Directors Club." But if taxpayers are subsidizing an inflated payroll for bureaucrats who are providing essentially the same level of service with less accountability to the public, then RDC could well stand for something else: Really Dumb Concept.

See also:

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Branston: The Rest of the Story on the RDC

Memphis Flyer [link]
February 22, 2007
By John Branston

Better late than never.

Following up on its strong series of stories about sweet deals in city government and at MLGW, The Commercial Appeal finally turned its attention Thursday to city government’s kissing cousin, the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) and its staff of three former city division directors.

As The Flyer has been reporting for four years, the RDC, or "retired directors club" as some city council members call the quasi-government nonprofit, enjoys an enviable package of salaries and benefits for managing a small slice of the city – the riverfront parks – as opposed to an entire city division. RDC President Benny Lendermon, formerly city public works director, earns over $260,000 a year in salary, pension, and other benefits. The other two retired directors on the RDC staff are Danny Lemmons, formerly of general services, and John Conroy, former city engineer.

"The area’s biggest megaphone," as CA columnist Wendi Thomas called her employer in her column Thursday, skated over or confused some key RDC issues in addition to doing some good work.

There was no mention of Friends for Our Riverfront, another nonprofit that operates on a shoestring budget and has fought the RDC to a standstill on the public promenade and done at least as much to promote user-friendly amenities along the river and parks in general. Two weeks ago the RDC and Friends, along with other groups, each brought well-known speakers to Memphis on different days to plug “green” issues. Virginia McLean, head of the Friends volunteers, has no ties to city government and gets no subsidy as the RDC does.

The CA story quoted Lendermon and city council members Scott McCormick and Tom Marshall who touted the efficiencies and accomplishments of the RDC and pooh-poohed the gibes about the "retired directors club." Strange then, that the city council, chaired by Marshall, is making such a fuss about former mayoral aide Gail Jones Carson over at MLGW and her $126,000 salary and her pension.

McCormick is quoted saying the RDC does a better job of managing the parks than the Memphis Park Commission did. What the story did not say, however, is that such a comparison is difficult if not unfair. The parks division, as it is now called, is responsible for roughly 180 parks spread over some 300 square miles of Memphis. The RDC gets to concentrate on 10 parks along two miles of the riverfront.

McCormick told the Flyer this week he is satisfied that the RDC really is doing the job for less and baselined its budget against pre-RDC years. "They said they would operate and maintain the parks for $2 million in 2001," he said. "They have operated the parks for five years for the same amount. Where in government does somebody maintain the same costs for five years? I thought that was outstanding."

John Malmo, former chairman of the board of the old Memphis Park Commission, told the Flyer last year that he thinks such comparisons play fast and loose with the facts. Isolating the cost of running riverfront parks from the rest of the city is like trying to isolate the cost of running one room of your house or raising one of your children. Obviously, there are a lot of shared costs and overhead.

The CA story says there are new cobblestones on the riverfront. If so, they’re not the huge ones that many Memphians remember. The broad area at the end of Union Avenue and west of Riverside Drive where the tour boats dock is a patchwork of loose gravel and small cobblestones, with a few massive chain links that are a reminder of the city’s cotton and riverboat days. But "the cobblestones" are in no condition to qualify as a tourist attraction, and, after six RDC years, there are no markers calling attention to them or explaining their significance. To call this an accomplishment of the RDC is a stretch.

With plans to enclose the harbor scrapped two years ago, the RDC’s current big project is Beale Street Landing, a $27 million park and boat landing at the foot of Beale Street and Tom Lee Park. Friends for Our Riverfront and others have argued that modest user-friendly improvements could be made at the park for a fraction of that price.

The CA puts no heat on the RDC board, which includes a host of downtown and Memphis luminaries. Once again, Friends for Our Riverfront does the heavy lifting when it comes to accountability by attending RDC meetings and circulating their notes and minutes via their website.

The quality of the RDC’s work on Mud Island and along the riverfront speaks for itself. The parks, bluff, and Riverside Drive, in the opinion of this 25-year downtown worker and fan, have never looked better. There may indeed be big efficiencies at the RDC versus the public sector. In that case, the agency would be best served by embracing complete financial transparency, explaining its magic formula without fear or favor, joining forces with Friends for Our Riverfront when practical, and expanding its expertise and thrifty business model to other parts of Memphis on a scale commensurate with those salaries.

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CA: RDC attracts ex-city officials

'Retired Directors Club' provides lucrative jobs
Commercial Appeal [link]
By Jacinthia Jones
February 22, 2007

The joke at City Hall goes like this: The Memphis Riverfront Development Corp. is where city department heads go to retire.

The RDC's three highest paid employees are retired division directors for the city of Memphis who now draw city pensions while earning sizeable salaries at the nonprofit created in 2000 at the city's behest to oversee downtown parkland.

Under contract with the city, the RDC manages Mud Island River Park, Tom Lee Park and nine other parks for $2.2 million annually, down from the the $2.6 million it received annually during its first five-year contract.

Former city public works director Benny Lendermon has been at the helm of the organization since its inception, a group born from the recommendation of a city-appointed steering committee charged with finding a way to better market and utilize the riverfront.

As president, Lendermon, 54, earns $198,290 plus a $4,800 auto allowance and other benefits, according to RDC.

That's more than Mayor Willie Herenton's $160,000 salary and its nearly double the $99,800 Lendermon earned as Memphis public works director.

He retired in 2000 after 24 years of service and went to work for RDC. On top of his salary, Lendermon collects his monthly city pension of $5,093.

Danny Lemmons, the retired general services director for the city, earns $98,437 as director of operations for RDC.

Lemmons, 64, retired from the city in 1992 with more than 20 years of service. His monthly pension is $3,580.

And John Conroy, 63, the city's former engineer, makes $126,052 in his post as RDC's vice president of project development. Conroy's monthly city pension is $3,017.

He retired from Memphis government in 2002 with 13 years and nine months of service under the city's controversial 12-year pension rule for appointed and elected officials that has since been rescinded.

Connections to City Hall extend beyond the three former directors. The RDC's director of communications, Dorchelle Spence, is the wife of former city attorney Robert Spence. She earns $98,437.

"We've heard the jokes," said Lendermon, but shrugs it off.

Instead, he ticks off RDC's accomplishments: new cobblestones on the riverfront, new steps down the bluffs, medians along Riverside Drive, not to mention sprucing up Mud Island and other parks that had begun to languish under the city's watch.

"All of our projects have come within budget, with no overruns." That's been possible, he says, because the nonprofit isn't tied down by government red tape.

The group is now preparing to tackle its largest project yet, overseeing the city's $27 million Beale Street Landing.

Still, the RDC, though separate from the city, is almost wholly supported by the local government.

"We get the majority of our money from the city, there's no doubt," Lendermon said, adding that if the city ever canceled the contract, "We'd go away."

Besides the $2 million the agency receives from the city annually to manage the parks, the nonprofit gets about $250,000 from private sources like the Plough Foundation, Lendermon said. Its concert series at the amphitheater brought in $50,000 this past season, in addition to other revenue from Mud Island museum admissions and park rental fees.

When Lendermon began to assemble his team at the RDC, he turned to those he knew. He worked with Lemmons at the city and said he knew his work ethic.

When Lemmons joined RDC, he'd been retired from the city for more than 10 years. Lendermon said he had to persuade him to take a pay cut, leave his job in industrial development at the railroad, and join him at the nonprofit.

Similarly, with Conroy, Lendermon said he approached the then-city engineer looking for names of prospects. Lendermon interviewed three who didn't make the cut, before later hiring Conroy for much less.

Memphis City Council Chairman Tom Marshall has heard the RDC jokes as well. One is that RDC stands for "Retired Directors Club."

"Honestly, it just doesn't bother me. Many of us have even laughed about it," he said, dismissing the situation as "water cooler discussion."

Marshall says the council this year may have to address the "brain drain" leaving City Hall to work at city agencies. Otherwise, Marshall says he's happy to have qualified individuals at the RDC who "have a pulse on how things work in the city system."

Councilman Scott McCormick, chairman of the council's park committee and the latest addition to the RDC board, believes the RDC has performed admirably. "They do a much better job of managing the parks than we did."

More info:

Top jobs at RDC
Three retired city of Memphis executives now work for the Riverfront Development Corp., a nonprofit that manages downtown parkland under contract with the city.

Benny Lendermon, 54
Pension: $5,093/month
RDC pay: $198,290/year

Danny Lemmons, 64
Pension: $3,580/month
RDC pay: $98,437/year

John Conroy, 63
Pension: $3,017/month
RDC pay: $126,052

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Garage Gate, Part Two?

The rationale for building Beale Street Landing is slipping away.

The Memphis Flyer [link]
By John Branston

Ever taken a ferry-boat ride from Memphis to Arkansas?

Neither has anyone else. Memphis doesn't have ferry service to Arkansas, Tunica, Mud Island, or anywhere else. But that didn't stop the city of Memphis and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) from putting the bite on the Federal Highway Administration for $1.8 million in 2005 Ferry Boat Discretionary Awards for Beale Street Landing, the proposed $27 million improvement to Tom Lee Park.

The Federal Highway Administration, you will remember, is the agency that financed the FedExForum parking garage, which was supposed to be an inter-modal transfer facility for buses, cars, and trolleys. Except it turned out that the garage was really for the exclusive benefit of the Memphis Grizzlies and did not serve any mass-transportation purpose. So Memphis had to give back $6 million.

The phantom ferry could be Garage Gate, Part Two. Once again, Memphis is playing with fire for the sake of a downtown project driven not by popular demand but by the powers that be -- this time at the RDC, along with their consultants, would-be contractors, and architects.

The grant to Memphis, which was reduced to $1.28 million "after obligation limitation lop-off and takedown" (how's that for jargon?), is the largest on the awards list. And it stands out like a broken bridge. The other grants are to places such as San Francisco and New York City, which actually have working ferries and water taxis. Beale Street Landing, on the other hand, is a combination of cobblestone improvements, high-concept architecture, underground parking garage (cue the ominous music from Jaws), restaurant, and boat landing for tourists. A ferry it ain't.

The RDC describes Beale Street Landing as "the first piece of the puzzle" in its master plan, but one by one, the reasons for building it are crumbling like a sandy riverbank in a flood.

First it was the price tag, which made the project and its "floating islands" seem extravagant in light of the city's strapped budget and short-lived freeze on capital spending in the summer of 2005.

Then it was the elimination of the land bridge from the riverfront master plan. The land bridge would have shrunk the harbor and cramped the docking space for the tour boats that cruise the Mississippi River. Without the land bridge, boats ranging in size from the Memphis Queen to the Mississippi Queen can dock comfortably at either the cobblestones or the Mud Island boat ramp.

Now another leg of the table has been knocked out. The latest change involves the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, owner of three steamboat replicas that cruise the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. This week, Delta Queen is closing its last operations and administrative offices in New Orleans. Using the proposed Beale Street Landing as an incentive, Memphis made a pitch for Delta Queen's headquarters. RDC officials also warned that Delta Queen boats might abandon Memphis without a better dock.

Nonsense. Delta Queen, soon to be renamed the Majestic America Line, needs Memphis more than Memphis needs Delta Queen. The company was hardly in a position to command incentives from Memphis or any other city. It has been through a bankruptcy and has had three owners in five years. Hurricane Katrina crippled its operations last year, but there were only 126 employees in New Orleans before the storm. In April, Delaware North sold it to California-based Ambassador International, which is moving the cruise-ship division headquarters to Seattle.

"They're moving out of New Orleans," said Lucette Brehm, whose last day as spokeswoman for Delta Queen was Monday.

"An operations-support office will be maintained in St. Louis," said Annmarie Ricard, spokeswoman for Ambassador International. "There will not be any office in Memphis. All three of Delta Queen's ships will continue to call on Memphis."

So the Beale Street Landing economic-development fantasy slides into the river along with the land bridge. The city and the RDC should scale back Beale Street Landing to the cobblestones replacement and make some modest improvements to Tom Lee Park such as sprinklers, shade trees, more water fountains, and a concession stand. But don't bet on it. When there's "free" federal money at stake, the tail often wags the dog.

The following artist's renderings were not published in the Flyer. They are reproduced from an article in the July 2006 issue of Memphis Health and Fitness. Click any picture to see it enlarged. Click here to download a PDF of the article itself (Warning: over 3 MB).

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