Sunday, May 13, 2007

Public's domain

Acting on 'public purpose,' government can snatch private property

Fred Davis' quarter-acre lot at 205 Looney was appraised at $16,200, according to Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark's Web site. Davis bought the lot, site of a fire-gutted apartment building, in 1989 for $53,000.

The Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

Fred Davis, owner of Fred Davis Insurance Agency, bought a small lot on Looney Street in the Uptown neighborhood in 1989.

Davis, a former longtime city councilman, thought the property would make a good investment and that he might eventually develop it.

But he may never get the chance, because the Memphis Housing Authority and the Division of Housing and Community Development have notified Davis that they want to buy his property.

If Davis doesn't voluntarily sell, MHA could use "as a last and final resort" its power of eminent domain to acquire the property.

"If I decide that I want to develop it, I ought to have the option to do it," said Davis. "If they said this was for a fire station or library or the general public good, I can deal with that."

While different in some respects, Davis' case has echoes of Kelo vs City of New London, Conn., where the U.S. Supreme Court decided that local governments may force property owners to sell and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public. In Kelo, the public benefit was additional tax revenue generated by new developments.

Governments have long purchased private property for the construction of roads, bridges, dams, sewer lines and other public projects. If owners are unwilling to sell, governments turn to eminent domain.

But the Kelo case touched off a nationwide debate about how and when eminent domain should be used, with dozens of states passing laws to make it more difficult for municipalities to exercise eminent domain.

"The Kelo decision was actually one of the best things that ever happened to the national property rights movement, as it clearly imprinted the precarious nature of private property rights in the public consciousness and has inspired significant reforms nationwide," said Leonard Gilroy, a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, in a statement.

In Tennessee, a bill passed last year placed new restrictions on eminent domain but still allows its use for public purposes, industrial parks and limited private uses.

"It was a bit of a compromise," said Kevin Walsh, a principal with the law firm of Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC. "It was an attempt to calm some fears people had from Kelo, and I don't know that it truly accomplishes it."

One main provision of Tennessee's legislation requires local governments to certify the "public purpose and necessity" of seizing land.

The law also said indirect public benefits coming from private development -- such as new tax revenue in the Kelo case -- did not qualify as a "public purpose."

The legislation also gives property owners more time -- 30 days instead of five -- to challenge a finding of "public purpose."

Importantly in Davis' case, the legislation said housing authority or community development agencies could acquire property to "implement an urban renewal or redevelopment plan in a blighted area."

That is the main difference between the Kelo and Uptown eminent domain cases.

"If you look at Kelo, there was never any indication by the condemning authority of blight," said Walsh.

The Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission declared the Uptown area blighted, allowing MHA to use eminent domain. In other words, the use of eminent domain in Uptown is to remove blight while the use in New London was to create more tax revenue by removing existing homes and residents to make way for more expensive developments.

MHA initiates the proceedings and buys the properties through its land bank. Then the city's development partners -- Belz Enterprises and Henry Turley Co., master developers of Uptown -- are paid fees to develop the property.

Davis' Uptown property is at the corner of Fourth and Looney. Surrounded by Uptown homes on the south and east, and well-kept existing homes on the north, with a mix of older and newer homes to the west, the vacant site has some tall grass. But Davis said it is hardly "blighted."

"I've paid my taxes and I keep it up," he said. "I pay somebody to come over here and mow the grass."

Robert Lipscomb, the city's chief financial officer, director and CFO of HCD and executive director of MHA, said the city has always used eminent domain as a tool of last resort and that there is a delicate balancing act of property owners' rights.

On the one hand, Lipscomb said, the city wants to preserve the property rights and investments of owners like Davis.

But on the other hand, the city is trying to bring more investment to the Uptown neighborhood. That investment could be halted or slowed by vacant lots strewn with grass, weeds or junk, Lipscomb said.

Eminent domain has been used, or threatened, in several Downtown projects, including FedExForum, AutoZone Park, the National Civil Rights Museum and in the airport buyout area.

With eminent domain, the government offers "just compensation" for the property and then takes the land. In MHA's case, the agency offers owners the appraised value of the property.

Davis' quarter-acre lot was appraised at $16,200, according to Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark's Web site.

While Davis said he has no current plans to develop the property, which he bought in 1989 for $53,000, he said he might one day decide to build something on the site, formerly home to a six-unit apartment building gutted by a fire.

And Davis believes the lot could bring a higher price on the market, especially since Uptown is in the midst of a remarkable transformation.

"There are two kinds of values to property, appraised and market," he said. "Appraised is a hell of a lot different from market value."

Gene Pearson, director of the graduate program in city and regional planning at the University of Memphis, said that while sometimes controversial, eminent domain is an important tool for cities.

"It's probably the only way redevelopment can take place in a timely fashion," Pearson said. "Clearly, most cities see areas that have declined and they make a judgment call as to what is in the best interest of the city and property owners may not see it that way.

"It's always subject to definition and there is always going to be debate."

If the city moves forward with eminent domain, Davis said the debate would almost certainly continue.

"I would have to get some legal advice on the best way to respond," he said.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On Shaky Ground?

Part of new Mud Island condos sit on landslide site

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andy Meek

The development team that's building Flagship Condominiums on Mud Island still is tweaking plans for the project, which will be a continuation of the award-winning Harbor Town community.

But the finish line is getting closer. And once that happens, Flagship will have snatched up some of the last available waterfront on Mud Island, property near the Auction Street bridge that was once thick with trees. Part of the land also was the site of a massive landslide in 2002 and has been at the center of a variety of development schemes over the years.

Landslide victory

The main concept for the Flagship project - four buildings with at least 45 units - is well on its way through the approval process. Over the past few weeks, a flurry of changes and amendments have been made to the plan,which the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board recently approved and which first comes before the Memphis City Council this week.

The condos are going up on 2.65 acres at the southeast corner of Island Drive and Auction Avenue, on a small triangle of property across from the three-story Arbors Apartments complex in Harbor Town. On the other side, Atlanta-based Beazer Homes plans to build 175 townhomes on 19 acres that developer Kevin Hyneman recently sold to the company.

Hyneman also sold about half the Flagship property to a group that includes developer Henry Turley. Current plans for the Flagship project call for touches such as a decorative fountain near Island Drive, a pool and perimeter landscaping.

The project, which will be spread out over several phases, will feature mostly brick units and such amenities as semi-private elevator access.

"It should be nice," said attorney Ronald Harkavy, who's representing the developers. "Anything these guys have done out there has been nice, and they've tried to make others do the same."

Foundation of sand

This afternoon, the City Council will set the date for a public hearing on the Flagship development, which was part of 21 acres of woodsy land Hyneman bought for about $2.6 million in 2001.

"Basically, what the (LUCB) already approved is where we're heading," Harkavy said.

The condo units along Island Drive will range from 1,800 to 2,700 square feet. The units along Auction Avenue will range in size from 1,500 to 2,200 square feet.

The sale and transformation of the small Flagship property marks something of a milestone in Hyneman's career. Along with the larger tract Beazer is developing, it brings to a close Hyneman's involvement in development on Mud Island, where he's built close to 1,000 homes.

One of the most talked about episodes involving Hyneman during that time was the 2002 landslide, which took out a large swath of riverbank.

The landslide was the result of piling excavated dirt on the property that had been brought over from the FedExForum building site, the weight of which ultimately put too much strain on the harbor bank. The landslide occurred on the northeast side of Hyneman's 21-acre property, including a small portion of the Flagship site.

It happened days before a sale of the property was scheduled to go forward with a group that included the Riverfront Development Corp. and developers Turley and Jack Belz.

Since then, the entire site has been the subject of various real estate proposals. Don Jones, a city-county planner, said plans for the Flagship development are still in flux.

"They were approved by the LUCB for 45 condo units, but they want to bring that back up to about 52," he said. "They would also like to have one of the buildings permitted up to five stories."

When it's finished, Flagship Condominiums will enhance an already much-sought-after lifestyle on Mud Island.

Star-spangled home

Today, residents like Dianne Champlin put a premium on the amenities to be found there, where homes are set among well-manicured communities, pedestrian walkways and neighborhood businesses like Miss Cordelia's, a small grocery store with an eat-in deli.

"We love the outside," said her husband, Brad, of the couple's Harbor Town home, "Blithe Spirit." "This is where we have breakfast in the morning. Dianne and I will sit down here with a cup of coffee and a newspaper."

Gesturing toward the panoramic river view, he said: "Isn't that fabulous?"

Among the other recent additions to Mud Island, there's Harbor of Health, a new wellness clinic Dianne said she's eager to try out once she and her husband move to their riverfront home full-time. The 4,500-square-foot home includes features such as a private elevator and handicap accessibility, meaning doorways, for example, are tall and wide.

Dianne also is happily anticipating the Fourth of July, which she and her husband will celebrate with a few friends at their riverfront home.

"This will actually be our second Fourth of July here," she said. She recalled the celebration last year, when families packed the riverfront for picnics, strolled along the water and children played with festive holiday sparklers.

Construction work, meanwhile, remains a constant feature of the quiet life enjoyed on Mud Island by people like the Champlins. Public artwork, for example, soon will be added to a newly built traffic roundabout on Mud Island.

"And I think you should see something happening in the very near future to the south of (the Flagship) site, also," Harkavy said.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

A Dam Shame

The dam was damned from the start. So how did it survive so long?

The Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

On Monday, the Riverfront Development Corporation unanimously voted to remove the land bridge or dam between downtown and Mud Island from its strategic and implementation plans. Not a single member expressed support for what can fairly be called a $100 million turkey, although the exact dollars are anyone's guess.

Members of the illustrious RDC board agreed that the dam was unnecessary, unfeasible, and so unpopular that it was a general hindrance to the RDC, the five-year-old nonprofit agency responsible for developing and maintaining the public riverfront.

Better late than never. But the history of the land bridge is an instructive lesson in public process in Memphis.

One of the first people to propose it was E.H. Crump, the political boss of Memphis, who made the suggestion to a newspaper reporter in 1953, 25 years before work began on Mud Island River Park. But the latest 38-acre brainstorm was the product of a group of consultants -- Cooper, Robertson & Partners -- who were hired in 2000 and paid $750,000 for a 50-year master plan whose relevance is suddenly nil.

Nice work if you can get it.

High-priced consultants don't materialize out of thin air. Mayor Willie Herenton hosted public forums on the riverfront in 1999 and supported the creation of the RDC, which supplanted the Memphis Park Commission, in 2000. A former city division director, Benny Lendermon, was hired to run it. The board was packed with influential downtowners and celebrities such as Cybill Shepherd and Jerry West.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners conducted a series of community meetings on the riverfront. After 18 months, they issued a Memphis Riverfront Master Plan. Its centerpiece, literally, was the land bridge or dam between Court Avenue and Poplar Avenue. Whence it came, no one really knows. Community forums, like reporters' interviews, are a small and subjective sampling of public opinion. It is usually a stretch to generalize from them, but consultants and reporters do it all the time.

My guess is that high-priced consulting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For $750,000, Cooper, Robertson & Partners couldn't very well stop with such common-sense recommendations as a better boat landing, well-manicured parks with additional activities, an improved Promenade, and a nicely lighted sidewalk from Tom Lee Park to The Pyramid. For a big price, there had to be a big deal.

The land bridge was always couched in uncertainty: It might not be built for several years, it might or might not have high-rise buildings on it, it might or might not screw up the Wolf River harbor, it might or might not be paid for by private development. But it was too big to ignore. It was right there in the models and renderings. Of course people were going to react to it, and react they did. A second group of consultants, the Urban Land Institute, which was paid $110,000, threw up a bunch of red flags in 2003 but stopped short of recommending that the land bridge not be built.

For a while, Lendermon and the RDC tried to downplay the land bridge by pushing back the timetable. But everything else in the master plan was contingent upon it in some way. The death blow probably came last month when Jack Belz, developer of Peabody Place and the Peabody hotel, ripped it in a speech to a civic group.

Once the dam was broken, the flood broke through. RDC board members led by Dan Turley, Angus McEachran, Rickey Peete, and Kevin Kane, said kill it and kill it good. "It's not going to go away if we are vague," McEachran said. Board member Jim Hunt noted that nearly half the board members were absent and that the decision would reverse years of planning. Heads nodded in agreement.

By my watch, the RDC "debate" lasted five minutes. The land bridge was a dead duck, and the RDC's new signature project is the $27.5 million Beale Street Landing, which has its own critics but looks like a relative bargain and will probably get built.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Development threatens harbor operations

Land bridge, residential development may relocate harbor firms

Memphis Business Journal
by Amos Maki
Link to original

Businesses along the Wolf River Harbor say a proposed land bridge stretching across the harbor would cripple their businesses and probably force them to close for good.

"If they shut down river traffic, it would shut us down," says Deborah Seidel, communications director for Bunge North America, which has 11 full-time employees at its facility on North Second.

"The vast majority of our business there is barge traffic."

Officials from Riverfront Development Corp., Army Corps of Engineers and Tetra Tech, Inc., are contacting seven Wolf River Harbor businesses to determine the impact of RDC's proposed land bridge.

The land bridge, if built, would close the harbor many of the companies rely on to move everything from cement to grain. The planned $78 million, 38-acre land bridge would stretch across the harbor from Court Street to Poplar and is part of the RDC's Riverfront Master Plan drawn up in 2002 by architecture and urban design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners.

Businesses affected include Anderson-Tully Lumber Co., Bunge North America, LaFarge North America, Inc., Buzzi Unicem, Cargill, Inc., Westway Feed Products and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The cost of the $332,000 feasibility study is being split by RDC and the Corps of Engineers.

But even if the land bridge is never built, those harbor businesses would probably be forced to move anyway to allow residential development to expand all the way to the water's edge.

"They are studying what impact the land bridge concept will have on the industries in the harbor and, more than that, how you get them to start looking at relocating their facilities within Memphis," says Dorchelle Spence, RDC spokesman.

"The reason that needs to happen is for a number of projects that are going forward and the biggest one is Uptown, moreso than the land bridge.

"The Uptown development that is occurring is taking residential closer to the waterfront and you can't do that when you have all of these industries in the harbor because of the 18-wheel truck traffic it brings through that neighborhood," she says. "(Moving industry off the harbor) needs to happen whether we move forward with the land bridge or not."

Uptown, a joint venture between Belz Enterprises, Henry Turley Co. and the City of Memphis, covers more than 100 city blocks in the north end of Downtown.

The project received a $35 million HOPE VI grant from HUD, which helped transform two of Uptown's former public housing units into mixed-income housing.

Robert Lipscomb, director of the division of Housing and Community Development and Memphis Housing Authority, says using the harbor land for industry isn't the best use for what could potentially be very valuable residential property.

"As Housing and Community Development, we want to go all the way to the river and make sure we use the land to its highest and best use," he says. "To me, the highest and best use of that land, not to mention the compatibility with residential uses, is residential and commercial development. The current use is really not compatible with the residential and commercial use that is moving toward that area."

Lipscomb says he will work with the RDC, a not-for-profit, public/private partnership under contract with the city of Memphis, to redevelop the area.

"The RDC is the primary motivator and will determine what goes there, so we'll be working with them to make sure the highest and best use of that property is attained," he says.

"I think we're definitely on the same page."

The RDC and Housing and Community Development may be on the same page, but harbor industry officials don't like the book. They say they rely on the harbor to transport their goods by barge and that closing the harbor or relocating them to make way for new development could put them out of business.

"We get all our barges in from that end of the river and if they dam that up, I'm out of business," says Terry Martin, terminal manager at LaFarge North America, a cement distributor which has been on Henry Street since 1947 and has five full-time employees. "We do everything by barge."

Mike Johnson, terminal manager for Buzzi Unicem, a cement distributor, says moving off the harbor would kill the business.

"It would put us out of business," he says. "The cost of trucking isn't even feasible and we don't have any rail into there and the cost and dependability of rail for the volume we do isn't feasible, either."

Spence says they are in the early stages of exploring how to relocate the industries, hopefully within the city.

"This is first step in exploring what it would take to make that happen," she says.

© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

TV: Revamping the riverfront

Action News 5
By Darrell Phillips

"I've been around a long time and I've heard the adage no public money's going to be required many times and it never seems to happen," says Memphis City Councilmember Jack Sammons.

Sammons is one of three who voted against the massive plan to revamp the riverfront.

Planners say it will pay for itself. "Private money generated to pay for public improvements," says riverfront planner Benny Lendermon. HeÊsays Companies will pay the City to lease the property. Costs are absorbed by the developers and not the taxpayers.

Sammons doesn't buy it.

"I think we need to be straight with our customers," he says. "Customers are the taxpayers. We need to look 'em in the eye and say ultimately this is going to cost you some money."

Others worry how that money might add up.

"The finances don't work," said an opponent Tuesday night.

Councilmember Carol Chumney said, "We hear that no money's going in but yet we're looking at approving eight million dollars in bonds this year for the Riverfront Development Corporation."

Memphis developer Jack Belz weighed in in writing. His letter to the Council warns, "it is misleading to imply that there will be no cost to the community..."

He writes that moving big business to the promenade will hurt businesses in areas already developed.

"We will in fact be sacrificing the area east of Front for a new town west of Front," writes Belz.

The downtown fire station will have to go too. That will cost someone.

"It'll cost 20 million dollars to move that fire station," says Sammons. "That's the headquarters of the Memphis Fire Department. Not something you can just put in a little building somewhere."

And what about infrastructure costs, sewers, drainage, landscaping, lighting?

Benny Lendermon tells me it's all part of the plan. That private development will cover those costs. But he's clear, nothing will happen without lengthy discussions. He also says it is possible that the downtown fire station will be a problem taxpayers might have to pay for.

Copyright 2004, WMC Channel 5 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Visions battle on River bluff

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

On a four-block strip of the Memphis bluff long coveted for its high ground, no one can find much common ground these days.

The downtown promenade area is the focus of starkly contrasting visions and dreams that likely will frame a fractious debate before the City Council this week.

The council has slated a public hearing for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to receive comments on a Riverfront Development Corp. land-use plan that provides for mixed-use commercial development as a means of attract ing people and generating revenues on the promenade.

The RDC plan has mobilized critics who believe the private development and possible high-rise buildings envisioned in it would violate a public treasure. They favor expanded parkland and open space in the area.

Some council members say they're torn over the issue.

"I really don't like the RDC plan, and I don't like the plan the opposing group has come up with, either," said Carol Chumney, who'd like to see the promenade included in a more comprehensive downtown plan.

The issue remains far from resolution. Even if the council approves the proposal, RDC still would have to launch legal action to gain control of the acreage, as well as conduct more detailed planning and search for developers.

"This process is not nearly as far along as the public discussion would suggest it is," said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The promenade encompasses acreage west of Front Street that was set aside for public use by Memphis's founders. Court rulings have held that the property is owned by heirs of the founders, with the city having an easement.

The four-block area is home to parking garages, a deteriorating library, a fire station, Confederate Park and the old Custom House and Post Office.

About the only matter on which there is widespread agreement is the current state of the promenade, which the RDC plan calls an "inactive barrier between the city and its river."

"I think everyone agrees that the current state of our promenade is unacceptable," said John Gary, vice president of the group Friends for Our Riverfront, which opposes the RDC's plans.

The agreement ends where planning for the promenade begins.

RDC's proposal, drawn up by the New York firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners after a series of public meetings last year, would put the parking garages underground and remove most of the other structures. The Custom House and Post Office could be refurbished for other uses, such as the University of Memphis law school.

The RDC proposal includes a two-level promenade, or walk way, along the bluff edge and pedestrian bridges across east-west streets.

Commercial development, which would be needed to fund the $50 million cost of improvements, would be sought at specified locations. They likely include sidewalk cafes and apartment buildings towering as high as 400 feet, with the lobbies of the structures open to the public.

Mindful of the criticism over the prospect of high-rises, Lendermon said whatever kind of development occurs will be market-driven.

"We are totally, totally convinced that without some kind of mixed-use development on the promenade, it's going to sit just like it is for another 50 years," he said.

"The issue isn't how tall the buildings are. It's that you have that kind of activity at that place."
The Friends group and other critics, however, say the RDC plan violates the founders' intent for the promenade and gives developers too much control of a public asset.

Gary says that in setting aside the land, founders in effect placed a conservation easement on the promenade.

"We're not against buildings on the property," he said. "Public uses for the property are acceptable."

The vision favored by the Friends group is based on a plan for the promenade first drafted in the 1980s. It features mostly park space, sidewalks where buildings now stand and pedestrian bridges.

Gary said the group's plan is cheap and can be accomplished without the legal battle facing the RDC proposal.

"It could basically be done for what the city would pay in legal fees," he said.

In recent weeks, the RDC plan has drawn criticism from groups other than Friends.

The Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects adopted a resolution favoring "largely unobstructed, open civic space" on the promenade.

Downtown developers Jack Belz, Ron Belz and John Dudas also sent the council a letter opposing high-rise structures on the promenade and questioning other aspects of the RDC plan.
But Lendermon said critics typically make more noise than supporters. He said "a huge number" of developers and other citizens support the RDC plan.

"The problem is having these people step forward," Lendermon said.

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Public promenade vote looms amid growing dissension

Memphis Business Journal
By Amos Maki

The plan for transforming a four-block area Downtown known as the public promenade is in a crucial phase. A public hearing before the City Council is scheduled for May 18.

Critics and supporters of the $50 million redevelopment plan that would be paid for by private development are gearing up for what could be a bitter fight.

"We feel like we are presenting the appropriate plan for the city of Memphis and hope our elected officials will endorse it," says RDC president Benny Lendermon. "It is providing access to a property that is inaccessible now and it's providing an experience that doesn't exist in

Memphis that exists in cities all over the world on their waterfronts."

Some local developers instrumental in the rebirth of Downtown are as far apart on the plan as the banks of the Mississippi River at Memphis.

In a memo obtained by Memphis Business Journal that was sent April 26 to Lendermon, Belz Enterprises chairman and CEO Jack Belz, along with company vice presidents Ron Belz and John Dudas, express deep concern about the plan.

"Our community has only one front door and that is Downtown," the memo says. "Our Downtown only has one riverfront.

"The public promenade set aside by our founding fathers is the only publicly owned property on our city's high bluff that will ever exist. We must not let short term pressures override the long term best interest of our community."

Private developments, including three proposed new buildings, would pay for projects like a two-level promenade and the relocation of parking garages underground. The buildings would be mixed-use, with restaurants and shops lining the bottom floors. Ground leases would keep the property under the control of the city. The plan also calls for pedestrian bridges that would stretch across Monroe and Court and for improvements to sidewalks on the promenade. Grand staircases would provide access to the upper level of the pedestrian walkways.

The property now contains the old Cossitt Library, a fire station, the old Custom House and Confederate Park. The land is virtually inaccessible to most of the public and offers prime views of the river.

But there is some skepticism about the projected height of two of the three buildings proposed in the promenade plan. The plan says the property would be able to sustain a 300-foot residential tower where the fire station and an All-Right parking garage now sit and a 400-foot office tower north of Confederate Park, between Jefferson and Adams. Those are maximum heights the buildings could reach.

The Belz memo also states that it is "misleading" for the RDC to imply there will be no cost to the public for the plan and that private developers would be able to foot the bill for the $50 million price tag.

"A $50 million bond issue would require approximately $4 million per year of revenue to amortize the debt service on the bond issue," the memo states. "It is unlikely that private interests could justify paying $4 million per year in land costs for the limited amount of property available on the promenade."

The memo says the plan does not protect taxpayers and could harm restorative efforts under way in the rest of Downtown.

"In other words, this action could retard the revitalization of the currently developed portions of Downtown and turn over a large portion of the public space overlooking the waterfront to private interests in order to raise a relatively small amount of funds for these improvements," it states. "The financing assumptions need re-evaluation before the city adopts a plan based on this thesis."

Belz Enterprises owns Peabody Place, the 2 million-plus-square-foot retail and entertainment center near Beale Street, and the company has been a primary influence in revitalizing Downtown.

In his reply, Lendermon says an alternate plan calling for the promenade to be turned into a park proposed by a group called Friends For Our Riverfront "generates no revenue and the RDC Plan generates significant revenues that reduce the burden on the taxpayer." Plus, the removal of what is currently there, "no matter what you put back is very costly -- $50 million." The memo goes on to say "the cost of putting a park on the site, public open space around mixed used developments as we suggest, or even converting it to a soybean field are all in the $50 million cost range due to the previously mentioned cost of removing existing infrastructure."

FFOR officials claim their plan will cost only $7 million.

Other important members of the development community, while not endorsing the RDC promenade plan outright, have been far less critical and generally supportive.

"I think we have an opportunity, and in fact an obligation, to get right on it and improve that area," says Henry Turley, principal of Henry Turley Co. "I would be embarrassed if I finished my career and the riverfront looks as shabby as it does now, with parking garages and abandoned libraries and neglected parks. So, I'm for doing things and not leaving things alone. I, by the way, own as much property as anyone on the east side of Front Street. "

Turley previously has expressed some reservations about the heights of the buildings, saying he doesn't believe the economy is dynamic enough to support them. But other concerns voiced by critics, particularly about blocked views, were acceptable to Turley.

"If I had to give up 20 degrees of my view by way of a new and taller building that gives vitality and a more continuous link to the river, I would gladly give it up," he says.

Jay Buckley, vice president and asset manager for Parkway Properties, the company that owns Morgan Keegan Tower and the Falls Building on Front Street, says his company favors the plan, although the proposed office tower would restrict some views of the river.

"We value the views we have as much as anybody on Front Street and we know that it means a lot to our customers," he says. "But it would be a fairly small price to pay to lose a sliver of a river view and gain what is likely to result from the promenade development."

City Councilman and RDC board member Rickey Peete will vote in favor of the redevelopment, saying the plan is viable and that it could do great things for the city.

"I think it can be profitable and improve public access to the promenade," he says. "And it will give the city an opportunity to improve its skyline."

Peete says he understands that some people have concerns about the plan.

"We try to do what is best for the city and sometimes you can't make everybody happy," he says. "I just think this is the best thing for the city of Memphis."

City councilman Carol Chumney says that if she had to vote up or down on the plan Tuesday, she would vote no.

"I can't vote for it the way it is," she says. "There are parts of the plan I can support and there are parts that I cannot support."

Chumney would like to see some cooperation between the RDC and FFOR. She says the council could delay action on the plan and ask the two sides to work out a compromise.

"It is too important an issue to say you've got to do this or forget it," Chumney says. "Whatever happens on the riverfront, we are all going to have to live with it for the next 50 years."

Jeff Sanford, president of the Center City Commission, says it is difficult to judge exactly how the proposed promenade developments would affect redevelopment in other parts of Downtown. Sanford is an ex-officio member of the RDC board.

"Redevelopment of Downtown is far too complex to conclude categorically that development in one area will hinder development in another area," he says. "In some sense, redeveloping the riverfront into an attractive, bustling area could actually enhance our ability to attract redevelopment in other areas of Downtown."

Sanford says the market, not the RDC or FFOR, will determine what gets built Downtown.

Some members of the CCC's affiliated boards met with officials from the RDC and FFOR May 6 to review each plan. The FFOR presentation seemed to hit a snag when members of the group were unable to say how they could fund their plan or how they would replace parking spaces that would be lost. Commissioners, however, asked tough questions of each group and seemed to favor a middle ground.

But Rick Masson, RDC board member and former longtime member of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's administration, was emphatic in his opinion that it is now or never for the promenade area.

"I honestly don't feel anything will be done" if the RDC plan is not approved by the council, Masson says. "It is going to stay the same way. I guarantee you."

Masson says a park would be an "impediment instead of an enticement" to getting people Downtown and he says that "in terms of making the river part of our lives, there is nothing" in the FFOR plan. Plus, he says, there is plenty of park space Downtown now.

According to the CCC, there are at least 300 acres of parkland in Downtown Memphis.
John Stokes, RDC board chairman, agrees with Masson and says this is do or die time for the promenade.

"I think if they don't adopt some form or fashion of our plan, I am firmly convinced it will sit dormant," he says. "That has been the history of the property for 50 years."

Lendermon says he knew there would be some opposition to the plan, citing previous debates over bringing the Grizzlies to town and building a new arena, the bluffwalk and the location for AutoZone Park.

"We always anticipated opposition," he says. "We knew there would be a lot of debate over this very important piece of property."

Plus, legal challenges will delay any work for at least two years. If the council approves the plan, the city must move to take control of the land.

The property was donated by the city's founding fathers for use as a public promenade. The heirs of the founders hold title to the land and they are somewhat divided on the proposal, although a large majority of the Overton heirs support the RDC proposal. The city would have to take control of the land, possibly through eminent domain.

In his memo to the Belzes and Dudas, Lendermon sums up his thoughts on the promenade's future.

"The truth is that absent a private vehicle to fund a significant portion of these costs," he says, "the existing condition of these promenade blocks will remain just as they have over the last 50 years."

© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.

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Friday, April 30, 2004

Benny Lendermon Responds to Jack Belz

Here is RDC President Benny Lendermon's response to Jack Belz's letter of April 26 (reproduced at this link.)


DATE: Friday, April 30, 2004

FROM: Benny Lendermon

TO: John Dudas, CC: (RDC Mailing List)

RE: Memphis Promenade Public Realm Plan

As always I become very attentive to anything that any of the three on you have to say. It is safe to say that in the past we have been in agreement many, many more times that on opposite sides. However on this issue there are several things that must be pointed out.

The 4 blocks of the promenade property in question are encumbered with inappropriate public infrastructure. On this we can all agree. The removal of this infrastructure, no matter what you put back is very costly~$50,000,000. While we can argue the merits of these blocks being green space (which we disagree with) no one can argue the cost of removing the inappropriate infrastructure. The cost of putting a park on this site, public open space around mixed use development as we suggest, or even converting it to a soybean field are all in the $50,000,000 cost range due to the previously mentioned cost of removing existing infrastructure.

The RDC is very sensitive to allowing the construction of new space and its effect on existing space currently unoccupied. That is one of the major reasons for bringing in the Urban Land Institute Advisory Services panel to critique our plan and make recommendations on priority and strategy for implementation. Before our board elected to use ULI we conferred with many others who have used them and received glowing recommendations from many including John Dudas, Henry Turley, Jeff Sanford and others. The ULI panel interviewed 75 people during its week here including a special separate meeting to get the input from Jack Beltz and John Dudas who have been involved in so many downtown developments.

The ULI panel encouraged the creation of development on the promenade property including cafes, galleries, library and other public amenities on the ground floors with primarily residential occupying the air space above to both provide activity for the "Grand Esplanade" and generate revenue to help offset the cost of implementation. They emphasized to the RDC board "Memphians today want to be downtown, to live, work play and shop--and to develop. By launching the master plan on the Promenade property, the RDC will build on and extend the growing vibrancy of downtown and bring that energy to Front Street and the riverfront."

We agree with ULI and believe the development of the promenade property will not compete with but aid in the redevelopment of downtown in a fashion similar to what Peabody Place and Peabody Tower has and is doing.

You can argue about the extent of the revenue generated by the development proposed by the RDC Plan, but what is not in dispute is the fact that the park plan generates no revenue and the RDC Plan generates significant revenues that reduce the burden on the taxpayer.

We are in total agreement that the available parking for the east side of Front Street can not be reduced. As you know this parking is in fact eliminated in the park plan being circulated. The density of the market driven development will determine the magnitude of additional parking required. Parking that can not be provided underground will be provided in similar fashion to the elegant way you provided it for Peabody Tower.

The Tax Increment Financing funding you suggest for paying for the removal and replacement of the existing infrastructure was presented to the City Council by the Center City Commission and soundly defeated. No one I know believes that this is even a remote possibility in the foreseeable future.

The truth is that absent a private vehicle to fund a significant portion of these costs, the existing condition of these promenade blocks will remain as is just as they have over the last 50 years.

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Monday, April 26, 2004

Jack Belz writes to the City Council

Developer Jack Belz emailed a memorandum to City Council and RDC President Benny Lendermon, expressing his reservations about the Promenade Land Use Plan. Here is the text of the memo. (Lendermon's response is reproduced at this link.)


DATE: April 26, 2004

TO: Memphis City Council

FROM: Jack Belz, Ron Belz, John Dudas

RE: Response to Benny Lendermon’s e-mail - 4/21/04: Memphis Promenade Public Realm Plan

We support the relocation of the parking garages below the Front Street grade, the construction of pedestrian bridges over Monroe and other appropriate streets, the relocation of the fire station and the adaptive reuse of the Post Office for a major public purpose like the Law School. We would like to see the development of an attractive "esplanade" along the river side of the promenade area. We would even support a limited amount of low-rise structures along the west side of Front which would contain public and possibly residential uses.

We oppose the construction of high rise structures on the west side of Front Street, which are suggested in the Cooper-Robertson plan, for the following reasons:

1. These structures would block the view of already existing properties on the east side of Front, many of which are substantially vacant and in need of new users and rehabilitation.

2. The amount of parking that would be required for new high rise construction on the west side of Front and to accommodate the existing demand for parking from occupied and unoccupied space east of Front St. would require above ground parking structures which would defeat the purpose of relocating the existing parking underground. The amount of parking spaces available for the existing properties east of Front must not be reduced or the revitalization of that area will be jeopardized.

3. The promenade and other aspects of the riverfront should primarily serve as an amenity for the developed portions of downtown and the city in general.

There is adequate vacant property east of Front to accommodate all of the commercial development which the market could absorb for at least 50 years. (If a major corporation agreed to move its headquarters to downtown Memphis only on the condition that it be allowed to develop west of Front, then this could justify considering whether to allow a building in the promenade area. A speculative office building, hotel or other non-single-user facility would not justify building west of Front). The objective of the riverfront development should not be to develop a parallel downtown but rather to provide the environment and amenities to facilitate the optimum development of the existing downtown properties.

In terms of the financing of the proposed promenade public improvements, this area should be treated as any other public project and financed in the same way as a park, or public parking garage or plaza is financed. For example, Downtown property owners have been paying a special assessment on their property for almost 30 years in order to fund Main Street and other projects through the Center City Commission. Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) is being used in Uptown and another district has been proposed for the balance of downtown in order to finance public improvements. The TIF revenues would result from the new development and renovation activities which would take place in downtown including Mud Island, the Bio Tech area and other areas within the CBID. Transferring development and rehabilitation activities from the currently built up areas of downtown to a new publicly created land area, which admittedly would have fewer obstacles for construction than the built up areas in order to create a limited amount of tax (land lease) value to fund public improvements, would retard the revitalization of Main St., 2nd St., Union etc.

The riverfront public improvements should compete on the priority list with public improvements needed in the already developed portions of downtown. It is misleading to imply that there will be no cost to the community if the promenade land was leased to private interests to build something that should be built in the already developed areas of downtown in order to fund a portion of the riverfront public improvements. If potential users are transferred from the currently developed portions of downtown to the promenade then the existing non-utilized properties will remain below their optimum value longer, which will cause blight on the surrounding properties and reduce the value and productivity of those properties. We will, in fact, be sacrificing the area east of Front for a new town west of Front.

It is also misleading to suggest that the approximate $50 million of cost, which has been floating around as an estimate associated with the promenade projects, can be financed by private development on the promenade. A $50 million bond issue would require approximately $4 million per year of revenue to amortize the debt service on the bond issue. It is unlikely that private interests could justify paying $4 million per year in land costs for the limited amount of property available on the Promenade.

Consequently, a substantial portion of the revenues for the debt service on the public improvements to the promenade would need to come from the City-wide property taxes or some other public source of funds. The proposal does not have reasonable certainty and no protection for the taxpayers that it will not simply become a transfer of this asset to private interests who are around to reap the benefits of a failed financial plan. In other words, this action could retard the revitalization of the currently developed portions of downtown and turn over a large portion of the public space overlooking the waterfront to private interests in order to raise a relatively small amount of funds for these improvements. The financing assumptions need reevaluation before the City adopts a plan based on this thesis.

Our community has only one front door and that is downtown. Our downtown has only one riverfront. The public promenade set aside by our founding fathers is the only publicly owned property on our city's high bluff that will ever exist. We must not let short term pressures override the long term best interest of our community.

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Mixed reviews for promenade riverfront plan

Memphis Business Journal
By Amos Maki

Riverfront Development Corp.'s plan to transform an area of downtown known as the public promenade is getting mixed reviews from business and political leaders.

The plan calls for reshaping the riverfront by using private development to pay for public improvements to the area. The private developments would pay for projects like a proposed two-level promenade and the relocation of parking garages -- from prime real estate with stunning river views atop the bluffs -- underground. The plan also calls for pedestrian bridges that would stretch across Monroe and Court and for improvements to sidewalks on the promenade. Grand staircases would provide access to the upper level of the pedestrian walkways.

The property now contains the old Cossitt Library, a fire station, the old Customs House and Confederate Park. The land is virtually inaccessible to most of the public and offers breathtaking views of the river. The RDC plan calls for increasing the public space by more than 60%, from 3.76 acres today to 6.03 acres.

But some residents and businesses are concerned about the projected height of two of the three buildings proposed in the promenade plan. The plan says the property would be able to sustain a 300-foot residential tower where the fire station and an All-Right parking garage now sit and a 400-foot office tower north of Confederate Park, between Jefferson and Adams.

"I've always felt like our riverfront was underutilized," says Mohamad Hakimian, managing partner of the Madison Hotel. Some views from his hotel will be obscured if the two larger, bookend buildings are constructed at 300 or 400 feet. "So having said that, I'm excited some projects are on the drawing board.

"However, I'm not fond of a couple portions of it. In particular, the high rises. Such high rises at the banks of the Mississippi River are going to block an enormous amount of views from many other buildings."

Hakimian also wonders what effect new, developable property will have on the ongoing efforts to revitalize old developments in the heart of Downtown.

"Those will become the prime locations and will discourage developers from developing many of the beautiful buildings that are Downtown that are vacant," he says.

Henry Turley, principal of Henry Turley Co., says what is there now is unacceptable and that something should be done with the property.

"We don't like the way it is currently developed," Turley says. "We think what is there now serves as a wall, a barrier, between our properties along the east side of Front and their enjoyment of the river."

Turley says he would like to see towers go up Downtown -- as long as the economy drives the development.

"I would like to see our economy and our Downtown so vital it calls for another building," he says. "It's not just something you will into existence or zone into existence. That takes a real dynamic economy."

John Dudas, vice president of Belz Enterprises, says he has some concerns about the towers because of the current availability of space.

"I would conservatively estimate that we have at least 2 million square feet of vacant building space Downtown today," he says. "If another corporate user does not relocate to Downtown Memphis, then the approximate 750,000 square feet of commercial space that is proposed in the subject towers would accomodate all of the average annual demand for office space in Downtown Memphis for a 15-year period."

Plus, Dudas says, additional parking would have to be provided for the buildings.

RDC president Benny Lendermon says the 300- and 400-foot heights are the maximum height of the proposed developments, not the predetermined size of the buildings. Lendermon says he doubts any of the buildings, especially the largest one, would be constructed to the maximum height, if it's ever built at all.

"We don't think that office tower ever gets built," he says. "There is probably a 3% chance of that tower being built."

Lendermon says the economy, not the plan, will determine the size of the developments and emphasized the RDC isn't taking the build-it-and-they-will-come approach.

"A developer will build the building based on the economic reality of what the demand is," Lendermon says. "That demand will determine which buildings go up and when they go up, as well as the height and mass of the buildings."

The promenade plan could cost as much as $50 million. Officials say work on the property would not begin until private developers sign contracts to develop the land.

"There will be signed contracts and everything before the first spade of dirt is turned," Lendermon says. "We don't think you do anything until you are well along the road of executing contracts with developers."

The promenade plan will land in front of the City Council's Public Works Committee April 27; a final vote on the project will be held May 18.

Lendermon says he thinks the RDC has enough votes on the council to win approval for the promenade plan.

City Councilman Ricky Peete, who also serves on the RDC board, agrees with Lendermon and says there is enough support for the plan on the council.

"I think there is enough support for it, but there will be serious debate," he says.
At least one council member, Jack Sammons, would like to hear more about the plan before voting on it.

"This is a generational issue and, frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if the council deferred this for a year," he says. "I'm not ready to vote and if we have to do it in the next few weeks, I'd be inclined to vote against it. I suspect there will be a lot of discussion about this in the next couple of weeks."

Turley, for one, is tired of talk.

"It just seems like a lot of talk and I'd like to see some specific developments proposed and gotten under way," he says.

But legal challenges will delay any work for at least two years. If the council approves the plan, the city must move to take control of the land. Lendermon says that could be done in a number of ways, including the city exercising its right of eminent domain.

The property was donated by the city's founding fathers for use as a public promenade. The heirs of the founders hold title to the land and they are divided on the proposal. Some support the promenade plan while others have joined a group, called Friends for Our Riverfront, that opposes it.

"We're not against development," says Virginia McLean, an Overton heir and president of Friends for Our Riverfront. "We're just against the wrong development at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Her group created an alternative plan that would turn the promenade entirely into park space at a cost of about $7 million.

"That plan would require taxpayers to finance it and the RDC plan would be paid for by development and therin lies the difference," Peete says.

Lendermon says the Friends plan is unrealistic because whether or not the land is developed or turned into park space, the cost of relocating the existing structures will remain about the same.
"You have got to replace the parking because business depends on it and you have to replace the library and fire station," he says. "Maybe the council will make our life easy and come up with this big pot of money and say 'Here's $50 million, make this into a beautiful park.' "
Hakimian hopes there will be an opportunity to tweak the plan and wonders what would happen if the council voted the plan down.

"We all should be careful not to fight it in a way that kills the project forever," he says. "But we need to ask for modifications to it. It looks like this is the only plan on the table.

"This shouldn't be the only option where we either do this or there is no plan."

Peete says he hopes the two sides can find some common ground.

"While I respect everyone's right to have an opinion, I think that too often we are so extreme in our views that we can't see the forest for the trees," he says. "I think we have the ability to compromise to do something great for Memphis. Where there is flexibility to tweak the plan, I think we are of the mind to compromise."

Copyright(c) American City Business Journals Inc.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

New, revised plans awaiting Mud Island property

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andrew Bell

On an August morning a little less than two years ago, a surprise mudslide sidetracked a developers plan that would have added single-family homes and multifamily units to the south end of Mud Island.

Now, developer Kevin Hyneman is preparing to present new plans for the 21-acre tract to the Riverfront Development Corp. He said the plans will be finalized within 90 days.

Land stable. Hyneman said a series of geotechnical studies conducted on the property following the mudslide are nearing completion. So far, the studies indicate that at least part of the land can sustain construction.

"The stability is fine," Hyneman said. Obviously, the mudslide area will never be able to be built on, but there was just no sense making any plans until we determined that we had a site we could actually build on."

Steeped in controversy. From the beginning, any talk of residential development on the property south of the Auction Avenue bridge has stirred up debate, starting with the clearing of trees.

Hyneman acknowledged the controversial nature of the property.

The site is within the scope of a 50-year Riverfront Master Plan created by New York-based Cooper, Robertson & Partners for the RDC, a nonprofit, public-private partnership formed to oversee improvements to the citys stretch of Downtown riverfront.

According to a special warranty deed filed in the Shelby County Register's Office, Kevin Hyneman Cos. bought land from Echelon Residential LLC for $2.5 million in 2001. Plans subsequently surfaced for Hyneman to sell the land to a joint venture that included Henry Turley, Jack Belz and the RDC who, in turn, announced plans to build an $18 million, 349-unit development on the property on a scale resembling the Mud Island homes north of Auction in Harbor Town.

New negotiations. The mudslide halted those arrangements, forcing Hyneman to consider new options.

"We have not talked in about three months," said RDC president Benny Lendermon of the organizations communication with Hyneman. There are still issues to be worked out.

Laura Morgan, Center City Commission director of planning and development, said the CCC also has not entertained discussion about the property's future in recent months.

Lendermon said the RDC's view for the south end of the island would target the center portion for development, reserving the propertys Mississippi River and Wolf River shorelines for park space.

"(Hyneman's) property is on the harbor side of the road," Lendermon said. The public property is on the western side of the road. Our idea was to swap properties and end up with park space on either side next to the water, and shift the development to the center and make it bigger and more significant.

"We feel like that's a better fit with what were hoping to accomplish."

Working out a compromise. Lendermon said the RDC and Hyneman were in serious discussions before the mudslide and for a period of time immediately following it.

He said although Hyneman can freely pursue any development granted approval by the city-county Office of Planning and Development, any project deemed risky by the RDC could prevent the organization from recommending the project for a potential Center City Revenue Finance Corp. tax freeze.

"The financial parts of it didnt make sense to us how he was trying to pursue it," Lendermon said. "We were trying to figure out some way to be the vehicle enabling the development to be built on the center of the island with green space on either side. We still think thats best way.

"We are out to ensure that the financial deal makes sense for the public entity to be involved, and at its last point, we didn't think it did."

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Monday, March 12, 2001

A Not So Crazy Plan

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

Is the Riverfront Development Foundation (RDC) just tossing out oddball ideas and blowing $750,000 or so in consulting fees?

That's what some downtown veterans were saying after the first round of public hearings in January where a slew of proposals came out. Wary of alarming anyone, the commission's consultants have themselves been models of go-slow diplomacy.

"This session was specifically meant to provoke people," says Brian Shea, who is leading the planning team. "It's not that we're personally pushing any of these crazy notions."

Crazy or not, ideas include housing on Tom Lee Park, a museum and/or dam spanning the Wolf River, commercial and residential development of Mud Island River Park, taking traffic off of Riverside Drive or rerouting it, and making Memphis in May a street festival instead of a Tom Lee Park festival.

The RDC won't do all of it, of course, but it may well do more rather than less and do it sooner rather than later. For one thing, it's been blessed by Mayor Willie Herenton and the Memphis City Council with the powers of the Memphis Park Commission, at least on the riverfront. Competition from Tunica casinos and fast-track suburban development lend a sense of urgency to the effort. And the RDC combines the 24-year government savvy of former Public Works director Benny Lendermon with the energy and confidence of people like AutoZone Park patron Kristi Jernigan and Morgan Keegan vice president John Stokes. None of the riverfront ideas is any "crazier" than building a $72-million downtown baseball stadium in two years without public financing.

What is most likely to change? Here's a look at the big pieces.

o Mud Island River Park: For whatever reason - the name, the limited season, the admission charge, the lack of excitement - the overriding fact is that not many people go there.

"It is a given that Mud Island River Park ought to go through a major transformation," says Lendermon.

Look for a private developer to get involved, or at least something that blurs the lines between public and private. Developer Henry Turley and architect Frank Ricks have toyed with plans for an executive conference center with a nine-hole golf course, ferris wheel, water taxi service, and residential development.

"Private space can also be public space," Turley notes. "Look at the lobby of The Peabody."

Roy Harrover, the architect of the $62 million park, would like to see it stay pretty much the way it is. He acknowledges, however, that the river museum is all but forgotten, the signature River Terrace restaurant has struggled to stay open, and the overall park is "not really what it was in-tended to be," which was a free, open-spaces park such as Overton Park or Audubon Park.....

"I think any developer would love to get his hands on Mud Island," says Harrover. "But I think it is public property and should be retained as such."

In January the RDC took over management of the park for six months. The agreement is a forerunner to long-term changes in this attractive white elephant.

o The Overton Blocks: Also known as The Promenade, the west side of Front Street between Union and Poplar features a fire station, parking garages, a library that often serves as a day shelter for the homeless, a gargantuan post office, Confederate Park, and the entrance to Mud Island River Park. Public use is dictated by the dedication of city founder John Overton.

This issue sharply divides planners and the Old Guard. Developer Robert Snowden warns that current residents and tenants on Front Street "are going to raise holy hell if you block their view of the river." And Harrover, who has seen several ambitious master plans for downtown over the last 40 years wind up on the shelf, says the Overton Blocks are probably untouchable.

"The two parking garages can probably be cleaned up but I seriously doubt that the federal government is going to give up the Post Office," Harrover says.

Is that sufficient reason to accept such a motley assortment of public uses?

"As it stands now, the Overton heirs get nothing, the city gets nothing, and the public gets nothing," says Turley, who would like to see the property pieced out for development proposals if an agreement can be reached with the heirs of the founding families.

Bottom line: a potential legal quagmire, but money talks.

o Riverside Drive: Was there ever an urban planning consultant who didn't demonize the automobile and praise the virtues of trolleys, trains, and buses? Never mind that we like our cars, we like driving them, and - except in big cities - just about anyone who can afford one prefers it to public transportation.

The RDC's planning team talks about knocking down expressway ramps to Riverside Drive, putting more traffic on Second and Third Streets, and turning the trolley from a "tourist toy" into a real transportation system. Others want to reduce traffic on Riverside Drive from four lanes to two or somehow slow drivers to a pedestrian-friendly 35 miles an hour or so.

"The problem with the riverfront is too many barriers and not enough attractions," says Turley. "Right now Riverside Drive functions pretty much as an expressway."

For every Memphian lucky enough to have a river view at home or work there are thousands more who enjoy the river through the windshield of their cars. Riverside Drive is our little river fix, the most scenic drive in Memphis, with a show that changes daily. It's also a vital and convenient access to The Pyramid and Peabody Place.

"Diverting traffic from Riverside Drive is an awful proposal which needs to be pro-tested," says Peabody Place developer (and Turley's partner) Jack Belz. "It will undoubtedly cause a traffic disaster because Second and Third streets are already limited in width and traffic will increase enormously when we open our retail and entertainment complex."

A possible compromise: lower speed limits, and construct a boulevard or traffic islands.

o Tom Lee Park: It was expanded by several acres 10 years ago, courtesy of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Then the city choked and built a passive park starkly devoid of shade, fun, and imagination. Memphis in May claims it for two months and turns the grass brown or worse for at least one more before the heat gets serious. In recent years, the parking lot has become a favorite weekend cruising site for cars and motorcycles, to the dismay of some Blufftop residents.

"We're totally convinced Tom Lee can't stay the way it is," says Lendermon. "If it re-mains a park then we have to go in there and add amenities and appropriate vegetation. Maybe we tried a little too hard to accommodate Memphis in May. For the other 11 months of the year we have to end up with something that is of more benefit to the citizens of Memphis."

Planner Catherine Damon says developing Tom Lee residentially could provide money to do other things, but realistically "you can't take a park without giving a park somewhere else." In a way, however, the city has done just that. Greenbelt Park on the north end of Mud Island across from Harbor Town has a nearly two-mile sidewalk and acres of vacant land. Sometimes it floods in the spring, but more often it's a place where you can actually walk right down to the cottonwood trees and throw a rock into the river.

o Wolf River Harbor. Options include leaving it alone, closing it off at the foot of Beale Street, or closing it off closer to Harbor Town to create a lake. There is a grand gulf between proponents and opponents and laymen and experts on this one.

Some people who have seriously studied the proposal say it makes little sense. Landscape architect Ritchie Smith, who designed the Bluffwalk, says a dam at the entrance to the Wolf River would have to be so high that it would spoil the view of the river looking north.

Harrover calls the idea of a lake "absurd in any of its forms." The two marinas inside the harbor (which use floating docks because of the 40-foot rise and fall of the river) need river access either at the mouth of the harbor or via a new channel cut at the north end, and, in his opinion, that pretty much rules out a slack water lake.

Belz, however, likes the idea of an enclosure from Beale Street to Mud Island.

"The amount of water impounded would be about 40 acres," he says. "I think that would give us a stillwater lake comparable to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. It would create a tremendous amount more usage of Mud Island and allow that island to literally be an extension of our main part of downtown."

He scoffs at suggestions that it can't be done.

"Those revetments on the west side of the river were built by the Corps of Engineers, not by God," he says. "That's the same kind of thing that could come straight out here and create the closure we're talking about. You have to open another access to the Wolf River Harbor to serve industrial companies and the marinas. The dirt that comes out of that could be well used in raising the level of the island."

o Cost factors: The RDC wants business leases to support the construction of public infrastructure.

"We're not going to the taxpayers to say we want $100 million to transform our riverfront and then have to increase taxes," Lendermon says. "So basically the three opportunities to generate private dollars are parts of the public property on Mud Island, the Overton Blocks, or Tom Lee Park."

The next round of public hearings in February will focus more on feasibility, cost, and level of public support. For now, anything's still possible.

"If you ask each person on our executive committee where they think this is going to end up," Lendermon says, "you probably wouldn't get the same answer twice."

[This story originally appeared in the February issue of Memphis magazine.]

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc.

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Thursday, October 08, 1998

Downtown Projects Uncover a Stream of History

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

A major stream that was once a defining feature of Memphis percolates largely unseen through a honeycomb of culverts, bridges and tunnels deep beneath downtown.

But now, thanks to a recent surge in downtown development, Bayou Gayoso is forgotten no more.

"All the sudden, it's a popular topic," said Cindy Buchanan, deputy public works director for the city.

City engineers and private developers have been rediscovering the bayou as they prepare for projects ranging from the $11.5 million Gibson Guitar Corp. plant to the $46 million downtown baseball stadium. In certain areas, culverts and bridges over the stream must be fixed or replaced.

Currently, crews are wrapping up work on replacing a bridge beneath Poplar, just west of Thomas, that few motorists passing over it probably even knew existed.

Originally constructed over the bayou around the time of World War I, the concrete span was rebuilt several times, including work to accommodate streetcars, and eventually covered over in pavement. But recent inspections showed cracks in the beams of the span that could have threatened the roadway above.

Under a $190,000 project nearing completion, the city is replacing the bridge with a 10-by-10-foot culvert. "The Poplar bridge was one of the few left," said John E. Cameron, the city's civil design engineer.

The troubles with the span were uncovered in a comprehensive inspection - the first in perhaps two decades - conducted all along the bayou about a year ago. One of the factors prompting the inspection, in which engineers ventured into aging subterranean passageways, was the spate of projects planned in the downtown area.

"There was a lot of development that we could foresee impacting the bayou in on form or fashion," said Wain Gaskins, city administrator of transportation planning and design.

The projects include The Peabody Place retail center to be built between Second and Third, the Gibson Guitar plant south of Beale, AutoZone Park near Union and Fourth, and the downtown school planned near Madison and Thomas.

For The Peabody Place project, the city is negotiating with developer Belz Enterprises on ways to "build around the bayou," Cameron said.

At the Gibson site, part of the culvert containing the bayou had to be replaced before plant construction began.

The city, as a contribution to the ballpark project, replaced some 200 feet of culvert over the bayou south of Monroe. A nearby concrete arch bridge beneath Monroe, which was built over the stream a century ago, probably will need repairs or replacement, depending on development plans adjacent to the stadium, Cameron said.

The city also is looking at replacing part of the culvert that lies beneath what will be the playground for the planned school downtown, he said.

The new projects are focusing attention on a stream that long ago was a major feature of the local landscape.

Bayou Gayoso, named for a Spanish governor who landed in the area in the 1790s, formed the eastern boundary of Memphis when the city was laid out in 1819 and drained the area behind the bluffs lining the Mississippi River.

Originating near the present site of Walker Avenue, the bayou flowed north into the general area of where Thomas now runs before angling northwest into the old channel of the Wolf River near Greenlaw.

According to some early accounts, the bayou spread out into a large lake known as Catfish Bay, near the present Second Street, where travelers on the Mississippi found safe anchorage and good fishing.

As Memphis grew, property owners began digging out the channel and reinforcing the stream bank with brick and concrete.

"As development moved east, buildings were built on top of it, straddling it," Cameron said.

The bayou still presented a major flood threat, however, whenever the Mississippi rose and backed its waters into the channel. In 1912, for instance, floodwaters from the bayou backed up a half-mile into Memphis.

During the years that followed, engineers tinkered with drainage patterns and diverted two-thirds of the bayou's flow into huge circular tunnels leading to the Mississippi River. To prevent backwater flooding, the mouth of the bayou was sealed and a pumping station was built to lift water into the Wolf.

The tunnels, bored more than 50 feet beneath the bluffs, still carry stormwater into the river. The recent inspections showed the 80-year-old tunnels, called interceptors, were sound, Cameron said.

"For their age, they're in very good shape," he said.

Today, the diminished bayou can be seen at ground surface in only a few stretches, most prominently north of Auction near the pumping station.

Forgotten Stream
Bayou Gayoso, also called Gayoso Creek, once formed the eastern boundary of Memphis as shown on this original plan for the city. Today, it mostly flows through underground culvert, bridges and pipes.

Copyright (c) 1998 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, June 17, 1998

Sidebar: Small World: The Downtown Daisy Chain ... Or Zero Degrees of Separation

Eliminating conflicts of interest downtown is easier said than done.

Memphis Flyer [link to original]
by John Branston

(See also main article: Stormy Times for the Rainmaker)

The problem: Almost everyone’s an insider, not to mention neighbor, drinking buddy, spouse, customer, partner, tenant, or employer of some other insider.

Downtown Memphis is basically an overgrown small town where, like Mayberry’s Andy Griffith, the players wear lots of different hats. Or, some say, a “Downtown Mafia.” The media, real estate firms, developers, and public relations firms are key links in the downtown daisy chain, and the same names show up again and again. This is one reason such a fuss is made when new faces appear, such as Dean and Kristi Jernigan.

By their nature, boards of directors are stocked with people who can raise money, provide expertise, bring in new business, and do favors as well as offer wise, independent counsel. And contracts tend to go to the same well-known, well-qualified firms with proven track records.

You can’t tell the players without a program. We offer Zero Degrees of Separation, a by-no-means comprehensive list.
– John Branston

Looney Ricks Kiss
Downtown architectural firm, credits include Harbor Town, AutoZone headquarters, baseball stadium, downtown school. Also did work on Armentrout’s Harbor Town home which he billed to CCC. Frank Ricks is on CCC Development Corp. board.

Pat Halloran
President of Memphis Development Foundation, runs the Orpheum. Former chairman of executive committee of CVB. Former City Council colleague of Jeff Sanford. Blufftop homeowner.

Kevin Kane
Head of Convention and Visitors Bureau. On boards of Memphis Development Foundation, Sports Authority. Co-owner of Blues City Cafe on Beale Street. Blufftop homeowner.

Contemporary Media
Publisher of Memphis magazine and The Memphis Flyer. Also produces CVB Visitors Guide. Ownership group includes Turley, Belz, and Archer. Coproduced special downtown issue of Memphis with CCC. Blufftop office.

Deborah Clubb
Commercial Appeal reporter, wrote conflict-of-interest stories that led to Armentrout’s resignation. Married to former CA executive editor David Wayne Brown, now partner in Conaway Brown downtown ad agency.

Ron Walter
CCC board member, cast key vote to reject Armentrout’s buyout package. Operations manager at WREG-TV Channel 3. Blufftop office.

Front Street architectural firm, jobs include trolley mall, Peabody Place, Tennessee Welcome Center, train station renovation, Fire Museum, Crump Building. Greg Hnedak is on CCC Design Review Board, Kirk Bobo is on CCC Development Corp. board. Both Harbor Town residents.

Pat Tigrett
Organized Blues Ball and Bridge Lighting. Husband John is father of The Pyramid.

Kim Hindrew
Channel 5 anchor. Board member of Memphis Development Foundation. Married to Mason Granger who also has served on downtown boards and had contract to sell trolley sponsorships. Wedding at Tigrett’s penthouse.

John Dudas
Former head of CCC, now works for Belz Enterprises, mainly on Peabody Place.

Jack Belz
Developer of The Peabody, Peabody Place, South Bluffs and Harbor Town. On board of Contemporary Media.

Ward Archer
Head of Archer Malmo Advertising, clients include CVB and Belz Enterprises, on board of Contemporary Media. Recently sold Memphis Business Journal. Moved Memphis Belle to Mud Island.

Henry Turley
Developer of South Bluffs, Harbor Town, and Union Commons. On board of Contemporary Media. Adviser to Armentrout. Political contributor to Herenton and Rout. Blufftop home.

John Elkington
Developer of Beale Street, head of Performa Real Estate. Partner at Performa is Paul Gurley, former city division director, who complained about CCC insider deal with Henry Turley.

Carol Coletta
Public relations specialist for Gibson Guitars/Smithsonian exhibit and others, downtown resident and investor, married to architect John Montgomery who also has CCC contracts.

Norman Brewer
Commentator for Channel 3. Partner of Jeff Sanford in consulting business. Former head of Downtown Association and editorial writer for the CA, wrote book about breakup of his marriage to Carol Coletta.

Cynthia Ham
Head of public relations for Archer Malmo Advertising. Former head of Memphis in May. Also ran or helped run Mud Island and Beale Street. Owns blufftop lot.

Jeff Sanford
Interim successor to Armentrout. Go-to guy when downtown needs an interim leader. Former interim head of Memphis in May and Convention and Visitors Bureau. Married to Cynthia Ham, former head of MIM. Partner with Norm Brewer in consulting business. Consults for CVB.

Rick Masson
City of Memphis CAO, finance expert, and holdover from Hackett administration. Herenton’s chief liaison with CCC and county government.

Shep Wilbun
Shelby County Commission member, downtown resident, CCC board member, has developed buildings on South Main. Urged CCC to make problems public, voted against buyout.

Tom Jones
Head of public affairs for Shelby County government. Board member of CCC and CVB and MIM, liaison with city government. Helped hammer out Armentrout’s resignation and buyout package.

Earl Blankenship
Head of real estate firm, chairman of CCC. Has office and leases space in Peabody Place. Signed Armentrout’s contract.

Pitt Hyde
Recently retired as top man at AutoZone, downtown’s biggest corporate catch of 1990s and title sponsor of new ballpark. Headquarters is key part of Peabody Place. Patron of Civil Rights Museum.

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Thursday, September 05, 1996

City floats downtown lake plan; Dam would link Mud Island to Beale

Commercial Appeal
by Cornell Christion

City officials are considering converting part of the Memphis Harbor into a 28-acre lake enclosed by dams or "land bridges" linking Mud Island to Beale Street and the Interstate 40 Welcome Center.

The plan also calls for filling in the southern end of the island for development and connecting a two-story, floating riverboat mooring facility to one of the two dams.

A boat channel would be built north of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge to provide Mississippi River access to the section of the harbor that would not be part of the new lake.

The proposal, estimated to cost $25 million to $30 million, is aimed partly at making Mud Island an integral component of the city's riverfront development efforts.

The plan would replace an earlier proposal that did not call for improvements designed to help the struggling river park. Unveiled last summer, the original proposal was expected to carry an $11 million price tag. It did not include creating a recreational lake or further developing Mud Island.

''This project is a proposal which I am considering and still investigating as a concept,'' said Mayor W.W. Herenton. ''In the very near future, we will conduct a feasibility study to determine whether this concept can become reality. We will be seeking input from diverse community groups to determine their views on this project.''

The new proposal was designed by Hnedak Bobo Group architects and PDR Engineers. It grew out of concerns that the original plan was lacking because it ignored Mud Island.

The original plan called for restoring and stabilizing the historic cobblestones along the riverfront and building a walkway connecting the I-40 welcome center to Tom Lee Park. The plan also envisioned floating shops and restaurants atop barges permanently moored to the riverbank near the base of the cobblestones, along with docking facilities for big passenger riverboats.

The new plan would move the docking facility and most of the proposed commercial establishments. The docking or mooring facility would be on a barge platform on the south side of the dam connecting Mud Island to Beale Street.

The dam would accommodate pedestrian and vehicular access, allowing shuttle vehicles to pick up and drop off riverboat passengers.

The floating shops and restaurants would be replaced with land-based establishments in a ''village'' on Mud Island under the new proposal. Roughly 10 acres would be filled immediately south of the river park. Private developers would be sought for using the land for restaurants, shops, lodging or other commercial purposes.

Greg Hnedak, principal in the Hnedak Bobo firm, said the initial proposal raised doubts about whether floating shops and restaurants would work at the base of the cobblestones.
His firm designed the original cobblestone restoration project for the city.

"Knowing that (it would be) behind Mud Island, that you'll never see a sunset, that there's a considerable amount of mud left on the cobblestones every time the water fluctuates, we had a hard time really visualizing how a developer is going to say, 'Sure, I'll put $5 (million) to $10 million into this looking at those kinds of issues,' " Hnedak said.

"So that began to make us want to rethink it a little bit and then look at the potential of maybe doing something for Mud Island that might help it become more economically feasible."

Mud Island, a 52-acre city-owned river park that cost $63 million, has been a consistent money-loser since it opened in 1982. Officials think the new riverfront development plan would help turn that around.

"In order for the citizens of Memphis to get an adequate return on their investment in Mud Island," Herenton said, "we have to be creative and connect Mud Island with any existing or expanding amenities that will enhance its economic returns and promote tourism."

Funding could be a major hurdle for the new proposal. The state appropriated $7 million this year to help complete the city's initial riverfront development proposal.

Herenton said the city may turn to the state for more help if it decides to pursue the new plan.

"Let's put it this way, we're going to investigate all funding opportunities, which includes federal, state, local and private financing as well," Herenton said.

An analysis of the "costs and sources of revenue" for financing the new proposal, Herenton said, will be part of the planned feasibility study.

Other possible hurdles for the proposal include finding a developer for the land to be filled on Mud Island and satisfying permits, navigation and other concerns of federal agencies such as the Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard.

Donald Dunn, chief of planning for the Corps of Engineers' Memphis office, said local corps officials are scheduled to meet with city administrators late this week or early next week to discuss the proposal. He said he was not familiar with details of the plan.

Formal proposals or informal letters of interest will soon be sought from major developers across the country who might be interested in the project, Herenton said, including Gaylord Entertainment of Nashville, which owns Opryland, and Memphis-based Belz Enterprises.

Benny Lendermon, city public works director, said the city is still exploring the technical feasibility of the proposal.

Lendermon said the proposal will be presented to riverboat excursion lines, tugboat captains, a historic preservation group interested in the cobblestones and others who would be affected.

Among other advantages, the new proposal would reduce the amount of work needed for restoring the cobblestones and close a harbor opening thought to be too narrow to handle heavy traffic during low water.

A pumping system would be installed to maintain a steady water level in the new lake, which would be relatively clear.

"Once you slow down that water and the silt settles out of it, it would get as clear as any lake. . . . The only reason that water stays muddy in the Mississippi is because it's moving," Lendermon said.

That took much explaining to convince a skeptical Herenton during discussions about the new proposal.

"I could just hear the cynics saying, 'There goes Herenton, talking about making the muddy Mississippi blue,' " the mayor said and laughed.

Caption: Staff Riverfront Concept Dams would be built to link Mud Island to Beale Street and the Interstate 40 Welcome Center under a proposal being considered by Mayor W.W. Herenton. The plan calls for developing the southern tip of Mud Island and turning part of the Memphis Harbor into a 28-acre recreational lake.

Figure: Proposed Riverfront Development. Rendering by Hnedak Bobo Group. (Click to enlarge.)

Click to enlarge

Copyright (c) 1996 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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