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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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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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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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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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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Friday, December 01, 1995

Memphis Landing Cultural Resource Assessment and Preservation Plan

In accordance with its May 2, 1995 Memorandum of Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers and SHPO, the City of Memphis sponsored the development of a Cultural Resource Assessment and a Preservation Plan for the historically protected Memphis Landing, a.k.a. the Cobblestone Landing. Click "complete article" below to obtain a copy of the Preservation Plan.

(Part 1, the Cultural Resource Assessment, is not currently posted here.)

Click here to download Part 2, the Memphis Landing Preservation Plan (PDF, 68 pages, 20.8 MB). Or, click here for a slightly more compact (17.6 MB) version compatible with Adobe Reader version 6 or later.

Click here to download the Memorandum of Agreement (PDF, 7 pages, 2 MB). Or, click here for a slightly more compact version compatible with Adobe Acrobat Reader version 6 or later.

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Sunday, June 18, 1995

Memphis harbors grand plan for port; Cobblestones anchor Wolf center

Commercial Appeal
by Cindy Wolf

Mayor W. W. Herenton plans to present City Council committees Tuesday with an $8.3 million proposal that would transform the Wolf River Harbor into a major tourist attraction and a retail center as the city prepares to enter the 21st Century.

The sweeping proposal could make Memphis a port city for the largest steamboat in the country, the American Queen. Details of the plan were discussed last week with several council committee chairmen in preparation for Tuesday's formal presentation to three council committees.

The plan includes a $350,000 contribution by First Tennessee Bank for an overlook plaza at the foot of Union Avenue. It would pay tribute to Ron Terry, the chairman of First Tennessee National Corp., who plans to retire at the end of the year.

Delta Queen Steamship Co. officials said they would consider Memphis for a port city if the docking situation is improved.

The New Orleans-based company's two other boats - the Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen - average 13 turnarounds in Memphis a year. ''Turnaround'' means when the ship ends a cruise and spends the day preparing for its next group of passengers.

If approved, construction would begin within a few months on the first phase - the overlook plaza and the walkways. The development is expected to be completed by 1998 or 1999.

Riverfront development would be done in four phases:

-- Phase One: Development of the Ron Terry tribute overlook, a cobblestone walkway to connect the overlook to the new visitors center.

-- Phase Two: Walkway completion from the overlook, south to Beale and Tom Lee Park. It would be built along the top edge of the cobblestones.

-- Phase Three: Cobblestone restoration, starting in 1997.

-- Phase Four: City will secure three stationary barges that would provide up to 84,000 square feet for retail stores and restaurants. The city would develop the infrastructure for the retail once it has a private developer to build out the space for individual tenants.

The riverfront development proposal is a result of more than 1 1/2 years of planning, said Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb, who will explain the details of the proposal to council members.

"We needed a catalyst to get this thing started," Lipscomb said. "First Tennessee's commitment and Delta Steamship's interest in making this a turnaround city for the American Queen, I believe, are the catalysts."

Ralph Horn, president and chief executive officer of First Tennessee National Corp., said the bank spent about a year looking for a way to pay tribute to Terry in relation to what he has done for downtown Memphis, and public/private partnerships with which he has been involved.

"It seemed like a fitting tribute because of the historical aspects of the cobblestones and the river," Horn said. "Also, it seemed to be the catalyst to get the whole riverfront development going, so I think it fit real well with what we were trying to do for Ron."

Lipscomb said several cities including Baltimore, New Orleans, Covington, Ky., and St. Louis were looked at before the Memphis plan was developed.

"We wanted to create a type of boardwalk atmosphere with restaurants, shops, kind of have a feel of a mall where visitors can see the skyline at the same time,'' Lipscomb said. "If they can do it in New Orleans and in Covington, Ky., we can do it in Memphis. We'll make it the greatest city in the South."

The plan allocates $3 million from federal and city funds for restoration of the cobblestones, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Instead of removing them, they would be repaired and a retaining wall would be built.

The cobblestones have been a stumbling block for Delta Queen's large cruise steamships to come to Memphis because of the lack of docking facilities.

During their average 13 visits a year, the steamboats let passengers disembark to tour the city while the boats receive provisions, fuel and services. Those stops generate about $1.1 million for the local economy, not counting passenger spending.

The company said it would consider making Memphis a port city, which means it would book tours that begin and end here.

Last Wednesday, the company brought its new American Queen to Memphis for a one-day stop. The American Queen is the largest steamship in the country. It is 418 feet long and 90 feet wide and can carry about 436 passengers in 222 cabins. The ship had to back down the river from the cobblestones Wednesday and tie up to some trees in Tom Lee Park because of the rise in the Mississippi River.

"We would book tours and fly people into and out of Memphis," said Tracy Alleman, manager of media relations for the steamship company. "We book a lot of elderly passengers, and right now the cobblestones are a little difficult for them to walk up and down."

It would be a great way for travel agents to tie in the planned Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to take a two- or three-day tour along the Mississippi, said Chuck Curtis, president of A&I Travel Service Inc.

Also, the boats work with conventions in offering pre- and post-convention cruises that also serve as the transportation to and from the convention.

The city plans to apply for $700,000 in Interstate Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds. Later, Lipscomb will ask the City Council to approve $700,000 in Capital Improvement Program funds.

The ISTEA funds are collected through federal tax dollars and allocated to states to find alternative transportation methods to cars.

Half of the money would be supplied through federal sources. The other $4.4 million would come from ISTEA, Capital Improvement funds, Community Development Block Grants, $350,000 from First Tennessee and at least $500,000 from the sale of vacant land behind the Beale Street Historic District.

"We promised people at the time when we voted on the bluff walkway that we would ask for more federal dollars to continue that walkway," City Councilman Barbara Sonnenburg said. "The whole project will be a real drawing card for the city."

Caption:An $8.3 million plan to develop the Wolf River Harbor, shown here in an artist's rendering from Ritchie Smith Associates, would make Memphis a port city for the American Queen, the largest U.S. steamboat. The plan allocates funds for restoration of the cobblestones, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Copyright 1995 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Tuesday, May 02, 1995

Memorandum of Agreement regarding Cobblestones

On this date, the Army Corps of Engineers executed a Memorandum of Agreement with the City of Memphis and Tennessee's State Historic Preservation Organization (SHPO), requiring the City to perform a cultural resource study and preservation plan for the cobblestones area, prior to doing any further excavation and development work in the area. (In September 1994, the Corps of Engineers had stopped the City, after discovering that the city engineers had begun removing the cobblestones in the vicinity of the proposed Tom Lee memorial at the foot of Beale.) The copy of the Memorandum can be obtained below.

Click here to download a copy of the Memorandum of Agreement (PDF, 7 pages, 2 MB).

Click here for the same document in a slightly more compact version, compatible with Adobe reader/Acrobat versions 6 or later (PDF, 7 pages, 1.7 MB)

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