Sunday, September 07, 2003

Paddlewheels Turning on Riverfront Changes - New Uses Sought for Front St. Bluffs

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Memphis's riverfront makeover is more than a plan: It's happening.

In seven weeks a national jury will choose a final design for a $20 million Beale Street Landing.

Meanwhile, the Riverfront Development Corp. is launching public meetings to plot new uses for the city's prime Front Street blufftop.

Last week a prestigious panel of national experts in real estate and urban development gave a positive review to the massive plan guiding the RDC's work.

And blueprints are being drawn that would transform Front Street's historic U.S. Customs House and Post Office into a new University of Memphis law school.

"It's wonderful to see people committed to their city," said Wayne Ratkovich, the California urban developer who headed an Urban Land Institute advisory panel that reviewed the RDC's master plan. "It's a grand plan. It's very well done. . . . Work toward it."

The ULI panel rechecked the numbers and assumptions in the $750,000 master plan and pondered the sense of a proposed land bridge that would connect downtown to Mud Island from Court to Poplar.

The panel also recommended what should be done first and how to keep riverfront work moving.

"Among things we heard was there's a lot of agreement with the plan, but it seemed to be in someone else's lifetime," said Ratkovich, whose team interviewed 74 Memphians plus RDC staff during an intensive week here in March.

The riverfront master plan, completed in January 2002 after 18 months of study, public meetings and consultants' analysis, was introduced as a 50-year vision that would cost more than $292 million and spur $1.3 billion in private real estate investment downtown.

Ratkovich's ULI panel urged continued Main Street revitalization, improved downtown parking and other elements outside the RDC's mission as "good building blocks" for the riverfront plan.

The panel said the RDC should begin steps toward future creation of the massive land bridge, but added that the new real estate "will be appropriate only after the city's existing land has been redeveloped."

The top priority should be the promenade blocks, according to the Urban Land Institute report.

"What happens there determines whether we're going to be successful," RDC chairman John Stokes said Wednesday. "We'll never get to the land bridge without the promenade."

Getting there involves a complex legal question because of potential claims by hundreds of descendants of the city's founders, known commonly as the Overton heirs. The founders dedicated the property for public use in 1828.

Key to any new uses will be the interpretation of "public use."

The ULI report says the power of eminent domain is "critical to the success" of a project like the riverfront makeover.

The RDC, a nonprofit established to manage and oversee redevelopment of Memphis's miles-long riverfront, has decided to figure out the likely best new uses for the promenade's blocks, then seek approval from the heirs or court action to take the property.

The land use planning starts Wednesday with a walk from the Memphis Fire Department headquarters at Union and Front to Adams and back. Ideas will be further discussed at two public meetings in the fall.

Architect Lee Askew has prepared drawings that would revive the Customs House, with some new space added to the rear loading dock for a possible move by the U of M's Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

The Riverfront Development Corp. is working with lawmakers on legislation that would direct the Postal Service to talk with the city about relocating, which would allow the property to revert to the city and possible use by the university, said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the urban design and planning agency that headed the master plan team, will create the promenade redevelopment plan for $80,000 plus expenses. The New York firm won the contract over Memphis firms Hnedak Bobo and Looney Ricks Kiss.

The riverfront development agency's strategic financing committee will incorporate recommendations from the ULI study, Lendermon said.

Rob Carter, FedEx Corp. executive vice president and chief information officer, and Tom Morgan, Trammell Crow area director, head the committee.

Morgan, a commercial real estate specialist, developed hotels and casinos for two decades. He sees a combination of public and political support and control of land that positions Memphis for success.

"Unlike many of the cities that I have seen and deals I've participated in across the country in redevelopment projects, the city of Memphis/RDC controls a substantial amount of land along the riverfront," Morgan said.

"This land along Front Street, up on the bluff, with these commanding views of the river are just spectacularly positioned real estate that I believe will have a great deal of interest for projects that will serve the public purpose."

With no official marketing, one major developer has come to see the site, Morgan said, and he anticipates an "intense competition for these very valuable opportunities."

Formed in 2000 at the urging of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, the RDC is negotiating with city attorneys the terms of a contract that would establish the corporation's authority over redevelopment as it pursues the master plan.

The city granted contracts to the nonprofit group in 2001 to manage Mud Island River Park and everything on public land near the river.

With a lean staff topped by two former public works directors, the corporation relies on board-member expertise for legal, political, financial and real estate issues.

On Oct. 29 Herenton will join RDC vice chairman Kristi Jernigan and board member Dianne Dixon on a national jury to select the winner among five international entries for a landmark structure to rise at the foot of Beale Street.

RDC officials intend to begin construction on that winning design in fall 2004.

About $45 million in federal and state grants and city capital funds are committed to future riverfront improvements and the corporation will seek private investment and revenue via ground leases or air rights.

-- What: Walking tour of the blufftop blocks known as the "promenade" to prepare for public discussion of new uses for the land
-- Where: From Memphis Fire Department headquarters, at Front and Union, north to Adams and back
-- When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
-- Highlights: Along the five blocks, walkers can jot comments about how best to use the property, which will be used at future public discussions about the promenade land use plan.
-- Sponsor: Riverfront Development Corp.
-- For information: 312-9190
- Deborah M. Clubb: 529-2351

Caption:By Alan Spearman Development plans south of The Pyramid include construction of pedestrian and land bridges, and the Beale Street Landing project.

CAPTION: John W. Stokes Jr., Kristi W. Jernigan, Sally Palmer Thomason, Burnetta B. Williams, John M. Farris, Bill Taylor, Dr. James C. Hunt, John Pontius, Rob Carter, Tom Morgan, Pete Aviotti

CAPTION: By Jason R. Terrell Remaking the riverfront The Riverfront Development Corp.'s master plan describes changes and improvements for the Memphis waterfront from the north end of Mud Island to Chickasaw Heritage Park on the south. Some are as small as improved lighting and seating at Martyr's Park or new artistic gates at Tom Lee Park. Others, if achieved, will require millions of dollars and years of effort. The RDC's major projects (see inset): A.

Beale Street Landing Docking system and "grand civic space" with small retail/commercial component. Final selection in international design competition is Oct. 29. Cost estimate: $20 million*

Construction: Fall 2004 to fall 2006 B. Tom Lee Park Improvements to allow better casual use and more effective use by large festivals such as Memphis in May and the Stone Soul Picnic. Cost estimate: $5 million*

Construction: 2005-2006 C. Cobblestone landing Restoration to preserve the historic cobbles and make the landing more accessible and user-friendly. Cost estimate: $4.5 million*

Construction: 2005-2007 D. Riverwalk: Fill gaps in the 12-mile walkway for pedestrians, joggers and others. Cost estimate: $5 million*

Construction: Ongoing E. Promenade (green area) Blufftop property along Front Street to be redeveloped to higher uses preserving public access to the riverfront and its views. Cost estimate: To be determined by land use plans derived from upcoming public meetings

Construction: 2003-2010 F. Riverwalk esplanade "Boardwalk" on the western edge of the Promenade with links to the rejuvenated Cobblestone Landing. Cost estimate: $6 million*

Construction: 2007-2008 G. Land bridge New real estate that connects downtown to the Mississippi River and extends streets into Mud Island, creating a new 2-mile lake, smaller harbor and amphitheater-style gathering place. Cost estimate: $122 million*

Construction: 2009-2013 H. Pedestrian bridge Connection from Union Avenue to Mud Island and the river's edge. Cost estimate: $5.3 million*

Construction: 2011-2012 I. Point Park Landscaped and terraced public place at the southern tip of Mud Island that reshapes Mud Island River Park and includes the park's scale model of the Mississippi River. Cost estimate: $36.5 million*

Construction: 2012-2013

* The cost estimates are capital costs only. Some estimates have been revised since the printing of the Master Plan. Source: Memphis Riverfront Master Plan, Riverfront Development Corp. staff CAPTION: By Jason R. Terrell

RDC Executive Committee members
John W. Stokes Jr., Chairman; Morgan Keegan
Kristi W. Jernigan, Vice chairman; Memphis Redbirds Foundation
Sally Palmer Thomason, PhD, Secretary; Retired
Burnetta B. Williams, Treasurer; FedEx Corp.
John M. Farris, Asst. Secretary; Farris, Mathews, Branan, Bobango & Hellen PLC
Bill Taylor, Asst. Treasurer; Tennessee Valley Authority
Dr. James C. Hunt Board member UT, retired
John Pontius, Board member; Pittco Management
Rob Carter, Board member; FedEx Corp.
Tom Morgan, Board member; Trammell Crow
Pete Aviotti, Ex Officio; City of Memphis

Other RDC board members
Dianne Dixon, Clark Dixon, architects
Greg Duckett, Baptist Memorial Health Care
Herman Ewing, Retired
Lucia Gilliland, Community activist
Barbara Hyde, Hyde Family Foundations
Derrick D. Joyce, A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc.
Rick Masson, Plough Foundation
Angus McEachran, Retired
Cybill Shepherd, Actress
Pat Kerr Tigrett Pat Kerr Inc.
Jerry West, Memphis Grizzlies
Keith McGee, Ex Officio City of Memphis CAO
Rickey Peete, Ex Officio Memphis City Council

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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Court Fight Looms Over Riverfront Land

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

The nonprofit agency charged with reshaping the Memphis riverfront is prepared to go to court over the blufftop blocks known as Memphis's Promenade.

The land, also known as the Overton heirs property, overlooks Front Street and originally stretched from Beale to Auction. The city's founders gave it over to public use in 1819.

Riverfront Development Corp. officials expect the founders' heirs to contest RDC plans to change the way the blufftop property is used on the basis that new uses would not be for public purpose, RDC vice president John Conroy told the Memphis Engineers Club Monday. But the development agency believes it has a "legitimate and solid case" that new uses would activate downtown and improve public access to the Mississippi River.

Occupying the land today are three parking garages, a fire station, an underused and dilapidated library and parking lots - far less than the RDC board wants to offer as it pursues a master plan to redevelop and manage the city's waterfront.

The RDC will hire a firm by late July to create a more specific land use plan for the promenade area between Poplar and Adams.

Developers would be offered ground leases, generating funds the RDC and the city would use for further public works improvements downtown.

Engineers Monday questioned the need for, and stability of, a proposed 50-acre land bridge between Poplar and Jefferson that would connect downtown and Mud Island, shorten the harbor to a half-mile and form a 150-acre lake.

Ground lease revenue from the land bridge is important to funding other waterfront projects, Conroy said, but RDC is seeking a planning assistance grant from the Corps of Engineers to study methods and costs of building the land bridge, relocating harbor industries and water quality issues.

Even if the land bridge is not built, Conroy said, RDC would pursue relocating the industries and the Coast Guard facility from the harbor's northern end.

The organization could then improve the harbor edges for public use and residential projects could extend along the east side of the harbor opposite Harbor Town and other recent housing developments.

The question asked first and several times of Conroy was about the need for more parking downtown. Conroy said any parking removed from Front Street would be replaced, perhaps beneath future new development.

Bert Merrill questioned the "throw away effort" in the master plan, as it would eliminate Mud Island River Park, the state Welcome Center, parking garages and other facilities built at public expense in the past 40 years.

"We've got more planning to do," Conroy said.

Copyright 2003 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Thursday, March 14, 2002

Library Ready to Let Cossitt Go; Redevelopers Value Land Over Building

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

The fixtures in the deepest part of downtown's old Cossitt Library are nicer than those found in most modern homes. And the Mississippi River view, from its tall arched windows and rooftop, is one of the best in the city.

But Cossitt, once the mother ship of the Memphis library system, has shrunk to one ground-floor reading room and storage for city archives as it awaits news of its fate.

Black enameled iron shelves are stacked three levels high, on iron posts topped with 2-inch iron crown molding and brass filigree label holders.

The floors are inch-thick glass so that light can glow between the three levels, connected by narrow stairs with delicate iron and brass railings.

And that's the closed stacks, the part that the public was never intended to enter when the 1924 addition doubled the size of Memphis's original 1893 sandstone library.

Today, shelves in the "glass stacks" are mostly empty, the colonnaded windows dark.
Under the 50-year master plan for redevelopment of the Memphis riverfront, Cossitt's blufftop perch would be "reused."

The corner occupied by Cossitt, at Front and Monroe, is prime real estate that the city's founders preserved for public use. But the so-called promenade blocks along Front from Union to Auction are key targets of the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit board that will manage waterfront redevelopment under contract with the city.

"We have to turn the `public use' parcels back into private development," said Kristi Jernigan, RDC vice chairman. "That's key to the whole effort for the riverfront."

The RDC expects to be in court this year to begin the process of taking control of the promenade property, said RDC chairman John Stokes.
That's fine with the library system.

Cossitt would cost too much to renovate as a library, said Judith Drescher, director of libraries.

And no funds for a downtown branch are in the Memphis or Shelby County capital improvement budgets.

"It's cost-prohibitive to get in there and start all over," Drescher said of Cossitt. "It meets no code. The public shouldn't be using it now."

A library should be part of the downtown scene, Drescher said, but it does not need to be a free-standing building.

The first floor or two of a new, multi-use project would be fine, Drescher said, in the center of downtown near the highest concentration of population.

The original Cossitt Library, with its round tower, triple-arched entry and terrace, stood like a red sandstone castle, financed by the heirs of dry goods magnate Frederick H. Cossitt in 1893.

Today, Cossitt contains 50,000 square feet in two awkwardly connected sections - the 1924 three-story sandstone addition and a boxy, aluminum-clad two-story section built in 1958 after the original 1893 structure was demolished.

The 1950s "facelift" ruined the Cossitt, historically speaking, said Judith Johnson, executive director of Memphis Heritage Inc., the city's foremost private, nonprofit historic preservation group. Cossitt is not on the National Register of Historic Places and would require "extensive rehabilitation" to be used as apartments, for example, Johnson said.

"Since it is so abusively altered, if you took down all or part of it, I'm not sure it would be anything other than a social loss," Johnson said.

From the east along Front Street, Cossitt looks like a giant vertical window blind hanging incongruously off a historic stone building.

A reflecting pool and fountain, funded with $13,000 from Memphis City Beautiful when the new section was built, quickly became a trash pit. It eventually was drained and deemed unusable, leaving a muddy pit with a repeatedly vandalized, headless statue to greet library patrons.

Beneath the giant window blind, the entire ground floor of the 1958 building is open weekdays as a reading room with seating, 10 computers, a few shelves of popular literature, a security guard and two or three friendly librarians.

A low-ceilinged meeting room, rarely used, doubles as a staff break room. Restrooms can be unlocked upon request. Local artists display in a small corner gallery space.

A rope blocks access to the front staircase, which leads to a vast second floor.

There rest thousands of books and other materials, all discards sent in from throughout the system to be part of regular book sales to raise money for the library.

Space in the older, rear section toward the river is taken by the "glass stacks" on the north side and by tall rooms full of shelves and archive material. Here gloved staff and volunteers organize and process historic documents in acid-free paper and storage boxes.

Records of the Memphis Street Railway, 4-inch thick yearbooks of Memphis City Beautiful and minutes of the 1896 City Council meetings line dusty shelves. Arcane reference books from the old Goodwyn Institute's business and technical reference collection, which merged with the Cossitt in 1961, fill other shelves and spill onto the floor.

The archive material now at Cossitt will be moved either to the new main library at 3030 Poplar or to the new Shelby County archive, where county documents have already gone, said Jim Johnson, senior manager of the library's history department.
The last engineering study, done in 1989 for the library system, said, "The Cossitt . . . no longer has a viable future as a public library for Memphis and Shelby County."

The consultants estimated repairs required to meet various building codes at $2.36 million.

The Dallas-based library planners who studied Cossitt in 1989, HBW Associates Inc., and local architects Jones Mah Gaskill Rhodes concluded that the library system should have nothing to do with renovating, demolishing or reusing the Cossitt location.

The elevator shaft can't hold an up-to-date elevator. The plumbing system can't accommodate new restrooms as required. Stacks can be reached only by stairs; aisle space is too narrow for crutches and wheelchairs.

Door frames and walls at Cossitt's back door are crumbling from age, insects and water damage. Paint hangs in long flaps off some ceilings.

Part of Cossitt could be preserved, Drescher said, "but it would take an enormous commitment . . . that all the money required to do that would be put into it."

By Alan Spearman
The older portion of the Cossitt library downtown, built in 1924, affords a great view of the Mississippi River through arched windows. The floors are inch-thick glass. But the public never had access; it has been used only for storage.
Part of the 1953 "facelift" to the Cossitt library downtown, a headless statue stands by an unusable reflecting pool. This addition, says Judith Johnson of Memphis Heritage Inc., ruined the Cossitt, historically speaking.

CAPTION: The city's original Cossitt library was financed by the heirs of dry goods magnate Frederick H. Cossitt in 1893. With its round tower and triple-arched entry, it looked like a sandstone castle.

Copyright 2002 The Commercial Appeal

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Sunday, November 18, 2001

Aim of Reshaping Harbor is New Land, Not Man-Made Lake

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Wolf Lake would replace much of Memphis's Wolf River Harbor in the Riverfront Development Corp.'s vision for reshaping the waterfront.

Five grain or cement businesses, the Coast Guard, two marinas and Mud Island River Park would be displaced or relocated at an unknown cost.

But the lake is not the goal, planners say. Money is.

About 50 acres of new land, created by filling in a portion of the harbor to Mud Island River Park, would generate money by being leased to developers for public and private projects.

That income would let the RDC finance projects to reach its real goal: drawing people to the Mississippi River.

Studies of how other cities paid for waterfront projects, from Portland to New York and Cincinnati, showed that controlling land that could be developed was key to having money for parks, greenbelts and other public spaces, said RDC chairman John Stokes.

"We don't think we can accomplish what we're trying to do without the land bridge," Stokes said. "We're trying to give Memphis and this region access to the real river ... but if somebody can give us a better idea, I want to hear it."

The nonprofit RDC, borne from Mayor Willie Herenton's riverfront task force, calls its vision a 30-year or even 50-year plan.

However, boaters and environmentalists are alarmed that years could pass while officials do nothing to upgrade the harbor's water quality.

And beyond the estimated $75 million construction cost of the land bridge, the RDC could face paying cement makers Lone Star Industries and Lafarge Corp., Bunge North America and Cargill Inc. grain terminals, molasses shipper Westway Terminal Co. and the Coast Guard to move off the harbor's east shore.

The land bridge would take seven years to build north from Adams to Poplar. After another three years, it would be stable enough to build on.

Poplar, Jefferson and Adams would continue across the new land toward the Mississippi River. A pedestrian bridge would connect to Mud Island from Union Avenue.

Water south of the land bridge would remain a harbor for tour boats with a marina for private boats.

Water north of it would become a 150-acre lake that might require new pumping technology to regulate depth.

In 1999, the RDC took on the task of managing and developing Memphis's 12-mile waterfront, from the north end of Mud Island to the three bridges south of downtown.
Its massive masterplan would work in phases. The RDC board hopes to take a plan to the City Council for review early next year.

"The purpose of people on the board ... is to create a world-class, wonderful, dynamite riverfront for the city and region and state here in Memphis, Tenn.," Stokes said.

In addition to the land bridge, the masterplan proposes a landing at the foot of Beale Street for large riverboats; preservation of the historic cobblestones; and redevelopment of Mud Island River Park and the blufftop blocks on the west side of Front Street. Consultants are still computing cost estimates.

While the RDC begins "doing projects that work whether there's a land bridge or not," issues of timing and real costs of the land bridge will be further explored, said Benny Lendermon, RDC president.

The city's original riverport, with its historic cobblestone landing, was partially enclosed over time by the river's creation of Mud Island and was shut off at its north end after World War II by the Corps of Engineers.

Development of McKellar Lake Harbor and Presidents Island industrial area south of downtown supplanted the old harbor in the 1950s.

Wolf River Harbor today accounts for less than 10 percent of the river tonnage in Memphis, which is the second largest port on the lower Mississippi, behind St. Louis.

Of 16.61 million tons handled here in 1999 (the latest year for which figures are available), 1.21 million tons came out of the downtown harbor, mostly in grains, cement and soybeans.

The rest moved through McKellar Lake, in the West Memphis Harbor or at Fullen Dock and Warehouse at the mouth of the Wolf River north of downtown.

Phillipe de Laperouse, director of business development for Bunge North America Inc., said the lake plan "would put us out of business at that location."

Farmers from Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi haul their harvest to the Bunge, Cargill and Westway terminals on North Second. Barges are loaded overnight to carry the soybeans, corn, soft red winter wheat and other products to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

"We're leasing from the city, so we're not in a position to say what we would do if we found ourselves forced out," said de Laperouse.

The Coast Guard cutter would require a new Memphis port, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Lopez, commanding officer of the Lower Mississippi Group. Its crew and the staff in command of them and five other cutters that maintain navigation aids from Cairo, Ill., to Baton Rouge, La., are housed beside the Auction Avenue bridge on land owned by the federal government.

Lopez's superior officer has made clear that if the land bridge is built, "we have to be physically relocated," Lopez said, so the Coast Guard would "explore with the (RDC) here the financial issues to do that."

RDC has had "very little" conversation with harbor businesses and Coast Guard officials because the plan has not been formally adopted and the land bridge construction could be years away, Lendermon said.

"Long-term we think there're better locations for that activity," Lendermon said.
The area is being rezoned in the Uptown Redevelopment Plan for North Memphis because planners for it and the RDC "came to the conclusion that you would never redevelop that area with industrial users remaining," Lendermon said.

"If the community as a whole wants industry to remain in the harbor long term, over the next 30 years, then our efforts to do anything in that area, including Uptown - we ought to stop," Lendermon said.

City officials have talked for more than two years about how to address the stormwater runoff and water quality problems, said public works director Jerry Collins.

It's littered with Styrofoam, plastic and metal each time rain washes street litter through the massive stormwater system that drains below the city and into the harbor.

"We certainly have continual battles to try to raise the consciousness of people so they will not litter," Collins said. The city also has tried to increase street-cleanings.

City engineers have studied automated, self-cleaning bar screen systems for the huge drain pipes that are part of the pumping system to keep the city from flooding.
The harbor would require larger, more expensive screens due to the pumping system. If it is replaced in the transition to a stillwater lake regulated by gravity, less expensive screens could be used. While officials wait to know the RDC's plans, Collins said, funding for the screens is in city budgets "four or five years down the way."

Boaters and environmentalists worry that the uncertainty of the lake plan will delay the screens too much.

"I would like to see a fallback position where we take care of the harbor as it is,'' said kayaker Joe Royer, president of Outdoors Inc. and a member of the Tennessee Environmental Council. "I don't want to wait 30 years for the 'big plan' to take care of our water."

Don Richardson, local chairman of the Sierra Club, said the chemical content of sediment in the harbor also should be examined and considered as the lake is studied.

And if a lake is created, Richardson said, the upper harbor area should remain undeveloped where red fox and cranes can congregate.

"On what other riverfront in America can you see an animal associated with wilderness doing their thing?" Richardson asked. "Open space and land can be extremely valuable ... without having some kind of cell tower or building on it."

Under the Riverfront Development Corp.'s masterplan, the lower riverport for the Coast Guard Group and its cutter the Kankakee would have to relocate. Joshua Feeler cleans the Kankakee's radar device.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Sunday, April 08, 2001

Mud Island Opening 2001 Season Saturday; Future murky, But for Now 'More Friendly'

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Mud Island River Park opens Saturday for its 20th season - and an uncertain future.

The unique and much-maligned $65 million facility will be operated by the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. this year, under direction of former city public works director Benny Lendermon.

RDC leaders and their consultants are crafting plans that could radically transform or even demolish Mud Island park in the next two to three years, Lendermon said.

But this Saturday, the park reopens with a spring festival of bunnies, live music, egg hunts and rubber ducky races.

And visitors will again find the Mississippi River Museum; the tree-lined, five-block scale-model River Walk; four pedal boats on the scale-model Gulf of Mexico; the World War II Memphis Belle under its fabric dome; three gift and souvenir shops; and three places to eat.

"We're going to be more friendly, more people-oriented . . . showcase things better," Lendermon said of the upcoming season.

"We can assume in the future things will be changing and reconfiguring, but in the meantime, we have a huge number of assets that can be a great experience for tourists and residents."

Mud Island attendance fell 5 percent last season, from 152,328 to 145,322, after scorching summer temperatures and fewer amphitheater concerts.

RDC officials hope special holiday events aimed at families will boost use of the park this season.

Two privately operated businesses - an art and souvenir shop and the River Terrace Restaurant - remain. Other gift shop spaces that had been under private contract will be used by the park staff, one as the second gift shop operated by staff and one as a meeting or picnicking room for school or senior tour groups.

Entertainment Foods, concessionaire for the park, operates the River Center Deli and the Gulfport Cafe and caters special events in Harbor Landing or other parts of the park.

The Memphis Belle Memorial Association's volunteers and board members are repairing and cleaning the vintage bomber and the pavilion area and restocking the gift trailer, said association vice president Jim Harris.

Volunteer Belle docents will be scheduled on weekends to conduct tours, joining the park's paid interpreters who answer questions about river life and lore.
Mud Island has been consistently controversial for its construction cost, admission policies and failure to draw visitors.

The park's 52 acres, stretching between the core of downtown and the Mississippi River, are prime property in the eyes of the RDC board and the consultants hired to devise a master plan for redevelopment of the Memphis waterfront.

RDC chairman John Stokes has spoken forcefully about the need to make admission to the park free.

RDC vice chairman Kristi Jernigan has said the park's facilities are boring and outdated.

The latest option offered by planning consultants would create an encircled harbor area similar to Baltimore's. A land bridge would link the foot of Court Avenue to Mud Island park on the north while a footbridge would link Beale Street on the south.

The facility could remain a public park and possibly become home to the Memphis in May International Festival. Or it could serve a mixture of uses or be entirely developed with only a strip of parkland on the Mississippi River side, consultants have said.

During a tour of the park last week, Lendermon said RDC will manage the park under the city's budget and policies until July 1, when a more comprehensive contract is expected to give the nonprofit agency management and development control of all public property along the waterfront.

The park has 12 to 14 full-time employees and a pool of 50 to 80 seasonal workers.

Lendermon and onsite manager Trey Giuntini are pushing to make the park look better, including its banks along the Wolf River Harbor and the Mississippi River. State transportation workers will clear debris, undergrowth and some trees from the Mississippi River side to keep the view open, Lendermon said.

DOT will do that work in exchange for state use of land beneath the Interstate 40 bridge while seismic improvements are made to the span.

Consultants have floated possibilities such as preserving the scale model of the Mississippi River while relocating the park's Mississippi River Museum. They envision a landmark-quality park on the property's southern tip.

Saturday through May 25: 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except Monday.
May 26-Sept. 3: 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week. Reduced hours and a six-day week return on Sept. 4.
Admission: $8 for adults 18 to 59. $6 for adults 60 and older and youngsters 5 to 17. Children 4 and under get in free. Shelby County residents qualify for half-price admission.

Season passes: $45 for family, $25 for individuals available at the park's Front Street admission booth or at 576-7241. A new $10 walking pass is being developed that would allow access strictly for strolling or jogging in the park.

- Deborah M. Clubb: 529-2351
By Jim Weber
(Color) Alisa Bradley spiffs up the freshwater aquarium in the Mississippi River Museum to help prepare for Mud Island's spring opening this Saturday.
Copyright (c) 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Friday, January 05, 2001

Riverfront Planners Get Message: Hands Off Tom Lee Park

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Riverfront planners left Memphis Thursday to begin revising proposals for developing the Wolf and Mississippi river banks, but Memphians had made it clear they firmly reject one idea: housing or anything else on Tom Lee Park.

Other alternatives, from damming part of the Wolf River Harbor for a lake to clearing and redeveloping the historic promenade property, will be evaluated and discussed in coming weeks with Memphians and a cadre of consultants, expert in areas from finance to traffic systems, said planning team leader Brian Shea, a New York architect.

Shea, of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, heads the team hired last summer to craft a master plan for redeveloping Memphis's waterfront - from the north end of Mud Island southward to the Harahan, Frisco and Memphis & Arkansas bridges. The nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. selected the team, which will be paid $700,000 with city funds.

Shea presented alternatives at three public hearings Wednesday and Thursday and asked Memphis to react. He gave three possible versions of a harbor lake, three routes for a relocated Riverside Drive, three locations for an expanded river museum and three ways to use land in Tom Lee Park, Mud Island River Park, the promenade and the cobblestones.

He asked participants Thursday "to dream about what you'd like your riverfront to be 30 years from now."

A lake in part of the current harbor was supported by several in Thursday's sessions.

The biggest lake proposal, which would be created by filling the area between Mud Island and Tom Lee Park, drew little support.

The smallest lake proposal would dam the water at the Auction Avenue bridge and create recreation for neighborhoods on Mud Island and in Greenlaw, which would not help lure development in the core of downtown, said team member Candace Damon.

Shea and Damon asked participants whether Tom Lee, Mud Island or the promenade blocks between Court and Auction should be developed or used as park land.

Damon had suggested that low-rise residential development could be successful in Tom Lee Park and provide revenue for other public projects.

Shea had suggested that the promenade blocks, dedicated to the city for public use by its founders in 1828 and referred to by planners as the Overton blocks, could become Memphis's Central Park or be a mixture of green space and development.

Veteran Memphis developer Bob Snowden, an heir of the founding families, urged the planners to identify facilities that should be retained and prioritize needs.

"We don't need another park," Snowden said. "We need to enhance what we have."

He asked if development on the promenade would be high-rise. Midrise, Shea replied.

Snowden objected to anything as high as 10 stories. "People on Front Street have rights, too."

Planners made a note to not block views with future development.
Memphis resident Willie Martin warned that "all Memphians have ownership of Tom Lee. For you to make drastic changes for something they feel they own, you're going to make a mistake and people are not going to have an open mind."

Shea said the team's ideas were aimed at prompting the community "to start thinking about these facilities in new ways, in many different ways, in inventive ways."

RDC president Benny Lendermon said the team will return next month, probably for a series of similar public meetings at different times and in different locations, possibly the Agricenter.

Consultants hope to finish work on the plan by the end of April and present completed documents in June.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Thursday, January 04, 2001

"Big" Ideas Move Riverside Dr., Put Houses in Tom Lee

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Tom Lee Park could sprout houses, Riverside Drive could move to the river's edge, Wolf River Harbor could become a lake and bluff-top "Overton blocks" could become Memphis's Central Park in development options offered Wednesday by riverfront consultants.

These and other "big moves" were laid out during two public hearings hosted by the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. A third public hearing on development alternatives begins at 8 a.m. today in the Plaza Club on the second floor of the Toyota Center beside AutoZone Park.

The Riverfront Development Corp. hired a team led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York to analyze and plan redevelopment of 12 miles of waterfront, from the Wolf River to the Harahan, Frisco and Memphis & Arkansas bridges.

Reaction and comment from the public meetings and other sessions will let planners refine the options, said team leader Brian Shea of Cooper, Robertson. The proposals also must be filtered through finance, marketing, engineering and historic considerations.

A Wolf River Harbor lake concept, proposed in 1996 by Mayor Willie Herenton and shot down by citizens in riverfront workshops in February 1999, reappeared in three versions.

Shea drew a small lake north from a dam near the Auction Avenue bridge, north from Poplar with a "land bridge" between Poplar and Court connecting Mud Island to downtown or with infill connecting Mud Island to the city near Beale Street, making the whole harbor into a lake.

He suggested a new museum dedicated to river history and culture could occupy the land bridge, or such a facility could sit at the foot of Beale Street to pull the historic district's entertainment zone to the river's edge.

The promenade property, dedicated to the city for public use by founders in 1828 and referred to by planners as the Overton blocks, could be developed with public and private uses, be a mixture of green space and development or be purely parkland from Union to Auction.

Tom Lee Park could remain a park or could become residential development with Riverside Drive moved nearer the water and a public promenade constructed along the river's edge.

Likewise, Mud Island River Park could be all park with new access from Poplar Avenue, or it could be a mixture of uses or entirely developed with only a linear park on the Mississippi River side, Shea said.

The cobblestone landing could be preserved as is, be reduced to the section from Union to Beale or be more radically reduced to a portion near the "land bridge" river museum and lake.

Memphis in May International Festival could move from Tom Lee Park to Mud Island or into a new park in the Overton blocks.

Kristi Jernigan, RDC vice chairman, was a sole supporter of the "big lake" in one of three discussion groups that followed the first public presentation Wednesday.

Its controlled water level would permit restaurant and other retail development on both banks, she said.

But most of the two dozen other participants in Jernigan's group spoke in favor of a partial lake, to preserve a protected harbor and the natural rise and fall of the river level.

"The real river is more compelling than an artificial lake," said landscape architect Lissa Thompson.

Expert users of the river also warned that the "big lake" plan was flawed because it would push large riverboats into a dock on the Mississippi with its powerful current.

And, they said, any lake plan that ended commercial river traffic in the Wolf also would put about $250,000 in dredging costs on city taxpayers.

Tom Lee Park was beloved, participants said, for the excellent river vista it provides.

It's not working as a park, said Candace Damon, the planning team's finance and marketing expert, but would be "very, very desirable" for residential and neighborhood retail uses.

Memphis in May executive director Jim Holt told the group the success of MIM's music and barbecue festivals is linked to the location on the river.

But Jernigan suggested that if the festival events were in a new park on the Overton property, nearer to downtown restaurants and businesses, its economic impact would increase.

Past legal interpretations have said that control of the promenade area, now about 80 acres west of Front Street from Union to Jackson, could revert to the founders' heirs if other development is attempted without their concurrence.

At an RDC board meeting earlier Wednesday, Jernigan said lawyers with Baker Donelson had researched issues related to the promenade land and the Overton heirs.

"They're ready to give us options and ready to deal with whatever comes out of that (master plan)."

While continuing to shape the master plan, Shea and his team also have been brought into two long-planned projects that the RDC took over from city officials earlier this year.

At their insistence, designers are taking a new look at plans for the Ron Terry Plaza and cobblestone walkway, even though the project is under construction to link Jefferson Davis and Tom Lee parks. The planned 8-foot wide walkway is too small, consultants have said.

A construction contract for improvements to Riverside Drive also has been delayed until spring.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal

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Thursday, November 09, 2000

Waterfront Revival Mix of Culture, Commerce; Public Applauds Plan

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Riverfront planners Wednesday night proposed construction and bridges on Mud Island River Park, some private development on the legendary public Promenade and a riverboat landing at Tom Lee Park at the foot of Beale Street.

And no one among about 130 citizens at a public meeting objected.

Instead, the question session was peppered with polite applause and compliments after an hourlong presentation by architects and marketing experts hired by the Riverfront Development Corp. to create a master plan for the waterfront.

The presence of two rivers on the city's edge, the Mississippi and the Wolf, "is almost unprecedented" and presents tremendous opportunities, said Brian Shea, an architect with Cooper, Robertson & Partners in New York and planning team leader.

Although they characterized their report as analysis, it was organized around specific ideas or what Shea called "design guidelines."

-- Link waterfront parks, connect the waterfront to the city with a series of streets or bridges and make Riverside Drive continuous northward across the top of Mud Island and back down.

Shea complained that Riverside Drive doesn't live up to its name. "Riverside Drive becomes a ramp to Arkansas - which we have taken."

-- Recognize strong existing neighborhoods and corridors.

-- Shift north-south traffic volume and parking facilities to Second and Third to free Riverside Drive and Main as "civic boulevards," consider eliminating the Hernando DeSoto Bridge ramps and convert the trolley from "tourism event" to a true public transport system.

-- Make the Wolf River harbor south of Auction an active commercial venture with marinas, boat rentals, a promenade, retail, entertainment and cultural facilities. Surround the northern portion with a loop trail and provide canoe, kayak and other water recreation for neighborhoods, as was done in downtown Denver.

-- Develop Mud Island River Park as a special waterfront neighborhood with free access over at least two bridges and mixed use residential development along the Riverwalk, as in San Antonio, Texas. "Mud Island is too open and too empty," Shea said.

The amphitheater could be repositioned to face the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River Museum's programming could become part of a new National Museum of the Mississippi.

Terraced land banks on the remaining southern tip of Mud Island could become Memphis Point Park, designed to endure varying river stages and create "a postcard view" as in other river cities such as Pittsburgh.

-- Maximize development of the Front Street blocks called the Promenade property, which was dedicated for public use by city founders in 1828. The area is also called the Overton heirs property or Overton blocks in reference to the descendants of founder John Overton. They could claim ownership of the land if a nonpublic use were allowed. Lawyers for Riverfront Development are working on the question of how to get permission for new uses.

"Private uses provide money for public purposes," said team member Candace Damon, economic and market analyst with Hamilton Rabinovitz & Alschuler. Allowing a mixture of commercial, residential and cultural uses along with public space attracts private investment that can finance the open spaces, she said.

Shea added, "If this were any other city, this would be the greatest, highest-use real estate."

-- Pull Beale Street's urban entertainment district to Main Street and to the river with a special destination at the riverfront.

-- Reconfigure the north end of Tom Lee Park for a landing for large riverboats.

-- Restore cobblestones for commercial riverboat, restaurant barges and other operations and a promenade walkway along all the blocks of the Overton property.

Relocate parking space for about 5,000 vehicles that use the cobblestones and other waterfront property, "your front yard," Shea said.

-- "Finish" Tom Lee Park.

Shea said the team will return early next year to work on details with local architects.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Thursday, October 05, 2000

Plans for Riverfront Rollin' Right Along

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

A contract between the new Riverfront Development Corp. and the city could be ready in 30 to 45 days.

Negotiations to give the nonprofit organization authority and funds to manage, maintain and develop riverfront parks and other public lands is going well, RDC board member John McConomy told the board Wednesday.

The Baker Donelson Bearman and Caldwell law firm is representing RDC in the complex negotiations, McConomy said, dealing with the turnover of park lands and Mud Island River Park and giving RDC authority to execute a master plan of development.

A special part of the discussion is the historic "promenade" property deeded for public use by city founders, said McConomy, executive vice president and general counsel of Storage USA. Legal issues around the promenade include what it can be used for "and how we get the ability to use it," he said.

Consultants from New York and Denver, hired to produce a Memphis riverfront master plan, will return next month with drawings of their initial analysis, said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The RDC executive committee spent Tuesday in New York to review preliminary findings and tour Battery Park City, a 10 1/2-mile development along the Hudson River. Several of the Memphis consulting team members worked on the Battery Park project.

"These people (consultants) are so excited about being a part of the only place in the country where you can come to get a view and a feel of the mighty Mississippi River," said RDC chairman John Stokes. Instead of seeing Mud Island as a liability, "these people see that as a magnificent opportunity," Stokes said.

The consultants, headed by New York architects Cooper Robertson & Partners, will present their analysis during at least one large public meeting in mid-November and possibly several smaller meetings, Lendermon said.

Meanwhile, citizens can make suggestions for the riverfront on the RDC's Website at

Lendermon said he has been surprised at the number and quality of comments on the Website.

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Friday, September 01, 2000

What on riverfront can fall? Architects ask board

Reaction is 'Very few sacred things'

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Rip up Mud Island River Park and start over. Level the bluff-top parking garages. Remove the unused Interstate 40 "ramps to nowhere."

Those ideas came Thursday from a national consulting team that is just starting work on a master plan for future development of Memphis's 5-mile riverfront.

The consultants and the folks who hired them, the Riverfront Development Corp., emphasized that the suggestions are preliminary - an effort to see what limits they face in redesigning Memphis's river face.

In their first meeting with the full RDC board, consultants Brian Shea, Mark Johnson and Candace Damon asked members to react to a "demolish, reconfigure or rebuild" list.

"We want to test and see how aggressive we can be," said Shea with Cooper, Robertson & Partners, New York architects and leaders of the planning team hired by the RDC.

"How far can we go?"

"There are very few sacred things on the riverfront," said RDC vice chairman Kristi Jernigan, co-founder of the Memphis Redbirds. "We should think as big and as broad as we can. As long as we're economically grounded and have good design principles, the sky's the limit."

RDC board secretary Dr. James Hunt, former chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Memphis, said, "The beauty of what we have is there's so little that needs to be torn down."

With no major expressway or industry onsite, little is sacred on the riverfront, Hunt said, "other than the Church of the River."

On Shea's "demolition" list for the nonprofit agency's consideration:
-- The Mud Island Amphitheatre.
-- The Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island.
-- Other Mud Island structures and fixtures.
-- The monorail.
-- All buildings on the Promenade except the U.S. Post Office in the historic Customs House.
-- Jefferson Davis Park.
-- The southern tip of Mud Island.
-- The Lone Star Industries concrete plant.

The board took no formal votes. Board members either reacted as Shea read it - voicing the most agreement when the I-40 ramps and concrete plant were named - or spoke up for ideas later.

Benny Lendermon, RDC president and former city public works director, cautioned the board to remember that these were preliminary observations.

"They're being very candid and open. You wanted to know what their first reactions are. They could come back next month and change."

Planners hope to have a scheme completed by next June. They held the first in a series of public meetings Wednesday and expect to hold several more.

The vast arms of the unused interstate ramps, built to connect to a Midtown expressway that was never built, could be torn down, Johnson explained.

The ramps' redwood-sized columns fill acres of land west of the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

"They're built to a freeway plan that's not going to happen," said Johnson of Civitas Inc., landscape designers from Denver.

"State DOT (Department of Transportation) is still in mourning about that," said City Councilman and RDC board member John Vergos, referring to the years-long battle that stopped the road project.

"Have a funeral," said Shea.

Near the ramps are the dozen silos of Lone Star Industries that ships 400,000 tons of cement to concrete makers annually.

"Move it," said Shea. "It may be the best investment one could do."

"Yes," said several around the room.

Mud Island's five-block-long scale model of the river should be preserved, said deputy director of public works Cindy Buchanan, but its other architecture is like a "bunker."

The 52-acre, $63 million park opened in 1982 and has been consistently controversial for its cost and failure to draw visitors. A radical remake of the park proposed by Pyramid developer Sidney Shlenker a decade ago never materialized.

The planners noted several times how large and unique Memphis's waterfront is. It's really four riverfronts, Johnson said, with distinct areas: west of the Wolf River channel, east of the channel, around Mud Island and along Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones.

Johnson wondered whether the tip of Mud Island could be cut off to widen what is now a narrow harbor channel.

The promenade land, deeded for public use by the men who founded the city in 1819, today reaches from Union Avenue north to Auction. Front Street forms the eastern boundary for most of the promenade's length.

In addition to the Customs House (the only Promenade structure on the National Register of Historic Places), the property holds the Cossitt Library, a 1967 Fire Department headquarters, two parking garages, the garage and monorail terminal for Mud Island and, below the bluff, the Tennessee Welcome Center.

Past court judgments have indicated that the land would revert to ownership of the founders' heirs if a nonpublic use were allowed.

The RDC is working with representatives of the 200 to 300 heirs and with lawyers to consider new ways the property could legally be used.

One current use for a piece of the promenade is Jefferson Davis Park, dedicated in 1930 at the harbor's edge directly below Confederate Park.

While no board member Thursday answered Shea's question about whether the park, beloved by Civil War devotees, could be demolished or rebuilt, Jernigan said, "That's a great piece of real estate."

Later, RDC chairman John Stokes, vice-chairman of Morgan Keegan, said, "We're in the most early stages of all this ... No plans have yet been laid and really won't be without ... all entities talked to."

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Sunday, May 21, 2000

On the Memphis Waterfront: Master Plan Must Account for What the Founders Wanted: A Public Promenade

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

A mile of uninterrupted Mississippi River vistas and space to stroll it - such was the vision of the men who bought the edge of the Fourth Chickasaw bluff and drew Memphis on it in 1819.

They labeled the land west of Front from Union north to Jackson as a "public promenade" called Mississippi Row, while declaring the area north of Jackson, where the river ran deep and close to the bluff, as "public landing" for navigation or trade. They relinquished all claim to the land "now and forever" for themselves and their heirs, for as long as the public use continued.

More than 180 years later, the riverfront is very different from the slippery mud bank on which stood founders John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson. The open space never was developed with the pastoral charm they apparently envisioned.

Still, the Promenade's blocks west of Front Street from Auction to Beale are by far the prime land on Memphis's waterfront.

(Click here to see a map of the area.)

Despite the fact that legal battles have shrunk the Promenade area by half, the spectacular location guarantees that new uses for the Promenade are a top goal of the new nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC). One caveat: The founders' terms dictate that the city would lose the land (it would revert to the founders' heirs) if a nonpublic use was allowed.

With that in mind, the RDC board will hire a consulting team later this week to begin a master plan for development and management of the 5-mile Memphis riverfront, including the Promenade.

"It about acts as a wall to the river," said John Stokes, vice chairman of Morgan Keegan and chairman of the public-private RDC, which was formed by Mayor Willie Herenton's riverfront development task force earlier this year.

"We don't think that property right now is doing the downtown or the riverfront much good. If we could come up with a plan that would please the Overton heirs, that would also be good for Memphis, that's what we ought to do."

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The new town on the Mississippi River had "wide and spacious" streets, a number of alleys, four public squares "and between the front lots and the river, is an ample vacant space, reserved as a promenade; all of which must contribute very much to the health and comfort of the place, as well as to its security and ornament."

So said Overton in his advertisement for Memphis, published in 1820. The city was founded on May 22, 1819, and incorporated in 1826; the Public Promenade was dedicated for public use in 1828.

Historians call Overton, a judge and businessman who lived southeast of Nashville, the most active of the absentee proprietors of Memphis and the one who planned and directed most of the work of the partners' agents in the river town.

Although he became reputedly the wealthiest man in Tennessee, the slow-moving Memphis investment, which cost Overton about $5,000 in 1794, largely benefited his descendants. Altogether, heirs to the Memphis land are called "Overton heirs" and number between 200 and 300.

Today, land that city founders called the Promenade is still mostly used for public purposes. On it are the historic cobblestone landing, two parks and the ticketing and monorail entrance for Mud Island River Park, three public parking garages, a bit of Memphis Cook Convention Center, the Tennessee Welcome Center and its parking area, a forest of redwood-size concrete columns supporting Interstate 40 ramps and roadways, Memphis Fire Department Headquarters, Cossitt Branch Library and the U.S. Post Office in the historic Custom House.

The only business operating on privately owned land in the area is Lone Star Industries. Its dozen silos, towering due west of the new Performing Arts Center under construction, ship 400,000 tons of cement to concrete makers annually.

In the "public landing" area north of Jackson are The Pyramid arena and its sea of parking, the offices and boats of the U.S. Coast Guard's Lower Mississippi River group and a long grassy strip along the Wolf River, running behind old businesses and vacant lots to Saffarans Street.

Herenton has asked longtime Memphis real estate developer and Overton heir Robert G. Snowden to try to represent his large, extended family in discussions about changing the Promenade. The effort is just beginning.

"That's the basis that we are working on now, to try to be able to speak with some authority and then have the family be willing to accept and do whatever was necessary and required to make it work," said Snowden, chairman of Wilkinson & Snowden Inc., developers of shopping, housing and industrial properties. In the past, each of the five groups of the family was asked to elect a spokesman, Snowden said. In addition, the trust departments at First Tennessee and National Bank of Commercehave close involvement in the property and would be very active in the complicated legal discussion, Snowden said.

"Whatever we do should be best for the city," Snowden said. ". . . But a city is a changing thing. . . . If we're going to have a great city, which we do have, we have to change and meet those changing conditions."

Soon after World War II, Snowden and some other business people met several times on the riverfront to talk about developing old warehouse properties for the booming postwar housing market. They gagged at the stench of sewage dumped into the Mississippi at several points, and mosquitoes swarmed.

"Now I don't think there's a nicer area to live," Snowden said. "It has a view, has everything. Now everybody is looking to develop every square inch of it, so we've got a big decision to make, and not an easy one."

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Legal squabbles about what to do with the land go back at least 165 years, but the Promenade remained free of buildings until after the Civil War.

From the beginning, the needs of commerce and transportation ate into the Promenade's space: first riverboats, then railroads, interstate highways, automobile parking and trolley lines.

Farmers camped on the open bluff after hauling bales of cotton on wagons pulled by oxen, horses and mules.

Riverboats nosed in to shore to unload goods and load the Delta's bounty.

Between 1844 and 1886, hefty limestone and granite cobblestones from the upper Midwest were laid to form what is today the largest intact river landing in existence, honored with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

A court in 1834 ruled the city could do what it wanted with the land and cautioned that the Promenade should never be a deterrent to progress.

Through the 1830s, the river deposited new land at the foot of Market, and Memphians added dirt and rubbish to it.

When John D. Martin, W. D. Dabney and James D. Ruffin laid claim to 173 acres that had grown out into the river, the city sued them. The claims were settled in 1844 in what is called the Batture Compromise: Alluvial land north of Market (between Exchange and Winchester) was given to the city, and that south of Market was put in the hands of a trustee, Seth Wheatley, who was to sell the land and divide proceeds among the city, proprietors and heirs and the businessmen.

The city quickly sold its northern portion to the federal government for $20,000 for use as a Navy Yard, but the only ship built in the yard failed to float. In 1852, Congress ceded the yard back to the city, and it began a series of private ownerships that ended with construction of The Pyramid arena there by city and county governments in 1991.

The arena property is owned by the Public Building Authority, while the vast parking area is simply listed as city owned.

Lone Star's cement plant is on Batture Compromise land that became privately owned.

An 1856 editorial in a local newspaper endorsed a proposition to lease or sell the Promenade for about $700,000. "As it is, it is more than useless," the newspaper declared. But an alderman's motion to dispose of the land was defeated in 1857.

Civil War veterans began raising money for the first ambitious project for the land around 1870, when they proposed a Roman forum with benches for thousands of spectators, on the riverfront from Union to Monroe, as a memorial for the war's dead and wounded. Aldermen named the site Monument Square, but local militia companies that had leased the land for drill grounds refused to let go.

Then in 1876 the U.S. government was given part of the Promenade at the foot of Madison for a Customs House, which also housed the post office and federal courts. The building today is the only structure on the Promenade listed on the National Register.

City leaders, eager to lure railroads, in 1881 leased part of the Promenade for a depot and railroad tracks. Casey Jones began his fateful trip to Mississippi from there. More rail leases followed until, by 1973, 22 miles of track threaded through Memphis's riverfront.

In 1888, part of the Promenade at the foot of Monroe was set aside for a castle-like structure called Cossitt Library. A splendid red sandstone building was dedicated Dec. 14, 1892 and it was expanded in 1906 when it also housed a museum. In the late 1960s, after decades of humidity had weakened the sandstone, the original "castle" building was torn down and a new louvered section was added on the Front Street side.

In 1889, the Fire Department headquarters was built on the northwest corner at Union and Front. By the time a new two-level concrete, steel and glass structure was built in 1967, fire officials had begun to fear a collapse.

Seeing the city give up parts of their desired memorial grounds, the Confederates gave up on the river bluff and used their funds to erect a monument in Elmwood Cemetery.

A few years later, the young Memphis Park Commission established Confederate Park beside the Customs House on bluff-top acres citizens had used as a dump. Thick stone walls held new soil in place. By 1908 the park was winning national prizes for civic improvement, with its big flower bed forming the design of the rebel battle flag and Civil War cannon at the bluff's edge. Neither the flag nor the Civil War cannons are there anymore; the current cannons are from World War II.

In 1930, a new park on 2.4 acres along the water's edge below Confederate Park was dedicated to Jefferson Davis.By the 1950s, America's love affair with the automobile demanded more space. The city built two concrete parking garages on the Promenade.

The first, recently named the Riverfront Garage by the Downtown Parking Authority (DPA), was built in 1954 at Monroe and Front, beside the fire station on the last bit of old Chickasaw Park. It belongs to the city, is operated by the DPA, a part of the Memphis Center City Commission, and managed under contract by Allright Central.

The second, Shoppers Garage, was built in 1957 by a Californian between Jefferson and Adams. He pays the city $458.33 a month for his property lease that expires in 2009. DPA would then take full control, and all revenues would come to the city. Allright Central also manages Shoppers.

In 1973, city engineer Robert A. Fosnaugh proposed a 16-lane Riverside expressway to connect the old and new bridges. It would take the Promenade parking lot behind City Hall then run along the top of the bluff generally along the railroad tracks, leaving a strip about 160 feet wide for parkland.

On the other end of the public service spectrum, Rudolph Jones, a consultant to the county conservation board, recommended purchase of 11 acres on the bluff for a 12-foot wide hiking trail from Confederate Park to Harahan Bridge.

Fosnaugh's concept never materialized. But Bluffwalk through downtown opened last year to complete much of Jones's vision.

Developers, consultants and planners through the 1970s proposed, but never funded, massive projects for the river bluff. A "New Promenade" concept would have relied on urban renewal methods to assemble large parcels of property for redevelopment in 18 square blocks in the central business district. A project called the Promenade Gateway in 1975 offered developers the chance to build apartments on the promenade if legal problems were resolved. The project never materialized.

Today, downtown workers and visitors park in vast numbers on the original Promenade. Drivers can slip into large city-metered paved lots, the uneven and unmetered cobblestone landing and three public parking garages.

Travelers also pull into the Tennessee Welcome Center on the river's edge where statues of Elvis Presley and B. B. King stand indoors. The center opened in 1996. From there to The Pyramid and Auction is an asphalt field for parking, below Interstate 40 and its ramps.

-- -- --
Consultants who studied Main Street Mall this winter for the Center City Commission proposed relocating the downtown library and Front Street post office onto Court Square. The historic properties then could become a fine arts high school, museum or other facility, they said.

Current occupants had mixed reactions to the idea. Don Marshall, Memphis postmaster for two years, said the Customs House is almost fully occupied by 100-150 Postal Service employees.

"There are no plans right now for us to even think about vacating that building," Marshall said. "We own that building. If we moved, we'd have to lease space."

Judith Drescher, director of the Public Library and Information Center, was pleased with the mall consultants' idea to make a branch library part of a proposed renovation of Court Square and its surrounding buildings. She's eager to move from the decrepit Cossitt building, where street people used the front fountain as a bathtub and vandals twice beheaded the fountain's sculptured reader.

To modernize and renovate Cossitt's 80,000 square feet as a mixed-use property was estimated to cost up to $6 million 10 years ago. Librarians use only one-eighth of it.

All Drescher wants is 25,000-30,000 square feet, on one level, to serve downtown workers: "We need someone who would renovate an entire building and let us use the bottom for a branch library."

Mall planners didn't reach to the fire station on Front, but the Riverfront Development Corp. probably will. The station is on a parcel that was the subject of a Promenade lawsuit in the early 1960s, when the city negotiated to lease or sell the property to local investors who wanted to construct a hotel. Mid-South Title Co. refused to insure the city's claim. The city went to court.

A chancellor ruled the city held title to the land. The court of appeals reversed him, and was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1965. The upper courts ruled that the heirs held title, so the city could not agree to a private use.

Fire Department Deputy Director J. C. Fleming said fire officials have met with no one to discuss a move and have begun no study for a new site for the station, which also is home to the department's top brass. "This land only belongs to us as long as a fire station is on it," said Fleming.

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Under the leadership of Stokes, Memphis Redbirds Foundation co-founder Kristi Jernigan and former Public Works director Benny Lendermon, the Riverfront Development Corp. is negotiating with the city to take management and development control of the public waterfront from Wolf River on the north to Chickasaw Heritage Park and Indian Mounds on the south.

Later this week the RDC board will select a consulting team to hold public hearings and devise a master plan for development of Memphis's riverfront over the next 10-15 years. In coming weeks, the board is expected to approve a contractor for the $4.5 million Cobblestone Walkway project delayed more than three years by the minority contractors' lawsuit against the city.

A walkway 14 feet wide and 2,000 feet long will link Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center with Tom Lee Park along the western edge of Riverside Drive. A plaza at the foot of Union will overlook the harbor.

The UrbanArt Commission is overseeing selection of artists or architects to design three shade structures along the Cobblestone Walkway. Proposals are due Sept. 1.

By fall, a local design and engineering team should complete plans for a $3.3. million redesign of Riverside Drive aimed at slowing traffic and enabling pedestrians to reach the river. Headed by architect Frank Ricks of Looney Ricks Kiss, the team includes PDR Engineers Inc. and landscape architects Ritchie Smith Associates. The project will construct a 6- to 10-foot-wide median to be heavily landscaped, to narrow and slow traffic on the four-lane route.

At the extreme south end, brick pavers, landscaping and signs will alert drivers that they are entering a new environment. RDC would like to have the cobblestone and Riverside Drive projects "substantially completed" by Memphis in May 2001, Lendermon said.

The RDC board has no specific dream for the Promenade land, Lendermon said, but is convinced that the area is a barrier separating the riverfront from downtown.

"We just would like to explore the possibility of some type of development that would knit the riverfront to downtown," he said. "Whether it's totally public, whether it's mixed use, whether it's development that's in partnership with the Overtons, we don't know."

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Map of the Public Promenade and Landing

Reproduced below is a scan of the map that accompanied the Commercial Appeal article on May 21, 2000. The dotted line purports to show the historical boundaries of the land that was dedicated by the City proprietors.

Map of the Public Promenade and Public Landing

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Wednesday, April 05, 2000

New Agency to Take Bids for Riverside Walkway, Plaza

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

The Riverfront Development Corp. will take bids in two weeks for a long-delayed cobblestone walkway and plaza on Riverside Drive.

The new nonprofit organization will contract with the city to spend $4.1 million that the City Council appropriated for the project more than three years ago.

The goal is to begin construction at the end of the Memphis in May International Festival and be done before the 2001 festival starts, said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The city's Riverfront Steering Committee, appointed by Mayor Willie Herenton, officially became the RDC Tuesday when its members became the RDC board of directors and approved its bylaws.

"This marks the beginning, hopefully, of a wonderful time with the river," said RDC incorporator and chairman John Stokes.

RDC leaders are pushing to make the cobblestone walkway their first success as they take charge of management and development of Memphis's 5-mile waterfront.

A minority contractors' lawsuit stopped the original cobblestones project after its designs were approved in early 1997.

The Pickering Firm designed the 10-foot-wide walkway to wind from Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center to Tom Lee Park on the western edge of Riverside Drive.

Ritchie Smith Associates designed the $400,000 Ron Terry Plaza funded by First Tennessee Bank to overlook the river on the cobblestones near the foot of Union. Terry was the bank's longtime chairman.

Lendermon said the new bid should be free of the lawsuit's concerns that arose when the city rejected the low bidder.

On Tuesday, Stokes named steering committee members to the RDC board and introduced voting ex officio members: Pete Aviotti Jr. to represent Herenton, Councilman John Vergos to represent the City Council chairman, and chief administrative officer Rick Masson.

Aviott, a Herenton adviser, also chairs the mayor's light rail planning committee and the Super Terminal-Memphis Steering Committee.

Other RDC members are Redbirds co-founder Kristi Jernigan, vice chairman; Plough Foundation executive director Rick Haynes, treasurer; former University of Tennessee, Memphis, chancellor James C. Hunt, secretary; architect Diane Dixon, hotel operator Mabra Holeyfield and TVA official Bill Taylor.Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford and Public Works deputy director Cindy Buchanan were named nonvoting ex officio members.

Fred Davis, a member of the Memphis Park Commission who had been a steering committee member, has said he will join the RDC board only if the park commission survives current City Council actions to eliminate it, Lendermon said.

An RDC nominating committee will seek three to five additional members "with a real love for the river" from the private sector, Stokes said. New members would fill gaps on the board with expertise in areas such as law, marketing and individual philanthropy, said Jernigan.

The RDC will issue requests for proposals for a riverfront master plan on April 14. A firm will be selected on May 24.

Lendermon said he was encouraged by the interest shown by major firms in a recent request for qualifications that was distributed internationally. Some have worked on major waterfront redevelopment projects.

"But the key is to get the person who is best for Memphis. Memphis is different. Memphis is unique," said Lendermon, who retired as city Public Works director to head the new nonprofit RDC.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Plan Would Give Mayor, Council Authority Over 5-Mile Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

City officials will propose an ordinance next month to give the mayor and City Council control of 10 riverfront parks, Mud Island River Park, the cobblestones and the historic promenade.

The council and mayor would then contract with a new nonprofit group - the Riverfront Development Corp. - to develop, promote and operate the city's 5-mile waterfront.

The new ordinance would amend one that gives the Memphis Park Commission control of all parks and end a turf battle stirred up when the riverfront steering committee sought authority over the riverfront parks a few months ago.

The committee, appointed by Mayor Willie Herenton last year, chartered the nonprofit in November in order to raise corporate and foundation funding and speed up riverfront development.

Both the ordinance and contract could have council approval by late March, Public Works director Benny Lendermon told the steering committee Tuesday. Lendermon will retire from city government to become executive director of the RDC later this year.

"We're real happy and plan to keep the council informed and involved, as well as the mayor," said John Stokes, committee chairman. "We're happy about dealing directly with the council."

Committee leaders did not want to seek approval for their ideas from both the Park Commission board and the City Council, Stokes said. "None of us are interested in wasting time."

City Council member John Vergos, a riverfront committee member, said he expects no difficulty among council members about carving the riverfront parks from the park system.

"They still are city parks . . . We can get them back anytime."

Herenton explained his support for the plan last weekend in a council retreat, Lendermon said. The mayor also alerted council members that his city budget proposal will include $250,000 to help pay RDC's operating costs.

At the same planning session, council members told Herenton the Memphis Park Commission has outlived its usefulness and should be dismantled. Council member Tom Marshall pledged to hold hearings within a month to determine the commission's fate.

Lendermon, Stokes and riverfront committee vice chairman Kristi Jernigan have met with a half-dozen council members and will meet with the remainder to discuss the committee's goals.

"There was no disagreement expressed by those (at the retreat) or from those we met with since" about the parks proposal or operating funds, Lendermon said.

Herenton has committed the estimated $1.5 million in city funds used to operate and maintain the riverfront to the RDC. As the new organization identifies and pursues specific projects, its leaders would seek approval and funding for each from the City Council.

Stokes, Lendermon and Jernigan will ask the Plough Foundation board in February for $250,000 a year for three years for administrative costs.

A year ago, the Plough group provided $19,000 to support a series of public sessions to discuss riverfront objectives.

Jernigan is negotiating a possible location for RDC in the Falls Building.

Parkway Properties, which manages the building, also is developing the historic William R. Moore building and a new garage for AutoZone Park, in a deal made by Jernigan and her husband, Dean, co-founders of the Memphis Redbirds and the foundation that is building AutoZone Park.

The company is considering giving the new organization the space at cost.

"They're great people, and even though they're based in Jackson, they want to be part of this community, and I want to give them some credit for that," Jernigan said.

The committee will apply for federal Economic Development Administration funds to support a master plan and public hearing process that will cost $250,000 or more, Lendermon said.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Friday, December 17, 1999

New Group Aims to Control Riverfront Parks; Winning Confidence of City Council, Private Sector is Key

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

They have Mayor Willie Herenton's support, a charter for a new organization and a wealth of research and planning data by city personnel and private consultants.

But they don't have control of Memphis's 11 riverfront parks, and that missing link occupied Herenton's Riverfront Steering Committee Thursday.

The group, appointed by Herenton last spring, has chartered a new nonprofit organization that would coordinate planning, funding and development of five miles of riverfront bounded by the Wolf River on the north, Chickasaw Heritage Park on the south and Front Street on the east.

Herenton told the City Council last week that Public Works director Benny Lendermon will retire and become Herenton's bridge to the new organization as executive director of Riverfront Development Inc. But Herenton said the issue of control of the riverfront parks, long managed by the Memphis Park Commission, remained unresolved.

It was clear Thursday that Lendermon wants the new organization's authority and its source of operating funds spelled out before he completes a deal to take the job.

"A few issues still exist," Lendermon said.

Committee members reviewed a map detailing the waterfront parks, including the Mississippi Greenbelt, Mud Island, Tom Lee, Confederate and Martyr's.

"Can we be effective in somehow implementing, at long last, a strategic, grand plan and coordinating the efforts of everybody and finally being able to say 'we did it' ... if in fact we have to yield to other agencies or other authorities?" asked committee chairman John Stokes.

Control of the parks should not be a turf war or dispute about who can better operate them, said vice chairman Kristi Jernigan.

The overriding issue is the confidence of donors who could help pay for projects, she said.

After talking with foundations and other possible contributors, she said, "it is a concern with them, who is programming and maintaining the riverfront. They are not keen on making donations to government."

Steering committee member Fred Davis, a Memphis Park Commission member and a former City Council member, cautioned that making any change in policy about the parks could take time.

"In time, whatever reservations some of us have about transferring parks to a riverfront committee could be resolved...but if we are talking about a real fast, quick fix between this committee and City Council, it bothers me.

"I don't think it's going to be that simple with the Park Commission and I don't think it's going to be that simple with me."

But Jernigan and Stokes rejected the prospect of long negotiations. "I'm personally not here to wait five years to figure out how we're going to do this," Jernigan said.

"And I'm not either," said Stokes. ``My feeling is the City Council will finally agree with what's in the best interest of the city of Memphis and the riverfront."

Hotel operator Mabra Holeyfield said he believes the City Council will support the new organization when members understand the goal of attracting private funds. "It's not taking somebody else's project or somebody else's turf."{

Architect Dianne Dixon said the public will have to be assured that private funding and private oversight of the parks will not decrease public access.

While continuing to develop the organization, the committee also voted to seek authority from city officials to rebid and build the long-delayed and long-funded $2.4 million cobblestone walkway on the western edge of Riverside Drive.

Construction of the Ron Terry Plaza, funded by First Tennessee Bank, and a 10-foot-wide walkway from Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center to Tom Lee Park was stopped by the minority contractors' lawsuit against the city.

Designs were approved in early 1997 and construction had been anticipated by September 1997. If the City Council has to vote again on the already appropriated funds in order to transfer them, "I don't expect a problem," Lendermon said. "When we get that project done, it does so much to tie downtown together."

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Thursday, June 17, 1999

You Bet, Herenton Says, Mud Island Ought to Be Free, Riverside Tamer

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Mayor Willie Herenton on Wednesday quickly embraced two tough recommendations for the Memphis waterfront: Make Mud Island River Park free, and subdue the traffic on Riverside Drive.

Herenton joined members of three citizen focus groups and other city leaders aboard the Island Queen to hear results of the groups' discussions.

About 60 people participated in the sessions Tuesday and Wednesday organized by the mayor's Riverfront Steering Committee and funded by the Plough Foundation. They were asked to focus on solutions to development issues raised during a larger February workshop. Led by Matt Arnn of The Waterfront Center in Washington, the groups focused on solving problems related to access, docking, cobblestones, Mud Island River Park and other waterfront parks and public spaces.

All three groups concurred that the river park should not have to make money, that it should be free and easy to access.

Part of increasing access would be to ``calm Riverside Drive traffic'' and make several pedestrian crossings over it from east-west streets, the groups said.

Despite any costs, Herenton said, "Absolutely, Mud Island must become user-friendly (with) free access to families. Looking at this list, I'm excited about calming Riverside Drive traffic."

In earlier remarks, Herenton vowed to develop "the unique terrain we have on the Memphis riverfront. . . . We're going to make this happen." City Public Works Division staff explained their drawings of concepts that arose after the February discussion. The ideas included a land bridge to Mud Island from Court Street; a drawbridge and a 1,900-foot pedestrian bridge from Beale; a dock on six acres of Tom Lee Park and a new dock notched into the cobblestones.

After animated discussions, none won rousing support. But the drawbridge and dock concepts drew calls for further consideration.

The other points on which all three groups agreed were.

-- Water taxis in the harbor.

-- Continued docking of small excursion boats at the historic cobblestones.

-- Phase out automobile parking on cobblestones.

-- Add "new generation" activities to the river park.

-- Add private amenities and activities to waterfront parks, such as bike or skate rental, food vendors or a conference center hotel.

-- Upgrade design elements along the riverfront to create connections. Increase animation, security and maintenance in parks and public spaces.

The steering committee will consider the recommendations July 28. They are to present a final proposal to Herenton by year's end.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Riverfront Goal: Get the Public to Believe in the Plan

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

The headline stretched across a full page of The Commercial Appeal declared: "Memphis' River Front Will Be a Thing of Beauty and Utility If the Planning Commission's Dream Ever Becomes a Reality."

The date was May 25, 1924.

Precisely 75 years later, Memphis's latest Riverfront Steering Committee met high atop a downtown tower to reignite the dream.

"Our job is to create believability that the thing will be done," said John Stokes, committee chairman and vice-chairman of Morgan Keegan Co. "We must, must, must handle this whole thing so Memphis believes in it."

Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Stokes chairman and Kristi Jernigan vice chairman of the committee after the need for it was identified at a half-day riverfront workshop in February.

Stokes is chairman of the Center City Development Corp. Jernigan is a founder of the Memphis Redbirds Foundation and chairman of the UrbanArt Commission.

Seven other members are former City Council member Fred Davis; architect Dianne Dixon of Memphis Heritage; hotel operator Mabra Holeyfield; Dr. James C. Hunt of the Downtown Neighborhood Association; city public works director Benny Lendermon, Bill Taylor of TVA and City Council member John Vergos.

The City Planning Commission in 1924 proposed a ``beautiful park on Mud Island,'' auto parking on an elevated plaza on the levee and a riverfront promenade with barge terminals on the north and south.

Many years and many riverfront plans later, parking garages were built, Mud Island River Park opened and the Bluffwalk is nearly completed.

The 1999 committee's mission is to manage public involvement, attract public/private initiatives and get projects done to revitalize the riverfront.

"If (a proposal) develops any momentum, it will have to come from the entire community of Memphis," Stokes said. "It has not been decided by any city administrators."

For now, they're focused on a 5-mile stretch from the Wolf River to Chickasaw Heritage Park and from the river to a line three blocks east along Second Street.

Their next step to get public involvement will be three half-day focus group sessions.

About 70 people have been invited to attend the sessions on June 15 and 16, under the direction of Matt Arnn from the Waterfront Center in Washington.

Their task will be to look at trade-offs between various needs or suggestions and possible solutions.

They will be joined by City Council members and the steering committee later on June 16 for a wrapup session on the Memphis Queen.

The committee would then meet in July to further put focus group ideas into a concept to be presented to the public at town hall meetings in the fall.

They hope to have a recommendation for Herenton by year's end.

Herenton backed a $50 million plan, developed by city officials two years ago, to dam the Memphis harbor and form a 36-acre lake and a land bridge to Mud Island park.

It failed to win federal funding.

Workshop participants in February largely rejected that concept except for the need to better connect the park to the city.

"The 'lake plan' is a plan, but not necessarily what we will end up with," Stokes said.

"We're way ahead of Louisville and all these other places. Just go see what's going on in Tom Lee Park."

Most of Memphis's waterfront is publicly owned so potential projects would not be delayed by property acquisition.

Everything along the water's edge is public south of Saffarans for almost 5 miles, except for Founder's Pointe housing development and the Church of the River.
Major projects on Mud Island River Park, Tom Lee's expansion and the Mud Island Greenbelt Park are already done.

Much of a 5-mile trail is complete, linking the waterfront from the north end of Mud Island to Chickasaw Heritage Park.

The city has nearly $11.7 million dedicated to the riverfront from federal and state appropriations and a TVA donation.

Further funding for any future projects would come from public and private sources, Stokes said.

With help from an assistant city attorney, the committee will research the best way to form a nonprofit corporation as a public-private partnership to carry out future riverfront projects.

Vergos, Taylor and Rick Haynes of the Plough Foundation will work with Lendermon on plans for the organization's structure.

The committee Tuesday approved a Riverwalk logo design by the Public Works Department. It will be used on signs, brochures, maps and other material noting the city's series of riverfront trails.

The committee also hired Carol Coletta of Coletta & Co. to handle media relations at $115 an hour under an existing contract with the city.

Photo Caption:
Down by the riverside
The Riverfront Steering Committee will focus revitalization efforts on a five-mile stretch of waterfront from the Wolf River south to Chickasaw Heritage Park and east from the water's edge about three blocks to Second Street.

Copyright 1999, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, February 17, 1999

100 Cast About, Snag Some Ideas for Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Ideas to buoy Memphis's five miles of waterfront flowed like the mighty river itself Tuesday at a downtown workshop.

A few snagged agreement among about 100 participants.

The keepers: free year-round access for Memphians to a livelier Mud Island River Park; slower traffic on Riverside Drive; protected cobblestones and a dock for river tour boats.

The throw-back: Mayor Willie Herenton's $50 million lake plan. The half-day workshop, organized by the city and funded by the Plough Foundation, was not meant to be a referendum on the administration's last riverfront redevelopment concept, but its goals were a starting point for the discussion.

"We've seen the public wants to be involved," said Benny Lendermon, city public works director. ``We see that consensus on some things has been reached."

Lendermon said he and city chief administrative officer Rick Masson will meet with Herenton to discuss the next steps.

"We feel very strongly that the public involvement needs to continue...probably in a more intensive way with fewer people."

Herenton was out of town Tuesday and did not attend the workshop. He did attend a pre-workshop reception Monday night sponsored by AutoZone at company headquarters.

City engineer John Conroy detailed the city's most recent ambitious plan, which has failed to win federal funding. It featured two land bridges that transformed the Wolf River Harbor into a lake and created new land for private retail development onto Mud Island and permanent boat docks.

Dick Rigby, Ann Breen and Matt Arun, of the Waterfront Center in Washington, led the discussions Tuesday at the Marriott Hotel. They stressed public access to waterfronts.

With the admonition "Don't worry the money," Rigby sent participants into three small groups.

The lake plan drew little positive comment, except for the piece that would somehow link Mud Island.

"I don't see that Mud Island can ever become an amenity unless it has a link at the southern end," said Kristi Jernigan of the Memphis Redbirds.

The concept of docking big boats, such as the Delta Queen line and the Memphis Queen Line on the outside of the lake, against the southern dam, was a terrible one for river pilots, said Ralph Bagwell of the Memphis boat company. All three groups agreed on easier, freer access to Mud Island.

"Take down all the gates, locks and security guards and open it up," said John Stokes, vice chairman of Morgan Keegan Co. and chairman of the Center City Development Corp.

Landscape architect Ritchie Smith cautioned, "We need to maintain access to the river visually."

A permanent docking facility for the large river tour boats is a must to hang onto the travelers, said Regina Bearden of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The Delta Queen line is planning 17 arrivals here in 2000," Bearden said. ``They had 48 in Memphis five years ago."

It was more difficult for the groups to agree on how and where to provide for the boats, particularly because the boats' bow thrusters can dislodge the cobblestones, which also are treacherous for passengers to walk on.

Maintenance of the harbor, the waterfront and parks needs more attention, said Dianne Dixon of the Memphis Landmarks Commission, noting riverfront rats are troublesome.

Businessman Hamilton Smythe wanted continued access for recreational boaters and the presence of the two marinas in the harbor. Owners of about 150 small boats represent Memphians who were there when the city turned its back on the riverfront, he said.

Memphis is ahead of many other cities as it considers riverfront improvements because most of the land is city-owned, Rigby said. In addition, the local economy and philanthropic community are strong.

The consultants said other pluses are the riverwalk project that is under way to connect the north and south ends of the riverfront; the cobblestone landing; the trolley, Beale Street, diverse architectural styles, downtown residential growth, baseball stadium plans, a benign climate and the Mississippi River model on Mud Island.

Negatives facing Memphis, they said, include the underused riverfront, Riverside Drive as a barrier to the riverfront, "dead retail" downtown, an "antiquated" Mud Island park, lack of public art, limited park facilities, trash in public areas and lack of a centralized authority and consistent initiatives for riverfront development.

Among their recommendations:
-- Continuing discussion by a riverfront task force.
-- A major change to Riverside Drive and its traffic.
-- Free access to Mud Island at least for Memphians.
-- Further consideration of the big boats' place in Memphis' future.
-- Use of local artists and artisans.
-- A single government entity charged with redevelopment of the riverfront.
-- Consideration of replacing industries on the harbor's north end with denser use such as housing.
-- No parking on the cobblestones.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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