Friday, June 08, 2007

Tourism zone bill gets nod

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Richard Locker

NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee legislature approved a bill Thursday and moved close to approving another to help facilitate two major Memphis redevelopment projects: the Graceland area and the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

Both measures authorize the city to create tourism development zones (TDZs) at the sites, and define the legal parameters for allowing some local taxes collected within them to be used to help finance the projects. They prohibit the shares of local property and sales taxes earmarked for schools from being abated.

Potential developers of both have said public support in the way of tax abatements or incentives are crucial.

The Graceland project is further along, and the bill approved by the House on Thursday is on its way to Gov. Phil Bredesen to sign into law. Executives of Graceland have announced plans for a $250 million improvement plan to transform the area surrounding Elvis Presley's home.

Included are a new "boutique" convention hotel, possibly a second hotel, a visitors center, new attractions and shops, all designed to make Graceland an even bigger tourist draw. The visitors center is still in the design phase and construction won't start until at least next year, Todd Morgan, Graceland's director of media and creative services, said Thursday.

The entire project could occur within five years, provided local and state governments commit to an unspecified amount of funding, Robert F.X. Sillerman, chief executive of Graceland parent corporation CKX Inc., said last week.

The bill sponsored by state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, and Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, won House approval 87-5 Thursday. It requires a project of at least $200 million to qualify.

In both cases, the City Council would ultimately decide whether to create the zones and the tax abatements, incentives and in-lieu-of-tax payments.

"I think it's a great economic and community development tool that can be used statewide, although Elvis Presley Enterprises asked for it," Todd said. "The area out there will be enhanced greatly by what they are planning to do."

Graceland's Morgan agreed. "The purpose of seeking the tax break is to enhance our efforts. It's very good news as we move forward with our plans for redeveloping the area around Graceland."

The TDZ bill for the fairgrounds was first proposed by Memphis developer Henry Turley, who hopes to win the city's approval to be the site's master developer. Mayor Willie Herenton later endorsed the bill.

A city committee is studying how to redevelop the 170-acre site, bounded by Central, East Parkway, Southern and Hollywood. No plans are final; no developer, or process for selecting one, has been chosen.

Under Turley's scenario, the project would be a mix of new retailers, open space, athletic fields, the Salvation Army's planned Kroc Community Center, the existing Fairview School and Children's Museum of Memphis, and whatever the city decides to do with Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the Mid-South Coliseum.

That bill won House approval 87-3 but returns to the Senate next week for concurrence with amendments.

Lawmakers amended both bills with requirements for minority contractor participation.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Editorial: More confusion at the fairgrounds

Commercial Appeal [link]
May 28, 2007

It didn't seem possible, but the redevelopment planning process for the Mid-South Fairgrounds got even more muddled last week.

Prominent local developer Henry Turley appeared before the Shelby County legislative delegation to push for a bill to designate the fairgrounds area as a "tourist development zone."

That designation would allow state sales tax revenue collected within the zone to be used to pay for public improvements at the fairgrounds.

Which would be awfully convenient for Turley and his business partners, who hope to be selected by the city as "master developers" for the 170-acre complex.

Turley said his plans for the property would include a "big-box" retailer like a Target store, as well as less-intensive land uses.

And apparently he's been quietly lobbying for about a month for the change in state law needed to support his vision for the property.

Turley said both Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton are "fully supportive" of what he's been trying to do.

Establishing a tourist development zone at the fairgrounds may well be a good idea. But the way this is being handled is wrong for several different reasons.

For one, why do Memphis and Shelby County governments need private developers to speak for them on legislation that relates to the use of public tax dollars?

The city and county have their own lobbyists, who should be taking the lead on this issue, if a decision has been made to seek the tourist development zone designation.

Second, a committee that's been studying possible re-uses for the fairgrounds hasn't even finalized a redevelopment plan yet. The committee is waiting on a report from private consultants, due by July 15.

So far, though, the committee's work has focused on creating a "walkable" neighborhood, with housing and small shops to complement the sports and entertainment facilities already at the complex.

A big-box retailer would be inconsistent with that ideal. As anyone who's driven on Germantown Parkway can tell you, big-box retailers tend to cluster together, surrounded by acres of parking lots. There's nothing remotely pedestrian-oriented about that type of development.

Third, after the committee makes its recommendations for the fairgrounds, the city would still have to approve them. Only after that process is complete is the city planning to seek proposals from developers.

Letting Turley take charge of the lobbying effort for public incentives suggests that his team has the inside track in the bidding process, which might discourage others from submitting proposals as good or better than Turley's.

Fourth, it's troubling that Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson is among Turley's business partners on the deal. Gibson hasn't been on the commission very long, but he should know better than to get involved as an investor in any project that would rely heavily on public financing.

Redevelopment of the fairgrounds is long overdue. But it shouldn't be left to a group of private developers to call the shots on a public project of that magnitude.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Turley wants fairgrounds project

Developer seeks legislative OK to use sales tax money

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Richard Locker
May 24, 2007

NASHVILLE -- A partnership led by Memphis developer Henry Turley wants to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds area and is trying to win legislative approval to use sales tax money generated by new "major retail" centers there to help finance the project.

The state legislation would designate the fairgrounds area as a state "Tourist Development Zone." That would allow state sales tax revenue collected from new retail development that is built there to be plowed into public projects on the site -- including renovating Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium or building a new football stadium, Turley said.
The overall project would be a mix of public and private money -- at least $50 million in private financing for the privately owned businesses that would locate there.

The legislation that he has been quietly lobbying for for about a month requires at least $75 million in public investment in the zone, which would include whatever is done on the stadium, the Mid-South Coliseum and infrastructure at the site. Diversion of the sales tax money from the state's coffers to the project would help repay bonds sold to finance the public improvements.

In addition, Turley said he expects at least $25 million in federal tax credits -- jobs tax credits for new jobs created there, tax credits for historic preservation on the site, and market tax credits for redevelopment of a blighted area.

The redevelopment would leave the fairgrounds area bordered by Central on the north, East Parkway on the west, Southern on the South and Hollywood on the East as a mix of green space, athletic fields, "major retail" like a Target store, mixed use developments, "festival" space and other uses, Turley said.

It would incorporate into the project the existing Fairview School and the Children's Museum of Memphis, whatever the city and county decide to do with the Liberty Bowl and Mid-South Coliseum, and the Salvation Army's plans to build a multi-use Kroc Center on the site near East Parkway.

The city already has a fairground redevelopment study under way. Even if the state tax legislation is approved, Turley and his partners likely would have to bid or respond to a governmental request for proposals to become "master developers" of the project, then be selected by the city.

"We have no standing. If there is a master development process, we will go for it," Turley said.

He presented the plan here Wednesday to the Shelby County legislative delegation and asked its members to support the tax bill. The bill won Senate approval earlier this month and is awaiting action in the House budget subcommittee where it is encountering difficulty.

Turley said the other partners are Memphis businessman Robert Loeb, Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson II, who has helped him lobby for the bill, and a New York real estate company.

Turley said he has discussed the project with both Mayor Willie Herenton and County Mayor A C Wharton and said "both are fully supportive" of his efforts to pass the tax bill before the state legislature adjourns for the year in early June.

Members of the delegation were generally supportive. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, whose district includes the fairgrounds, said the project could be a major revitalization for the entire area between the University of Memphis and Cooper-Young, including the Beltline neighborhood just east of the site.

However, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who also represents the area, said it was "unacceptable" for the developers to seek the legislation without consulting with him and city officials first.

Turley told The Commercial Appeal in an interview after the delegation meeting that even if his group does not get the project, "what I want to do is make the tool of a Tourist Development Zone available to Memphis. This opportunity presented itself so suddenly that we had to seize the opportunity."

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Public's domain

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

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

The Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Editorial: Mayors prime new jobs pump

The Commercial Appeal [Link]
April 1, 2007

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton last week pledged $1.25 million in county funds for economic development in the 2008 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton says he will seek up to $1.5 million in city funds for the effort.

An economic development plan prepared for local government and business leaders makes a persuasive case that the mayors' investments, which are subject to County Commission and City Council approval, are not only sound but perhaps even urgent.

Local business leaders are also being prodded to devote more resources to the task of marketing Memphis to the world and sending our best and our brightest out on recruiting missions to sell the community to potential investors.

A draft of the plan obtained by The Commercial Appeal last week represents one part of a four-part series of strategic plans that also address crime, government efficiency and education-workforce development.

Because Memphis and Shelby County operate "the most under-funded economic development program" in the nation, we apparently have been lucky to get companies like Nucor and ServiceMaster to invest in the community, the report implies.

And while comparisons are often onerous, it may be somewhat instructive to note that while local governments were spending $350,000 on economic development here in 2006, Nashville was spending $3 million.

One of the plan's most useful elements may be its list of 15 disparate strategies for progress in Memphis that engage our attention from time to time but are rarely considered as parts of a coherent whole.

The list ranges from the creation of a national entrepreneurship "center of excellence" to internal and external marketing campaigns to tout the community's assets.

Benefits would flow, as well, from the development of a "seamless" linear park system linking Shelby Farms Park, the riverfront and other parkland via the Wolf River Greenway, Memphis Greenline and other green corridors.

Resolving the ticklish legal issues surrounding the riverfront promenade would be part of an overall plan to invigorate the city's Downtown and Mississippi riverfront. [Emphasis added]

Some of the newer ideas for economic development, such as enhancing the city's international role as an "aerotropolis" and expanding its biosciences industry, are given the prominent role they deserve, along with old standbys like tourism, the music industry and tax incentives.

The infrastructure exists to advance most of these strategies, although a cabinet-level, publicly funded city and county Office of Economic Development would make them easier to pursue.

At the heart of the report is a new five-year, $66 million plan that would attempt to take Memphis into the big leagues of economic development, where the game is played like a "hyper-competitive survival of the fittest in which the winners grow stronger and the losers find it increasingly more difficult to make headway in the race to compete."

Support for the ideas in the plan is easy to voice, and this one will be greeted with enthusiasm. The more difficult task is finding the money to fix the community's shortcomings and put it on a fast track to fortune.

While Wharton and Herenton tally up funding, it will be instructive to see who else wants to get on board.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On Shaky Ground?

Part of new Mud Island condos sit on landslide site

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andy Meek

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

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

Landslide victory

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation of sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star-spangled home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Domain ruling gives developers options

Memphis Business Journal [link]
By Rob Robertson and Amos Maki

Opinions are mixed regarding last week's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively expanded the use of eminent domain for private economic development.

In the case of Kelo vs. New London, Conn., the court held that New London could purchase and remove private homes and businesses to make way for a private riverfront development project because of the potential economic benefit the boost in tax revenues would create.

Kevin Walsh of Harris, Shelton, Hanover, Walsh PLLC, calls the court's decision "an unfortunate expansion of public use."

Walsh has an emphasis on eminent domain in his practice and has represented property owners in cases brought by governmental authorities to take private property.

"I found it disappointing that Judge Rehnquist was not able to muster a majority for purposes of protecting private property rights," Walsh says. "This decision essentially allows governmental entities to take property in the name of public use under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution solely for the purpose of generating additional tax revenue."

Still, there are additional levels of scrutiny to consider regarding the application of Tennessee state law, Walsh says. Tennessee has its own clause with regard to the right to take private property.

"I'm not sure it would be interpreted any differently, but you would have to consider not only the Tennessee Constitution but the enabling legislation or statute under which the power of eminent domain has been delegated," he says.

That would include any legislation that allows a government entity to seize private property, including boards like the Riverfront Development Corp., which gained approval from the City Council last year to transform a four-block area of Downtown known as the Promenade.

The $50 million redevelopment plan calls for using private developments, including three proposed new buildings, to pay for projects like a two-level promenade and the relocation of parking garages underground. The buildings would be mixed-use, with restaurants and shops lining the bottom floors. Ground leases would keep the property under the control of the city.

Ultimately, the RDC seeks to revamp a 5-mile stretch of the Memphis waterfront over the next half century. The cost of that development has been estimated at about $300 million.

The property now contains the Cossitt Library, a fire station, the U.S. Post Office and Confederate Park. The land, except for Confederate Park, is virtually inaccessible to most of the public and offers prime views of the river.

The property was donated by the city's founding fathers for use as a public promenade. The heirs of the founders hold title to the land and have been divided on the proposal.

RDC president Benny Lendermon says the High Court's ruling gives the city attorney another tool in dealing with land acquisition for a plan that could produce a significant economic benefit for the city.

"It's incredibly important nationwide," says Lendermon. "Many large metropolitan areas are going through financial crises right now. This gives them more flexibility to pursue economic development when it is for the public good. We developed a plan for the best use of the property."

Barbara Kritchevsky, associate dean of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis, says the ruling would not directly change any restrictions under the Tennessee Constitution involving eminent domain.

"(The ruling) talks about what is permissible under the federal Constitution," says Kritchevsky. "It means if a state chooses to do what New London did it would not violate the federal Constitution. States could be more restrictive in their own interpretations of eminent domain."

Jim Arthur, an attorney at Armstrong Allen, says Tennessee's eminent domain clause is not more restrictive; it essentially mirrors that of the federal Constitution and has been construed by state courts in lockstep with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The New London case, therefore, may have a particular relevance if a similar situation were to occur here.

"It means if an E-Cycle could convince enough local officials to declare that a particular development project it proposed provides a 'public benefit,' however speculative, private property owners whose property stands in the way are afforded no protection by the Constitution," Arthur says, referring to the fake company the FBI used in its Tennessee Waltz sting operation that netted several local elected officials for allegedly taking bribes.

"According to the Kelo majority, I see nothing to stop the City of Memphis, or some agency to which it might delegate its power of eminent domain, from condemning every square foot of riverfront property in furtherance of some development plan it pronounces to be of 'public benefit'," Authur says.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that opposes the RDC's proposals, says that won't happen.

"The Public Promenade is protected by the Tennessee Supreme Court's prior decisions involving the property and the Tennessee Constitution," McLean wrote on the group's official Web site. "We believe that if the RDC attempts to condemn the Public Promenade, the Tennessee judiciary will reject the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning in Kelo."

Lendermon says the RDC would use eminent domain as a "last resort."

Another project where eminent domain could come into play is the city's push to redevelop the blighted, 138-acre section of the city south of the $250 million FedExForum. Current conditions in the area, bounded by Mulberry on the west, G.E. Patterson on the south, Danny Thomas on the east and Linden on the north, are bleak, with lots overgrown with weeds and covered in trash.

The Center City Commission, the agency charged with guiding development Downtown, has developed a plan for revitalizing the area that includes the possibility of using eminent domain for land asemblage that would spur development.

"Land assembly will be key in creating development in what is a long forgotten neighborhood of vacant land," says Jeff Sanford, CCC president. "I would hope that eminent domain wouldn't have to be used to assemble property, but in the end it may be an option."

Downtown developer Henry Turley says the Supreme Court ruling is a victory for cities looking to attract economic development opportunities.

"I think a city has to be able to assemble property for economic development within that city," says Turley, principal of Henry Turley Co. "Otherwise, that economic development occurs outside the city. So the city tends to languish while the surrounding areas tend to prosper, putting the city at a great disadvantage."

At the other end of the spectrum is retired attorney Hal Rounds, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Shelby County, who says the Kelo case is fraught with dangers to everyone who intends to work, invest and build something.

"We have gone from being property owners to conditional custodians at the pleasure of our government," Rounds says.

He believes the matter is not settled, in part because as Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent, the entire body of cases cited by the majority rests not on Constitutional law but on other precedents.

Should the next similar case go back to the 5th Amendment it could overturn more than a century of decisions. In the meantime, Rounds believes the Kelo case, while potentially unlawful, strengthens the hand of the city.

The problem with the decision, as Arthur sees it, is that it lowers the standard for governmental exercise of its power of eminent domain to an all but meaningless level.

"The 5th Amendment originally contemplated government taking private property for its own use, for forts, roads or other necessities for the common good, or for use by others who might incidentally reap a benefit to serve the public," Arthur says.

"Now, government can take your property simply because it determines that someone else can use your property more profitably and generate more tax revenue than you have."

CONTACT staff writer Rob Robertson at 259-1726 or Contact staff writer Amos Maki at 259-1764 or Staff writer Scott Shepard also contributed to this story.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Development threatens harbor operations

Land bridge, residential development may relocate harbor firms

Memphis Business Journal
by Amos Maki
Link to original

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.

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Friday, September 24, 2004

A Riverfront

Memphis Magazine

Confused about the debate over our riverfront? You're not alone. Maybe we can help sort things out.

Has Mother Nature taken sides in the debate over the Memphis riverfront promenade?

It looked that way after a Memorial Day storm seemingly took dead aim at the downtown bluff and knocked down several trees in Confederate Park across from the Morgan Keegan Tower. It was the second time in 10 months that a storm had littered the park with toppled trees, suggesting, perhaps, that if the heirs of the city founders can't decide what to do then the airs of the west wind will simply destroy the promenade piece by piece.

The promenade is the centerpiece of the riverfront, the west side of the blocks between Union and Poplar. The pro-development Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) has picked the low-hanging fruit by putting a median in Riverside Drive, building a sidewalk above the cobblestones and stairwells on the bluff, landscaping riverfront parks, and holding a design competition for a boat landing at the foot of Tom Lee Park.

But what about downtown's front yard, which now includes a fire station, library, and parking garages? That's where the RDC and a group called Friends for Our Riverfront are far apart. Here's a look at some of the issues that divide them.
What was the founders' vision and why does it matter?

Memphis was founded in 1819, a date which splits the difference between the appointment of commissioners for the Chickasaw Treaty in 1818 and the opening of a land office on the bluff in 1820. The "proprietors" of the land were John Overton, John McLemore, and Marcus Winchester, later the first mayor. Charles Crawford, professor of history at the University of Memphis, says they were "hardheaded, realistic businessmen" with unusual foresight. They dedicated a web of squares, alleys, streets, and the promenade to public use while keeping the rights to operate a ferry at the waterfront.

By 1828, doubts had already arisen about the proprietors' intentions.

"The people of Memphis were opposed to the proprietors and did everything they could to hinder and hamper them," wrote J.M. Keating in his 1888 History of the City of Memphis and Shelby County .

So the proprietors decided to restate their vision and file it in the record books, which can still be seen in the deed book in the Shelby County Archives. This is what it says:

"The proprietors say that it was their original intention, is now, and forever will be, that the promenade should be public ground for such use only as the word imports, to which heretofore, by their acts, for that purpose, it was conceived all right was relinquished for themselves, their heirs, etc."

Are the heirs united?

No. Some of them are leaders and supporters of Friends for Our Riverfront. Others are willing to support parts of the RDC plan with a major qualification. Hamilton Gayden Jr., a judge in Nashville and an Overton heir, helped organize a survey of "165 Overton first-in-line heirs," 140 of whom answered the survey. According to Gayden, 133 Overton heirs favor development of the promenade for private use "provided the development ensures adequate green space and protects the public's access to and views of the river, and provided the revenues from private uses are shared in an equitable fashion between the city and the heirs."

Gayden's group says the McLemore descendants favor the RDC proposal, but that appears to be hearsay evidence at this point. As for the Winchester heirs, suffice it to say that founders James and William Winchester each had nine children, one of whom was Marcus Winchester, who also had nine children. Do the math.

Finally, even if a majority of the heirs could be found and surveyed, their sentiments might not matter.

"So what?!" states a Friends handout. "The descendants have no right to change the conditions of the initial grant of this land."

What powers does the RDC have?

The RDC was created in 2000 as a not-for-profit, public/private partnership. Under contract with the city of Memphis, it is charged with promoting, planning, and coordinating whatever enhances the attractiveness, accessibility, and economic value of the waterfront. It took over all of the downtown riverfront parks from the Memphis Park Commission. Memphis City Council members sometimes call it the Retired Directors Club because its staff includes former city division directors Benny Lendermon and John Conroy.

In 2002, the RDC completed an 18-month master planning process, which culminated in the Memphis Riverfront Master Plan (which can be viewed online at The plan cannot be implemented without the approval of the Memphis City Council at a number of stages, including public funding if and when it comes to that.

"Finding a way to pay for improvements is essential," says Lendermon. "The RDC plans call for mixed-use developments on 40 percent of the promenade land, which will generate money needed to build the walkways, bury parking, and add trees. Without those revenues, this plan would likely end up where most plans are, collecting dust on the shelf."

What does Friends for Our Riverfront want?

To see the four blocks of the promenade from Union to Adams returned to a more or less continuous park and greenspace with new walkways and without the library, fire station, and parking garages. Those buildings go away, and their replacement cost is not part of the $7 million estimate Friends puts on demolition, new landscaping, and pedestrian bridges. (The group's Web site is

What happened to the lake and land bridge?

The most obvious new feature in the RDC Master Plan is a proposed 38-acre, five-square-block area of new land connecting the city to Mud Island. It would create two new bodies of water -- a smaller downtown commercial harbor and a new lake -- and provide land for new development. The RDC says it could take 10 to 20 years or more for all elements of the plan to be implemented. Lendermon, a veteran of many years at City Hall, and the board of the RDC have elected to fight one battle at a time.

Jack Tucker, an architect and downtown pioneer with an office on Front Street, says one of the RDC consultants told him that the land bridge was mandated by the RDC and did not come from the planners. Downtown developer Henry Turley says it is so massive and expensive that he fears it could cause more doable parts of the plan to be scuttled. The Urban Land Institute, a group of consultants hired by the RDC, seems conflicted about the land bridge in its 2003 report.

"Do not let the land bridge be a barrier to progress and action in other areas," the report says. It lists five "challenges" posed by this "expensive way to create a new development opportunity" including redirecting investment away from other parts of downtown. "Despite these challenges the panel does not believe that the land bridge should not be built," the report says.

Nothing like the old double-negative endorsement.

What about parking?

Friends says there are alternatives to Front Street parking lots such as trolley links to parking lots at the north and south ends of downtown. But the RDC and Center City Commission say that any promenade parking that is demolished must be replaced with new parking facilities, possibly underground.

"Whether the RDC plan is implemented or not, we need the estimated 1,000 parking spaces that are in the two garages on Front and Monroe and Front and Jefferson," said Jeff Sanford, executive director of the Center City Commission. "There is already demand for more public parking than exists."

Where did those 400-foot office towers come from?

The RDC says office towers up to 400 feet tall have always been part of its plans that were presented in three public hearings. At the same time, however, Lendermon says there is only a slight chance of such towers being built.

Where do the mayor and City Council stand?

Mayor Herenton is pro-RDC. In May, the City Council voted 10-3 to let the RDC plan move forward but modified it by knocking the office buildings down to a maximum height of 150 feet. The presentation and public comment on the plan came at the end of a seven-hour meeting and left some people on both sides feeling snubbed by City Council Chairman Joe Brown. Brown's North Memphis constituency includes many poor and working-class Memphians who are more concerned about crime and schools than the RDC plan. But Brown voted with the majority.
Both sides could overplay their hand, or they could wind up simply mortally wounding each other. Jack Sammons, who represents affluent East Memphians, said his "nay" was a cautionary one to let the RDC know that he will also be raising lots of questions down the road. Carol Chumney and E.C. Jones were the other "no" votes. The architect of the 150-foot compromise was Council-man Tom Marshall, but he has an independent streak as well.

Who's winning?

It would seem that the RDC won the first round by virtue of being on the long end of a 10-3 vote, which kept the plan alive without authorizing any public appropriations or construction contracts. With many more battles ahead, however, an early win may not mean much. On its Web site, Friends vows to "stop the RDC's land grab." And Bruce Kramer, an attorney who represents Friends, had this reply to one plan supporter:

"Since you are glad the RDC won round one, I wonder if you are interested in buying or leasing the Brooklyn Bridge?"

Is it going to court?

Probably so, in the opinion of the Urban Land Institute and others. If it does, the court battle could be long and expensive -- and a long time coming. A decision could be appealed. The dispute over running Inter-state 40 through Overton Park went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, then it was nearly 20 more years before new houses were built in the old expressway corridor.

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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Letters: RDC not listening to public input

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

I was one of approximately 70 people who attended the Promenade walk conducted by the planner for Cooper-Robertson. That walk was the only public meeting the RDC held in which the public was actually asked for input.

If you review the summary of the walk's input on the RDC Web site, it's clear the RDC disregarded the public comment it received about its plan and tried to avoid any negative input on its presentation.

The RDC plan was presented at the third public meeting, and the audience was asked: ''What do you like about this plan?" Participants weren't informed of the Founders' vision until this final meeting, when the attorney who had filed the case to block hotel development, leading to the 1965 Supreme Court case, disclosed that the land was held as an easement for public use.

The RDC claims its plan increases public space by 60 percent. While it calculates the space added by wider sidewalks, it fails to calculate all of the ''public space" space created by existing sidewalks and other areas. There is no minimum amount of walking space dedicated to the public in its proposal. It labels ''public areas" as green in its plan, when they won't contain grass, but rather add to the concrete and brick that already dominate downtown.

Thankfully, citizens have the right to have another vision. The City Council should have the wisdom to pursue the original alternative.

Sue A. Williams

Why do I feel I am not part of the "public" as described by our city's leaders? I am a Memphian. My family lives within the city limits. I love downtown. My family plays, worships and entertains there. So why we are denied access to the sidewalks and egress that my tax dollars built for ''public use"?

Is it Henry Turley who did not want my family to access public use areas because it would disturb him for one month out of 12? Was it Kevin Kane who did not want my family to use the public sidewalks in front of his home? Did Mayor Willie Herenton order the closing of the stairs to Tom Lee Park?

Surely it was not the participants in Memphis in May. They would not have asked to walk to the far ends of the park to gain access. They bring visitors, income and a positive image to a city that desperately needs anything positive. Who locked these gates?

Is this what we are to expect if the city gives away the land that has been set aside for "public use" for 185 years? How far will we have to walk to get a view of the river then?

Memphis has done a fabulous job renewing downtown without losing sight of the history and feel of a Southern river city. Please do not spoil the efforts that have gone into these improvements. Do not try to pass off the renovation of the bluffs as a "public" service.

William McBride

Don't ruin the best bluff view in Memphis with bank and office buildings and condo penthouses for the few elite who can afford them. The Founders meant the Promenade to be green space, ample and open to the people, forever. The RDC should sit down with concerned citizen groups and find out what the people want on their land.

Humans who live and work in cities need large green spaces, not little strips at the edges of concrete walks. Maybe even a space as large as three Confederate Parks stitched together, in the heart of downtown, where they can see it from their offices and apartments and get to it easily for a bite of lunch. When you have only 30 minutes, you don't have time to go to Tom Lee Park or Mud Island, but you can be on the Promenade in an instant.

Through legal machinations, the RDC would have Memphians pay for this land even though it already belongs to them. The RDC plan is up for approval by the City Council, although no ecological or environmental study has been done to determine the impact the plan might have on the Wolf River or the Chickasaw Bluffs.
The fate of this land has been decided, in 1828 by the Founders, in 1867 and 1965 by the highest court in Tennessee. The Promenade belongs to the people of Memphis, not to the highest bidder.

Mimi Harris Waite

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Public promenade vote looms amid growing dissension

Memphis Business Journal
By Amos Maki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.

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Friday, April 30, 2004

Benny Lendermon Responds to Jack Belz

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


DATE: Friday, April 30, 2004

FROM: Benny Lendermon

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

RE: Memphis Promenade Public Realm Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Mixed reviews for promenade riverfront plan

Memphis Business Journal
By Amos Maki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turley, for one, is tired of talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright(c) American City Business Journals Inc.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

New, revised plans awaiting Mud Island property

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andrew Bell

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

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

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

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

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

Hyneman acknowledged the controversial nature of the property.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 08, 2002

Future of Hyneman's Mud Island land remains murky

Memphis Business Journal [link]
by Kate Miller

Three months after an early morning landslide sent tons of dirt into the Wolf River just south of the Auction Street Bridge, the harbor is clear but the future of Kevin Hyneman's 21 acres on Mud Island remains murky.

"As we speak we're still waiting on a report from our geotechnical engineer, which is going to give us the reason for the cause of the failure," Hyneman says. "Once we receive that, then we'll be able to determine exactly what we can do with the property, then seek proposals from different contractors who specialize in this type of problem and they'll do a design-build for going in and actually fixing the problem."

Larry Cooley, principal in the Ridgeland, Miss.-based geotechnical engineering firm Burns Cooley Dennis, Inc., says he is still waiting on some data but a report should be released within a couple of weeks.

"We have determined the cause," Cooley says. "There is a way to remedy that."

He would not give details on either.

Hyneman says the prospect of future litigation is likely the cause of the delay, though no lawsuits have been filed to date.

Hyneman was within 30 days of closing on a sale of the land to a joint-venture development team consisting of Belz-Turley and the Riverfront Development Corp. when the landslide occurred. He had agreed to sell the land for $2.6 million plus interest and 11 city-owned acres on the north end of Mud Island, in an area where he has already built many single-family homes.

Henry Turley and RDC president Benny Lendermon say they are still interested in developing the land, but their future involvement is far from certain. The Harbor Town-like development previously planned might not be possible.

Lendermon says the mudslide actually affected only a very small amount of land in the planned development, possibly seven lots. But while it has a small impact on the total amount of land to be developed, the lost lots could make or break the deal.

"This project wasn't a gold mine to start with," Lendermon says. "It took a lot of time to put this together because the profits were very slim and you had to be very creative to make it work financially for everybody. So, saying that you take a piece out and take some lots out and take away some revenue -- it probably hasn't reduced the cost any -- it makes the situation that much harder to do."

Turley says the partners estimated each of the lots affected by the mudslide to be worth about $175,000 each, or $1.225 million for seven lots. But Turley says if the land where the mudslide occurred isn't developed, then the partners could charge more for the lots behind them since they would have the view of the harbor.

There would be no such way to make up for other costs.

One is the cost of carry, the interest, taxes and insurance payments that Hyneman is currently paying and would be transferred to the new owners. Hyneman has said he pays between $125,000 and $130,000 in interest a year and $20,000 to $25,000 in real estate taxes. The developers will have to carry this cost longer because of the delays.

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Friday, May 03, 2002

Clear cut, it's not

Plans uncertain for Mud Island tract

Memphis Business Journal [link]
by Kate Miller

Ongoing talks between Kevin Hyneman, Henry Turley, Jack Belz and the Riverfront Development Corp. regarding development on Mud Island have intensified after Hyneman began clearing trees from his 21-acre property south of the Auction Street bridge.

Hyneman, whose development plans caused an uproar last year from several Downtown organizations -- including the RDC -- says he no longer wants to develop the land and is in preliminary negotiations to sell it to a joint venture consisting of the three parties for a Harbor Town-like development.

"That's not something that we'd want to be a part of," Hyneman says. "Not that that won't be nice, but we've got a lot on our plate and that won't be a part of our five-year plan."

All parties emphasize that negotiations and plans are still at a preliminary stage, but Turley has an idea of what such a deal might look like.

Belz-Turley, a collaboration that has worked on numerous other Downtown projects -- most recently Uptown -- would form a joint venture with the RDC.

The RDC would contribute city-owned land such as the property it owns west of Island Drive and south of the Auction Bridge. Belz-Turley would guarantee the loan taken out by the joint venture and contribute to the work and planning of the development.

That loan would pay for the acquisition of the land as well as the costly infill.

The Belz-Turley portion of the venture would also contribute about an acre of land Turley owns on the southeast corner of Auction and Island Drive.

Turley says the development wouldn't be identical to Harbor Town but would be of the same quality. It would most likely be mixed-use with single family and multi-family residential development as well as some office space. A small inn or hotel has even been discussed.

The public-private development would also incorporate public access along the Mississippi and Wolf Rivers, including public trails and green spaces.

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Thursday, March 07, 2002

Bridging Mud Island: The biography of an idea.

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

The centerpiece, literally, of the new riverfront plan is the land bridge to Mud Island, a $75 million investment that would create 50 to 70 new acres of prime downtown real estate.

Bold as it is, the land bridge is not new. Since 1924, at least half a dozen ideas including pontoon bridges, dams, pedestrian bridges, and land bridges similar to the one in the current plan have been floated by architects, planners, and engineers. Two of them, of course, were actually built: the Mud Island monorail and the Auction Street Bridge.

Like The Pyramid (which is similar to a golden bluff-top structure proposed in 1975 by designer Mark Hartz), major-league sports, and a music museum, the land bridge is one of those Memphis ideas too powerful to die.

Its earliest ancestor appears to be the 1924 Harland Bartholomew & Associates riverfront plan. It featured a classic promenade consisting of a series of arches on Front Street and a low, arched bridge wide enough to carry cars to future parks on Mud Island.

"No immediate steps are necessary," planners wrote. "As private improvements are made and as public funds become available, the various improvements can be made."

The plan was updated in 1955 with an interstate-style Riverside Drive connecting Tom Lee Park to Mud Island, an east-west interstate crossing the Wolf River at Auction Street, and a cloverleaf intersection in the middle of the island.

"It is proposed to divert the channel at a point near Poplar, and to fill the old channel, thus creating a very large area to be used for the purposes shown on the plan."

The Hernando DeSoto Bridge over the Mississippi River (and Mud Island) was built in the late Sixties. The Corps of Engineers raised the island's elevation at the same time, but development of the island was still several years away.

In 1972, Mud Island landowner Bill Gerber and Percy Galbreath, Inc., commissioned a plan for Mud Island. This one also had a land bridge closing the Wolf River harbor at Beale Street and a new channel at the north end of the island.

"We had just seen 400 acres filled by the Corps, and the idea of filling in a 30- to 40-acre connection didn't seem like any real major feat," says Gerber. "The value of the land you would gain would be more than the cost of producing it."

Harry Rike, an engineer who worked on the plan, jokes that "we were not engineers, we were prophets." The land bridge came in small, medium, and large sizes, and the preferred option, the middle one, was almost exactly the size of the one in the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) plan.

But Gerber and Rike couldn't interest then-Mayor Henry Loeb, who was worried about crime on South Main Street.

"They didn't want to connect Mud Island to a high-crime area," Rike says. "Now, of course, all of that has changed and it's an entertainment district."

Instead, the next city administration and architect Roy Harrover moved ahead with Mud Island river park. Harrover considered two options similar to the RDC proposal. One was making the bridge that now supports the monorail a building with a museum instead.

"The second thing was quite pertinent," says Harrover. "We started at Union and filled in the Wolf River up to where the I-40 bridge ties in, creating a complete public park from Riverside Drive to the Mississippi. That scheme was cancelled by the Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers. And the entire Yacht Club was opposed to it."

Then-Mayor Wyeth Chandler and the City Council instead chose the concept of a monorail and a park dedicated to the river. It cost $60 million and now has few fans.

"The harbor is considered a public waterway commercially used," says Harrover. "The Coast Guard told us we had to build the monorail bridge the same height as the Hernando DeSoto Bridge at that point. Then they came back a few years later and allowed them to build the Auction Street Bridge lower than that."

The Auction Street Bridge opened Mud Island to residential developments like HarborTown, but the lure of direct access from the heart of downtown remained. Architect Tony Bologna and developer Henry Turley played around with the idea of a low-cost pontoon bridge at the southern tip that could open or close for boats and barges. A former Bologna associate, Tom Turri, joined the Hnedak-Bobo architectural firm, and he sketched out drawings of a 28-acre lake formed by closing the harbor with a dam at Beale Street and another at Jefferson.

"The lake" went public in 1996, its estimated cost $30 million.

"It didn't do anything to bring the city to the river," says Turri, now with Bottletree Design Group. "There was some public discussion, then the RDC idea came along."

The RDC's charge is to recoup the cost of any public investment with roughly three times as much private development. Total package price: $292 million.

Benny Lendermon, head of the RDC, says RDC planners were staunchly opposed to a land connection at Beale Street, which was favored by the RDC board at one point. The planners insisted it should be north of that. Minds were made up.

"They might have walked away from it," Lendermon says.

So north it was. And north it is. For now, at least.

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc.

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Monday, March 12, 2001

A Not So Crazy Plan

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc.

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