Thursday, June 04, 1998

Ford Discourages Harbor-Park Project; Says Education, Housing More Important

Commercial Appeal
by James W. Brosnan
Shirley Downing contributed to this story.

With prospects dimming for federal aid for Mayor Willie Herenton's riverfront development, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) said Thursday that the mayor should refocus his lobbying on education and housing.

"It's not a project I'm terribly excited about. I'm urging the mayor and the city to reconsider some priorities," Ford said.


Ford commented a day after Tennessee Sens. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) failed in efforts to get start-up funds of $3.5 million for the $43 million project.

Ford also released a letter he sent to the mayor on Tuesday that questioned whether the mayor's focus on the project is "reasonable or justified.''

Ford suggested that Herenton should be lobbying for President Clinton's proposals to aid local governments in constructing schools because "dozens of schools in Memphis have been forced to stop classes early and send their students home due to a lack of air-conditioning.''

Carey Hoffman, the mayor's executive assistant, said Herenton would not respond until he received the letter.

Hoffman, however, said the City of Memphis has committed nearly $110 million through its capital improvements budget toward education, which she said is "more than any admininstration in the city's history."

Herenton recently said he views the riverfront as "one of the city's most valuable assets."

The city has been lobbying Washington for funding to build the project, which has been estimated to cost as much as $50 million.

The mayor said the city has about $11 million or $12 million in hand from various government sources. If additional federal funds are not forthcoming, Herenton said he would like to proceed with a scaled-down harbor-front development, possibly omitting the proposed lake.

He also said he likely would approach the Memphis City Council for "modest support of up to $6 million'' toward harborfront development.

Herenton's top priority in Washington has been to secure federal aid for his plan to create a 36-acre lake on the Memphis riverfront by redirecting the mouth of the Wolf River and damming the channel between Mud Island and the riverfront.

He made a special trip to lobby the staff of the only Mid-South senator on the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), and made the project the lone mission for his Washington lobbyist, Mike Flint.

That effort suffered a major setback Wednesday when the chairman of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), recommended no money for any new water projects so that Army Corps of Engineers funds could be concentrated on current work.

City Public Works director Benny Lendermon said he still hopes to get funding to start design work on the project.

Thompson said he remains a "strong supporter" of the mayor's plan and will pursue the funding later in the appropriations process.

Frist blamed the Clinton administration for proposing a budget for the corps that is $1.3 billion below this year's budget.

"This is obviously a very important project for Memphis and I'm disappointed the Appropriations Committee was unable to fund it," Frist said. "I hope the House side will take another swing at it."

But Ford said he hasn't even been asked by the city to submit a request to the House Appropriations Committee.

"I hope there is no question that we are seeking the money," Lendermon said. "It's hard to imagine anyone having any confusion on that issue. I think we're going to ask all of our delegation to try to get the money."

Even if he submitted the request, Ford said he doubts it would be approved considering the tight restrictions of the balanced budget and the fact that the corps itself has not sought the money. Last year, Herenton criticized Ford for seeking an appropriation for the project too late in the congressional year. This year, Ford fought for the cobblestones funding, but he remains skeptical of the overall project.

In his letter to Herenton, Ford said the two biggest economic problems for the city are workforce development and a lack of good, affordable housing. "At a time when we are struggling to prepare the young people in our community and region for the challenges they will face in the increasingly competitive global marketplace, it seems clear to me that providing them with modern schools and stimulating classrooms is a much more important priority than building a recreational lake within our river," he said.

"As the primary driving force behind the Mid-South's economy, Memphis can and should be at the forefront of the nationwide urban revitalization effort. Unfortunately, however, at this point we are not," Ford said.

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

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Sunday, August 10, 1997

City Tries to Save Riverfront Project; Ford Jr. Says Federal Funding Unlikely

Commercial Appeal
by Mary Powers

Memphis hopes to save an ambitious riverfront development plan even if the new federal budget doesn't include the $3.5 million startup money, a city official said Saturday.

"There is a chance of getting language to authorize the Corps of Engineers to begin designing the project," said Benny Lendermon, the city's public works director.

"We have talked to the corps numerous times and they have been very supportive of the project."

Such authorization would help ensure future federal funding and avoid significant project delays.

"We are working the Senate side hard" on clearance to begin designing the project, Lendermon said.

Mayor Willie Herenton outlined plans last September to transform the Memphis Harbor into a recreational lake. The project would cost an estimated $43.2 million, $20 million of which city officials envisioned would be federal funds.

It was hoped the federal budget being finalized in Washington would include $3.5 million to begin work.

It doesn't.

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Memphis) and Lendermon said Saturday there is little chance the city's funding would be included in compromise federal appropriations now being finalized.

On Saturday, Ford criticized Herenton's leadership and failure to lobby in support of the city's request.

"Every time City Hall makes a mistake they point the blame at someone else," he said.

Ford spoke after a prayer breakfast that attracted about 900 people to the Memphis Marriott, including Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout. Rout said the county and Ford have a good working relationship.

Herenton didn't attend Saturday's event, and Carey Hoffman, his spokesman, said he wouldn't comment on Ford's remarks.

Herenton and Ford have clashed before, most recently about a summer youth jobs program. City Council member Myron Lowery said he hopes this latest problem will prompt both sides to improve communications.

On Saturday, Ford reiterated that city officials didn't provide the project information his office requested, including a development plan and possible environmental impact. That's why Ford didn't request the appropriation until July 30, several days after the House subcommittee deadline had passed for submitting such requests.

Lendermon said city officials had submitted such information and weren't told that Ford was awaiting additional data.

The same funding request was submitted by Tennessee Sens. Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, both Republicans. It wasn't included in Senate appropriations, which Lendermon said city officials had expected.

Copyright (c) 1997 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Saturday, June 28, 1997

Mayor Herenton’s Riverfront Vision

Downtowner Magazine
June 1997

Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton is answering questions about the overall plan for the Memphis riverfront Saturday, June 28, 1997 at 9 a.m. This is when he hosts "Walk the River With Mayor W. W. Herenton,” where he explains his vision of Downtown riverfront development and celebrates completion of the walkway along Mud Island.

Beginning at the north end of Mud Island, the walk extends four miles and ends at the south end of Tom Lee Park, Markers along the way explain the history and future plans for the riverfront. Buses wait at the end of the line to transport hikers back to their cars. Buses are also positioned at the halfway point for those who do not wish to complete the entire walk.

Mayor Herenton hopes the walk attracts the attention of potential Mud Island developers. He also wants to explain his vision for family entertainment venues along the riverfront and on Mud Island. "Mayor Herenton is focused on realizing the full potential of an area to be shared by all," says Carey Hoffman, Executive Assistant to the Mayor.

The Riverwalk is one part of an ambitious plan that includes preservation of the historic cobblestone landing, home of a floating boardwalk with food and non-motorized boat rental concessions, the Trolley Riverfront Loop, and the Riverbluff Walkway. A landscaped, half-mile long, ten-feet-wide biking and jogging trail with architectural lighting is also in the works. Under consideration is a 28-acre lake, enclosed by dams, featuring a 50-feet-wide vehicle access boulevard and a pedestrian walkway. The Beale Street Gateway, located where Beale Street meets the river, includes an access point to Mud Island and the Riverboat Mooring Facility. The Gateway includes a vehicle drop-off with shelter, feature signs, and a security and control point. The "village" at Mud Island, located at the southern end of Mud Island, is planned in a later phase of development. It includes themed architecture, restaurants, entertainment, retail, and lodging facilities in its half-million square feet. The total concept is designed to provide easy access from one area to the others.

Mayor Herenton's enthusiasm for the Riverwalk is shared by Hoffman. "Mayor Herenton is inviting the public to share in the excitement of the continuing renaissance of Downtown Memphis. Our riverfront is the jewel of Downtown," she says. She is quick to point out that the mayor wants any development of Downtown resources to benefit all Memphians, and not just a select group.

Entertainment plans for the event are incomplete at our press time, but the mayor has arranged for free T-shirts and free passes to Mud Island, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to be distributed at the event. Parking is available at designated areas at the north end of Mud Island. Signs will direct motorists to the parking areas.

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

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Thursday, June 26, 1997

Editorial: Rising Cost Disturbs Picture-Perfect Lake

Commercial Appeal
Editorial

THE WORD pictures and architectural renderings of a renovated Memphis Harbor may be captivating, but do the odds for success justify the price? A price that has just jumped at least $13 million.

Right now, it's the federal and state governments that will tackle the question. If they decide the game has gotten too rich, local taxpayers will have their turn.


Mayor W. W. Herenton had a great idea: Continue to develop and renovate the downtown riverfront so it would entice tourists, puff up local pride and generate economic growth. In the process, he said, the different parts of downtown - from South Main and Beale Street to Mud Island and the Wolf River - should be tied together to allow and encourage people to move along the whole length of the riverfront.

The mayor had a substantial amount to build on. Redevelopment has been proceeding, sometimes erratically, for two decades. Even so, he has given the project new life and enthusiasm and an expanded mission.

But will enthusiasm be mugged by rising costs?

A feasibility study released Tuesday estimates that Herenton's harbor plan, including a 36-acre recreational lake enclosed by dams that would link Mud Island to Beale Street and the Interstate 40 welcome center, will cost $43.2 million instead of the $25 million to $30 million that Herenton announced last September.

The higher cost is attributed to the need for a channel at the northern tip of Mud Island, a bridge over the channel and upgraded docking facilities for riverboats. The new channel would connect the harbor north of the lake to the Mississippi River. For safety reasons, it would replace plans for a channel closer to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

Some of the details even have downtown residents scratching their heads. Can the southern tip of Mud Island, for instance, really be raised for private development? In this year's flooding, the Mississippi rose almost to the flagpole on the top of the tip. It sounds like a massive, lengthy job of dredging and filling.

Herenton maintains a positive attitude. His plan, he insists, ''will serve as a catalyst for even greater downtown residential and commercial development.'' He says a ''major riverboat company'' is considering a move to Memphis - something more solid, one would hope, than a ferry service to Tunica.

Publicist Carol Coletta reports that ''some of the biggest entertainment folks around'' showed interest in the harbor plan at an urban entertainment meeting in Los Angeles last spring.

''When you say we're extending Beale Street to an island out in the middle of the Mississippi River, that gets people's attention,'' she said. Well, it's really not out in the middle. Sidney Shlenker thought he had captured the attention of his California friends with his grand plan for The Pyramid. Memphians are likely to feel more reassured when those entertainment folks start investing.

As things stand, the state has committed $7 million for the harbor plan and the city says it is seeking at least $20 million in federal funds. The new cost estimate, presumably, will raise the city's requests. Herenton will host U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater for a riverfront tour this weekend.

Public works director Benny Lendermon suggests that Memphis is due the same federal help that Indianapolis and New Orleans got for similar projects. Memphis has been singing that blues song for decades, but maybe Lendermon is right. Maybe Washington, in the midst of a drive to balance the budget and deep cuts in urban programs, will develop a sudden soft spot for one neglected Southern city.

Or maybe Memphians will have to decide whether they want to find more millions on their own. There's no disputing the attractiveness of the plan - or the difficulty of paying for it.
Memo:editorial

Copyright (c) 1997 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, June 25, 1997

Harbor Lake Cost Rises by Millions; City Hopes to Land Federal Dollars

The Commercial Appeal
by Cornell Christion

The riverfront development plan that calls for converting part of Memphis Harbor to a recreational lake could cost at least $13 million more than first expected.

A feasibility study released Tuesday estimates that the plan will carry a $43.2 million price tag, compared with the $25 million to $30 million projected when the ambitious proposal was announced last September by Mayor W. W. Herenton.

The cost has increased, according to city officials, partly because a channel would be dug at the northern tip of Mud Island instead of just north of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge to connect the Mississippi River to a section of the harbor that would be outside the lake.

That construction would require building a bridge over the channel to maintain vehicular access to Mud Island from the northeast via Mud Island Road.

Other factors for the higher cost include upgrading a proposed riverboat docking facility and adding design expenses not included in the original price estimate.

The state has earmarked $7 million for the project, and city officials say they are aggressively pursuing more than $20 million in federal funding. They won't say whether the city would fund the bulk of the project if that effort fails.

''We're not recommending that at this time. This whole project is being pursued under the assumption that we can gain additional either federal or state funding,'' said public works director Benny Lendermon.

''Other cities have gotten federal funding for similar projects. Indianapolis got a lot of Corps of Engineer money to do something very similar but much more costly. New Orleans got a lot of federal money. It's been done a lot of different places the same way we're doing it.''

The funding pitch is expected to be made Saturday to Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who is scheduled to join Herenton and others for a walking tour of the riverfront.

The feasibility study released Tuesday was prepared by Hnedak Bobo Group and PDR Engineers, who are working as project consultants. Hailed by Herenton, the 37-page study was distributed to City Council members during a council committee meeting.

The plan would convert part of Memphis Harbor into a 36-acre recreational lake enclosed by dams that would link Mud Island to Beale Street and the Interstate 40 welcome center.

A floating riverboat mooring facility would be connected to the ''south dam,'' and the southern tip of Mud Island would be filled for private development. City officials say they have been contacted by a prospective developer whom they declined to name.

''I firmly believe that this development will serve as a catalyst for even greater downtown residential and commercial development,'' Herenton said, adding that the proposal would connect several ''disjointed'' amenities, including Mud Island and Beale Street.
Herenton said riverboat-related tourism and business would increase and that a ''major riverboat company'' is considering moving to Memphis.

Besides the higher cost, the major change in the plan as first announced in September is the location of the channel that would be dug to provide Mississippi River access to industries north of the lake.

The site was moved because putting the channel just north of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge could have created safety problems for barges.

''The close proximity of the bridge to where the outlet channel would have been was something that the navigation community expressed a concern about. Not that it couldn't be navigated safely, but they would just prefer another alternative,'' Lendermon said.

He said the new navigation channel site, which would require widening the Wolf River where it empties into the Mississippi, was suggested by the Corps of Engineers.

City officials think it would increase pleasure boat and other traffic on a largely stagnant portion of the harbor, which could spur development north of The Pyramid.

Lendermon said the city is pursuing more than $17 million in Corps of Engineers funds for the channel and south dam.

He said additional state funding will also be sought, as well as more federal funding through the current reauthorization of a major transportation bill.
The feasibility study divides the projected $43.2 million cost into seven areas:

-- $5.77 million for the north dam connecting the welcome center to Mud Island.
-- $9.90 million for the south dam.
-- $7.81 million for the new navigational channel and bridge.
-- $9.76 million for the riverboat dock.
-- $1.48 million for cobblestone restoration.
-- $3.58 million for Mud Island improvements.
-- $4.93 million for project fees.

The price estimate does not include the cost of developing an estimated 7 to 12 acres that would be created from filling the southern tip of Mud Island and possibly absorbing part of the Mud Island river park.

That land would be privately developed, and the city expects keen interest.
''I had a chance to present this project very informally in Los Angeles . . . at a meeting on urban entertainment districts in March,'' said Carol Coletta, who heads a local firm handling public relations on the project.

''The room was full of people from Disney and Gaylord and some of the biggest entertainment folks around. And it's interesting. When you say we're extending Beale Street to an island out in middle of the Mississippi River, that gets people's attention.''

Copyright (c) 1997 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, June 18, 1997

Phase One of Riverfront Project to Begin This Fall

Memphis Flyer
by Debbie Gilbert

The 1997-98 state budget allocates $7 million to Memphis for riverfront development, which means construction can begin later this year along the Mississippi River downtown. But whether Memphis gets the deluxe version or the limited edition depends on the federal government's willingness to contribute additional funding.


According to Benny Lendermon, the city's public-works director, it will take about $35 million to construct the entire project envisioned by Mayor W.W. Herenton and other riverfront supporters. Plans call for a paved, lighted walking/biking path running from Tom Lee Park to the new visitor center just south of The Pyramid; renovation of the historic cobblestones; and a floating boardwalk with boat-rental concessions at the water's edge. Beale Street would be extended west to connect with the southern tip of Mud Island, closing off that end of the harbor, and a dam a little farther north, near the visitor center, would enclose the space to create a 30-acre lake for public use. Boats that now enter the Memphis harbor from the south would instead approach from the north end of Mud Island, near the mouth of the Wolf River.

The city has requested $16 million in federal funding for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that would relocate the current navigational channel. In addition, Memphis has applied to the federal Department of Transportation for $3.5 million in ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) funds to help pay for the pedestrian walkway. "We also hope to get more money from the state in the future," says Lendermon.

Work on the multi-use path along the river should commence this fall, regardless of whether any federal funding comes through. An unspecified amount of the cost will come from the city's capital-improvements budget, and First Tennessee Bank has pledged about $400,000 to build an overlook plaza at the foot of Union Avenue, connecting to the walkway. State funding should cover the cost of stabilizing the cobblestones along the riverbank.

But it's the river's fluctuating depth -- caused by seasonal flooding and the Corps of Engineers' annual dredging -- that's causing the cobblestones to come loose from their foundation, according to Lendermon. The only real solution, he believes, is to build the lake, which would maintain a steady water level."

If we just get the $7 million," he says, "we can always concentrate on saving the cobblestones. But as long as the navigation channel remains the same, we're not sure it would be worth it in the long term."

Lendermon says he'll know within a few months whether the city will get federal funding for the lake. "We're pretty optimistic, because $16 million is really a nominal sum for a Corps of Engineers project."

A feasibility study recently completed by Hnedak Bobo Group and PDR Engineers Inc. showed that the riverfront project is workable. Memphis could benefit economically, both from retail development on the south end of Mud Island and from the new docking facility, which would allow larger boats, including those of the New Orleans-based Delta Queen Line, to operate out of Memphis.

And then there are intangible benefits to be derived from such a project. "Every major city is spending millions to create a waterfront or improve the one they have, because people are naturally attracted to water," says Lendermon. "In Memphis the river is wonderful, but you're up on the bluff looking down on it and can't get close to it. The lake will provide that experience."

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc

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Sunday, September 08, 1996

Editorial: From the mud? Grand Downtown Plan Needs a Lot of Study

Commercial Appeal
Editorial

IF THERE were some way to move Graceland to Mud Island, the grand new plan for downtown might be a guaranteed success.

Otherwise, city officials should proceed with caution.

The Graceland possibility is suggested by San Antonio's famed riverwalk, which winds through the center of the city and past, among other tourist attractions, the Alamo.

What would exert the same kind of pull to bring people to the new Mud Island? A 28-acre "lake" squeezed between the island and the riverfront? A handful of stores with lodging and entertainment - the proposed "village" - built on the filled-in southern end of the island? A dam and land bridge from the island to Riverside Drive? A channel cut through the island to let boats and yachts get into the harbor? Another land bridge to and from the state Welcome Center?

The plan, Downtown Neighborhood Association president Bill Denson said, is "very unconventional and innovative." But he stopped short of endorsing it.

That's a sensible approach.

Mayor W.W. Herenton was careful to say that he was "considering and still investigating" the proposed changes, as laid out by Hnedak Bobo Group architects and PDR Engineering. He said the city would arrange for a feasibility study and invite comments "from diverse community groups."

There is always the option of delaying a new $30 million project until some of the other downtown plans, many already approved, are actually finished and paid for.

Those plans include the $17.8 million renovation of Central Station, the $60 million replacement of Ellis Auditorium, the $37.3 million Downtown Core Redevelopment Plan, a $3.8 million fire museum, the $5.4 million North End Parking and Transfer Facility for the Memphis Area Transit Authority, the $8.3 million renovation of the Orpheum, $11 million of improvements to The Pyramid, the $8.7 million completion of the Riverfront Trolley Loop and the $1.5 million riverbluff walkway.

The idea of connecting Mud Island to Riverside Drive caught a lot of attention. But it needs a lot of discussion, too.

Some City Council members were enthusiastic. Council chairman Janet Hooks said it "may be the shot in the arm that might help revitalize Mud Island." True. Especially since she hedged: "may be" and "might help."

Benny Lendermon, city public works director, said a study would cover technical and navigational concerns, permit requirements and potential sources of public and private funding.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers would have to be involved, too. Donald Dunn, chief of planning for the corps office in Memphis, said that the office was eager to learn more about the project but could not take a position until it knew more of the details.

There's no denying, however, that the Hnedak Bobo-PDR plan is worth talking about. Once the caveats are in place, it's intriguing to imagine what downtown would be like with easy access between the island and the riverfront, with riverboat restaurants moored along a land bridge instead of at the foot of the tricky cobblestones, with a clear lake surrounded by amenities instead of a muddy inlet from the river and with people wandering, jogging and milling around in a park that, so far, has been a serious drain on the city's budget.

The plan is bolder than the original, $11 million riverfront development project, which includes the riverwalk, floating shops and restaurants, new docking facilities for passenger riverboats and the privately funded Ron Terry Plaza at the foot of Union. All those ideas would be retained, with some changes.

Can it really be done? Is it affordable? Will the state provide more funds? And would the attractions be strong enough to make the investment a good bet?

To city officials' credit, they haven't formed a bandwagon yet. Extensive discussions will precede any parade. But Graceland - or something dramatic and proven - would be a big help.

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

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Thursday, September 05, 1996

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

Commercial Appeal
by Cornell Christion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to enlarge


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

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Sunday, June 18, 1995

Memphis harbors grand plan for port; Cobblestones anchor Wolf center

Commercial Appeal
by Cindy Wolf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riverfront development would be done in four phases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 1995 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Saturday, May 14, 1994

Herenton sees economic potential of waterfront; Plans are floated to get projects rolling on the river

Commercial Appeal
By Richard Gardner

Mayor W. W. Herenton outlined an ambitious plan Friday to turn the riverfront into an "economic engine" for Memphis, capitalizing on the Mississippi's lure to tourists.

The riverfront could, with proper planning, "become as important to Memphians as the skyline to Chicago, the Arch is to St. Louis and the French Quarter to New Orleans," Herenton said.

The mayor -- at a press conference aboard the visiting Mississippi Queen -- called for the creation of a riverfront development authority to oversee an ambitious range of public and private improvements.

Among improvements the authority would help direct is the proposed renovation of the historic cobblestones.

The project also provides for installation of a retaining wall for a boat basin along the riverfront from Beale Street to Court Avenue. The river would be dredged in that area to accommodate large vessels.

Concrete-filled steel pipes would be driven into the river bottom to anchor dockside facilities, such as floating restaurants and stores.

An estimated 75,000 square feet would be leasable with those improvements.

Delta Queen Steamship Co., whose executives were represented at the press conference, have tentatively committed to increasing their stops in Memphis if the city improves the harbors.

The plan also includes a commitment by the Corps of Engineers to transfer ownership of surplus Dredge Burgess and Motor Vessel Mississippi to the city for use as an interpretative center. The Corps vessels would be linked to the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island and the new Welcome Center.

The total cost of the Wolf River Harbor improvements -- cobblestones, bank improvements and interpretative center -- is estimated at $19.7 million, with federal funding expected to provide about $15 million.

The authority would oversee an area roughly bounded by the Wolf River diversion channel on the north, DeSoto Park on the south, Front Street and the western city limits.

The plan, which goes to City Council on May 24, also recommends saving the historic Tennessee Brewery and Orgill buildings. The plan estimates the cost of renovating the buildings into museums, stores or business headquarters at $21 million.

Other items on the eclectic wish list include:
-- Giving Confederate Park a facelift that includes putting real Civil War-era cannons in the park.
-- Finishing The Pyramid, including finding a way to light the downtown arena.
-- Turning the Wolf River Harbor into "an urban recreation area'' with boat rentals for crew, sculling, canoeing and kayaking.
-- Finding uses for vacant buildings at the U.S. Marine Hospital complex at DeSoto Park.
-- Lighting the Frisco, Memphis & Arkansas and Harahan bridges to give the riverfront "a symmetrical look.''

Herenton, joined by top development and tourism officials, said the authority will provide the "proper planning and execution'' to develop a now underutilized natural asset.

Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane said riverfront development will "pole vault us into the big time."

Council reaction was positive. "It's dynamic," said chairman Florence Leffler. "Everyone who comes to Memphis as a visitor wants to see that river and is awed by the river."

Caption: By Richard Gardner Mayor W. W. Herenton held a press conference aboard the Mississippi Queen Friday to outline a proposal for a riverfront development authority to enhance tourism and commercial use. photo

Copyright 1994 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Friday, May 13, 1994

Herenton set to boost Memphis riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Roland Klose

Mayor W. W. Herenton will announce plans today for a comprehensive plan to develop the Memphis riverfront, capitalizing on what city officials have called one of the city's greatest but most neglected assets.

The plan includes the formation of a riverfront authority that can issue bonds, lease property and grant tax freezes.

The authority -- called the Memphis Riverfront Redevelopment Corp. -- would be organized under state law as an industrial development board.

Initial funding of about $200,000 for the board would come from the division of Housing and Community Development, according to a summary of the plan.

The goal is to encourage private investment into riverfront development, while providing oversight.

The riverfront plan calls for coordinating projects that already have been approved, including the $3.9 million downtown welcome center dedicated Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Projects that have been on the drawing board for years will be accelerated under the proposal, including renovation of the historic cobblestones.

The cobblestones are uneven and make walking and driving difficult.

Included in the plan is completion of a recreational trail from Shelby Forest in the north to the Indian mounds at DeSoto Park in the south.

The plan identifies more than $85 million in public improvements, including a $12.2 million extension of the trolley loop along Riverside Drive already included in the city's capital budget.

Also on the list is the $21 million preservation of the vacant Tennessee Brewery at 477 Tennessee in the South Bluffs district and a $26 million completion of amenities in The Pyramid.

A $1 million facelift of Confederate Park also is part of the plan.

The plan also calls for creating attractive "gateway" streets leading from downtown, and connecting the key downtown neighborhoods of The Pinch, Greenlaw and South Main area.

The plan is designed to turn the riverfront into a magnet for attracting tourists, emphasizing Mississippi River history and activity.

The plan calls for a yearlong celebration of the state's bicentennial observance in 1996 that would celebrate Memphis progress.

Development of the riverfront has been one of Herenton's top priorities since taking office in 1992.

Copyright 1994, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Saturday, December 05, 1992

Welcome Center for I-40 to Miss Award Target

Commercial Appeal
By Roland Klose

The state has put off approving bids to begin work on a new I-40 Welcome Center until at least February, a Tennessee transportation official said Friday.

The delay has resulted, in part, because of questions raised about how the site at Jefferson and Riverside will be conveyed to the state. The state wants to own the property; the city hasn't decided whether to turn over the site or lease it to the state.

The question of ownership is the latest ripple in a protracted public debate about the I-40 Welcome Center, but state and local officials said they do not view the ownership issue as an obstacle.

Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton and Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris jointly announced the location for an I-40 visitors' center in February, ending years of debate about where to build the facility, which will be designed to showcase the city's attractions to motorists traveling along the east-west interstate corridor.

Several alternative locations had been considered, including putting the center on Arkansas farmland straddling the interstate.

The center, which is estimated to cost about $4.5 million, is being divided into two contracts: one for site preparation and one for actual design and construction.

The state originally planned to take bids for site preparation for the project this week, said Ray Terrell, director of the Bureau of Planning and Development for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Besides the ownership issue, a contributing factor to the delay was that not all the utility contracts for the site were in place, Terrell said.

Before site work begins, sewer, telephone and electrical lines have to be relocated, and those contracts were not in place to meet the December target date, City Engineer James Collins said.

While awarding a contract for site preparation has been delayed, the state is moving forward with the selection of an architectural and engineering firm for the center.

City Atty. Monice Hagler said the city is considering leasing the property to the state because the property is part of the promenade, a narrow band of land stretching roughly north and south from near Saffarans to Beale Street that was preserved for public use in the initial city plat of 1819.

"We need to make sure what we do is legal," Hagler said. She said the city and state are "not in an adversarial position."

Hagler said neither the option on the property granted to International Paper Co. in 1987, nor the existing lease to APCOA Inc., which operates a parking lot on the property, are factors responsible for the delay.

APCOA was awarded the parking lot concession for the property by Sidney Shlenker's Pyramid Management Authority, and the contract was assumed by the city when Shlenker was ousted as Pyramid manager.

Hagler said the contract provided that APCOA would lose its rights to the promenade parking lot if the state exercised its option to put a Welcome Center on the property.

A non-disturbance certificate between the city and APCOA, signed last December by former mayor Dick Hackett, did not change that provision, she said. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

The city granted International Paper a 99-year option to lease 650 of 800 parking spaces in the promenade parking lot.

The option, one of several offered as inducements to lure the company to Memphis, was never exercised.

Copyright 1992, 1994 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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