Friday, November 11, 2005

Too Many Credit Cards

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

A $27 million Beale Street riverboat landing and a $400 million train track from downtown to the airport are capital improvements. So are a walking trail and playground at the Bickford Community Center in North Memphis. Guess which one is most likely to be stopped by the city's spending freeze.

The city and county are trying to get their budgets in shape and keep their bond ratings from slipping. The news gets worse by the month. So the city administration and City Council have frozen spending on capital improvements.

Public facilities such as the Bickford Community Center and its customers will feel the chill. Located between Caldwell Elementary School and Uptown, Bickford has an indoor swimming pool, an after-school and Head Start program, and a senior citizens program. The playground consists of a single swing-set and a bare open field. A modest investment that would make a modest improvement in the everyday lives of young and old is on hold.

A spending freeze gives city officials some breathing room, but it won't stop big-ticket projects such as the boat landing and airport train, and it won't fix the budget or restore public confidence. The reason, to oversimplify a bit, is that the city of Memphis is married with children. There are a lot of credit cards out there.

Memphis and Shelby County are like a couple with joint checking accounts and individual accounts. They have rich uncles -- state and federal government -- that shower them with money they must use or lose. And they have children -- the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), to name a few -- with their own credit cards and some very nice allowances. Unless the parents take away the credit cards and allowances, the spending won't stop.

The Riverfront Development Corporation has groomed Riverside Drive, the bluff, and riverfront parks to an exemplary standard. But now that it has killed the land bridge and written off most of a $760,000 master plan, it should consider its own relevance. A self-imposed sunset clause might be a public service and a recognition that the agency, like the dot-com boom, was a product of an era of excess that is as yesterday as the catered breakfast served up at RDC board meetings.

What's left for an outfit with three former city division directors on its payroll at salaries plus bonuses that exceed what they were making as public servants? Its driving force and guiding light, Kristi Jernigan, is gone. The land bridge is gone, and several board members didn't even bother to show up for the vote that killed it. Mud Island River Park is ready for its annual seasonal shutdown after losing another million dollars or two this year. The University of Memphis can carry the ball for the proposed downtown law school. Lawyers and Friends For Our Riverfront and heirs of the city founders will determine the future of Front Street and the public promenade. The Pyramid has its own reuse committee.

The boat landing is supposed to make the river more accessible, but the river is already accessible from two boat ramps on Mud Island, and you can throw a rock in it from Tom Lee Park or Greenbelt Park.

The city has a contract with the RDC, which in turn signed contracts for the design, construction, and management of Beale Street Landing. With several million dollars already spent, it's not likely that the mayor and City Council will pull the plug on the Beale Street Landing and the RDC. Unless the board acts on it own, as it did on the land bridge, Memphians will have a $27 million tourist bauble.

MATA is another semi-autonomous agency, responsible for the costly and baffling extension of the Madison trolley line to Cleveland in Midtown. With the MPO, MATA is actively studying alternative routes to the airport. The lure of big construction contracts and "free money" in the form of state and federal funds is driving the project.

Once again, unless the board acts or the mayor and City Council specifically target this project, Memphians will wind up paying for it.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Riverfront Plans Promise Debate, Change

RDC prepares for summer start on Beale Street Landing

Daily News
by Andy Meek

Looking out a conference room window on the ninth floor of the Falls Building, Benny Lendermon enjoys an unobstructed panorama of Downtown’s riverfront.

Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp., has a clear view of the post office building below on Front Street,which could see a new tenant soon if the University of Memphis law school abandons its current dilapidated building and moves Downtown. Below and to the right is Confederate Park, whose war memorials and Civil War cannons make it a shaded oasis of history.

Sweeping plans. Beyond that, Lendermon takes in the sight of Riverside Drive - and the Mississippi itself - a view that as sweeping as the vision of the RDC, which has held jurisdiction over the riverfront since 2000.

And even though the Memphis City Council, in a seven-hour marathon session, approved a budget plan last week that includes a 27-cent property tax hike, eliminates $1.6 million in grants to nonprofits and keeps the historic Mallory-Neely House and Magevney House closed, the RDC is still on schedule to begin construction this summer on Beale Street Landing, a $27.5 million boat landing and plaza designated for the site where Beale Street meets Tom Lee Park and the Cobblestone Landing. The city is chipping in about $20 million in the project.

Promenade development. At the moment, Lendermon said the city attorney’s office is putting together the legal support that will allow work to begin on remaking the four-acre Front Street Promenade - the subject of a long-running debate between the RDC and an opposing group, Friends for Our Riverfront.

That debate will get another airing when representatives of both groups sound off in a public forum at the Central Library July 10. The RDC wants to replace some parking garages and buildings along the promenade with apartments, offices, restaurants, and other commercial uses.

Opposition. But FfOR believes the plan goes against the wishes of the founders of the city of Memphis. They refer to a bequest by John Overton, John McLemore and other proprietors of the land on which Memphis was founded that said the Promenade was always intended for public use.

“And as I see it, this is really a developer’sdream,” said FfOR president Virginia McLean of the RDC plan. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out where the public gets anything out of this.

“They’ve said they’ll build a sidewalk- they’recalling it a grand esplanade - along the edge of the public promenade, but the whole thing’s ours. Why should we settle for some high rises with a sidewalk along the side?”

McLean said FfOR has invited Joseph Riley Jr., mayor of Charleston, S. C., to speak in Memphis this fall at Bridges Inc. about his own city’s handling of riverfront issues. Riley, founder of the Mayor’s Institute of City Design, will discuss his urban design plan that created Waterfront Park in Charleston, give the city permanent public access to its waterfront.

“And basically, what he did is what we’re saying ought to be done in Memphis - not sold off in some short-term development scheme,” said McLean, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia.

Remaking the riverfront. In his office, Lendermon has several models and renderings of the riverfront project - a well as a bird’s eye view of the real thing - that he calls on to explain the RDC’s vision. Lendermon, a former director of the city’s Public Works division, presides over the group whose board includes prominent Memphians Jerry West, Kristi Jernigan, and Angus McEachran.

Over the next two years, Lendermon said the group will give most of its attention to the Beale Street Landing and Promenade projects.

“And the whole issue on the Promenade is this was the city of Memphis in the 1800s,” Lendermon said, referring to a map of the city. “At that point, Riverside Drive didn’t exist.

The bluff behind the post office would dive into the river. And what’s occurred since then is, one, we built Riverside Drive and we’ve moved the city out to the river.

“Our disagreement with some people on the Promenade is, some people still hang on to the concept that (city founders) in the 1800s thought this ought to be a park outside our window,” Lendermon said, gesturing below. “And all we’re saying is, in the 1800s it should have been a park. But things have changed.”

Other projects. Beale Street Landing and the Promenade aren’t the only jobs on the RDC’s plate. Lendermon said the group took bids last week for a project that would connect Ashburn-Coppock Park and Tom Lee Park with Martyrs Park. Construction will begin in about a month.

He said the group also wants to bring more concerts to Mud Island, work more closely with area developers and further assist the U of M Law School in its possible Downtown move.

The RDC commissioned a master plan for the riverfront that has been endorsed by the City Council - and part of which opponents such as McLean have never stopped fighting.

“We believe that private development is great, but private development belongs on private land,” she said. “And what the RDC plan currently proposes is taking the only remaining public land on the Memphis riverbluff and turning it over to commercial developers. Right now, we’re really just trying to let the public know what’s going on concerning the riverfront, because I know that most people don’t know.”

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Friday, April 22, 2005

River of Dreams: Is Memphis gilding the lily on its waterfront while the rest of the city withers?

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

On Tuesday, Mayor Willie Herenton presented his annual budget to the City Council, including a recommendation of a 54-cent property tax increase to restore some slashed services and continue the city's $86 million contribution to schools.

The visible evidence of reduced services includes the overgrown parks, understaffed golf courses, and weedy boulevards around the city and the reduction of recycled garbage pickup to every two weeks instead of every week.

But one area of Memphis has never looked better and is seemingly immune to budget cuts: the riverfront, which has been under the jurisdiction of the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation since 2000. From Martyr's Park to the Bluffwalk to the Mud Island Greenbelt, parks are as neatly manicured as a country club golf course. Million-dollar homes line the South Bluffs and the main drive on Mud Island. Construction of new homes and apartments is booming. Riverside Drive has been turned into a boulevard with median strips of flowers, crosswalks, and two new stairways up the bluff.

And despite the budget shortfall that threatens schools, hospitals, and law enforcement, the flow of public money to the riverfront continues as steadily as the flow of the Mississippi River. This summer, construction will begin on Beale Street Landing, a $27.5 million boat landing on Tom Lee Park at the entrance to the harbor. A total of $17 million of that amount is coming from city of Memphis funds, the rest from state and federal governments. The main customers for the boat landing will be two tour-boat companies that bring, at most, about 20,000 out-of-towners to Memphis each year, or about the number of people downtown for a sold-out Grizzlies game. The Delta Steamship Company paddle-wheelers and the long, blue River Barge Excursion Boat now dock in the harbor on the east side of Mud Island, and passengers are transported to or walk to downtown.

On the horizon -- long term or not-so-long term, depending on whom you talk to -- is the granddaddy of all riverfront projects, the development of the Front Street Promenade and the construction of a land bridge to Mud Island. That project could bring the total cost of funding the RDC's master plan to as much as $340 million over several years.

The contrast between the Memphis haves and have-nots illustrates several things about urban politics and pressure groups. The RDC, created with Herenton's blessing during his third term as mayor, has an embarrassment of riches in staffing, funding, and business support. Its board includes former city chief administrative officers Rick Masson and Greg Duckett, Cybill Shepherd, Jerry West, Pat Kerr Tigrett, Kristi Jernigan, John Stokes, Barbara Hyde, and former Commercial Appeal editor Angus McEachran. Its president is Benny Lendermon, director of the city's Division of Public Works for several years. His assistants include former City Engineer John Conroy.

Unlike the Memphis Park Commission, the RDC all-star team and their consultants only have to focus on the front door of Memphis. The Park Commission and Division of Public Works and their bureaucrats can't rely on that kind of clout, but they must maintain hundreds of public facilities, streetscapes, and parks in out-of-the-way places used by Memphians who rarely visit the riverfront.

The result is a cityscape that suggests the homeowner who happily pours money into landscaping his front yard while the trash piles up in the attic and the backyard.

The riverfront improvements under the RDC and, in fairness, the Park Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it are obvious and have helped create the downtown apartment and condo boom. But agencies and projects tend to take on a life of their own. Beale Street Landing was funded years before Herenton proposed his latest property tax increase. The land bridge has been approved in concept by the City Council but not funded.

The RDC was not invented to keep the grass trimmed. It is all about big deals and grand visions. With an empty Pyramid and an underused Mud Island River Park and monorail staring them in the face, some Memphians are wondering if the RDC is gilding the lily while the garden withers.

"Why spend $360 million [sic] on a really crummy plan," asked Lisa Snowden at a meeting of Friends For Our Riverfront Monday evening at Cafe Francisco, attended by about 30 people. Members of the group generally support less expensive options that would emphasize parks, sidewalks, and greenspace.

Other speakers aimed their fire at the Beale Street Landing and its "floating islands" to provide pedestrians access to the river.

"They're going to start school at 7 a.m. (to save money) but we're going to have the floating islands," said Mimi Waite. "We don't need the floating islands."

John Gary, a founder of the Friends group, noted that the steamboat companies have other options besides Memphis. "We've got competition that we didn't have before," he said. "I think Tunica has some pretty good enticements to lure steamboats away from here."

Gary said the placement of the floating islands and bridges near the mouth of the harbor is "unfortunate" and could interfere with barge traffic. The group passed out a letter from Terry Martin, terminal manager for Lafarge North America, opposing any project that would affect the entrance of the Wolf River.

Lendermon said the RDC is not gilding the lily or building something that will become obsolete or underused. Pending approval of some permits by the Corps of Engineers, the RDC hopes to have contractors begin dredging the entrance to the harbor in July in preparation for "River Outlook," the name given to the boat landing. When it is complete, it will not only give tour boats a place to dock but will also tie the cobblestones to Tom Lee Park, provide a new site for festivals, and give pedestrians a place to walk between the man-made islands and scoop up a handful of river water.

"You still have no place for people to get to the water," Lendermon said. "If you were going to touch the water, where would you go? You have the ability to do that here."

The city, he noted, was going to redo the cobblestones and reshape the northern tip of Tom Lee Park at the entrance to the harbor anyway. The work actually started several years ago but was aborted because the necessary permits had not been obtained.

The RDC annual report calls River Outlook "a grand civic ending." It notes that one heavily traveled thoroughfare to the riverfront, Poplar Avenue, dead-ends at a parking garage while another, Union Avenue, unceremoniously abutted a metal guard rail before the cobblestones project was completed.

Lendermon said riverboats that carry tourists are pressing for the project to be completed.

"The Delta Steamship Company is close to refusing to dock at Mud Island," he said, even as a boat was unloading Monday afternoon across from his Front Street office. Delta Steamship and the River Barge Excursion Boat carry 350-450 passengers each and make 50 stops a year in Memphis, Lendermon said. Tunica, he said, has only gotten one visit from Delta Steamship since its $20 million museum and river park opened last year.

As for the land bridge, Lendermon said Memphis must cross that bridge when it comes to it, but that might not be for quite a while. The RDC and the Corps of Engineers are looking at industry relocations and navigation issues in the harbor, which is also a concern of the developers of the Uptown neighborhood who would like a water connection.

"In 15 years, as downtown starts developing to its fullest, someone's got to sit down and make a decision," he said.

Meanwhile, Gene Carlisle, a veteran downtowner who has seen the highs and lows of the riverfront, might change the picture if he follows through on plans to develop a condominium tower and a hotel on the corner of Beale Street and Riverside Drive, where an old building was just demolished.

Instead of being an American icon, the corner where the street that birthed the blues meets the Mississippi River has instead been the pits for 25 years, the place where busted dreams and struggling restaurants come to die. Tenants have included a shopping mall called the Emporium, Pyramid huckster Sidney Shlenker, and such forgettable restaurants as Armadillo Jack's, Number One Beale, and Wang's. In 2003, the big wind storm did Carlisle a favor and blew away enough of the building that he could tear the rest of it down and start over.

Carlisle, who grew up poor in Mississippi and made his fortune in Wendy's restaurants, was inducted into the Memphis Society of Entrepreneurs last week. In the next few weeks he said he will unveil plans for a condominium tower at least 20 stories tall and, if he can find a partner, a luxury hotel and four-star restaurant in a second building. The combined investment would be over $300 million, making it the biggest downtown project since FedExForum.

Lendermon said Carlisle's project is "something we would support." Carlisle said it is not being driven by construction of Beale Street Landing and might even have some parking issues.

But that's a problem for another day. The rest of Memphis should have such troubles.

Copyright 2005 Contemporary Media, Inc.

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Thursday, January 22, 2004

Riverfront Renewal: Heirs of John Overton are divided over a proposal to develop a four-block public promenade

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

Behind the old Custom House and Post Office on Front Street, striking views of the Memphis waterfront reward anyone intrepid enough to climb a grassy bank and stroll past maintenance trucks and graffiti-scarred garbage containers on a lane posted "no trespassing."

The site lies within a reach of downtown that Memphis founders reserved as a public promenade overlooking the Mighty Mississippi.

But more than anything, it's a setting that suggests the city has turned its back on the river.

Today, a four-block reach of the promenade area is the focus of an intensifying debate that could shape the future of the Memphis riverfront. The one thing all sides in the issue agree upon is that the stretch of blufftop from Union to Adams could stand some changes.

"You can say it any way you want, but it's this blighted area," Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp., said of the reach that includes two parking garages, a fire station and a decrepit library, as well as the post office and Confederate Park.

But RDC's plans to revitalize the promenade area through a mix of residential and commercial development has galvanized an opposition group. It's also created an apparent rift among descendants of John Overton and other founders who set aside the land for public use.

Friends for Our Riverfront, formed last month, opposes development on the promenade, saying the acreage should be "open and public." The group's board of directors includes some of the founders' heirs who, according to long-standing court rulings, hold title to the promenade land.

Expressing particular alarm about high-rise towers suggested in draft RDC plans, they say any project should respect the history, vistas and character of the Memphis riverfront.

"What I've seen of the RDC plan - one, it doesn't look like an open-space plan and, two, it doesn't look like a plan for all the citizens of Memphis," said Virginia McLean, an Overton heir who is president of the Friends group.

But other heirs, particularly those descended from the branch of the Overtons in Nashville, argue that the promenade acreage is stagnant and needs improvement.

"Memphis needs to develop its riverfront. It would add so much to the city," said Hamilton Gayden, a circuit judge in Davidson County and an Overton heir.

The issue on the bluff remains in the early-going. The RDC board isn't expected to act on a proposed plan for the promenade until late February or March. If the board approves it, City Council action comes next.

And lurking beyond all those deliberations are legal restrictions as to how the promenade, often called the Overton heirs property, can be used. When they gave the city an easement to the land in 1828, the founders wrote into the record that the land should be public ground for "such use only as the word 'promenade' imports."

As a consequence, the city likely would need to work out an agreement with the heirs before any development could occur.

And the opposition of the Friends group suggests that agreement might not come easily.

Lisa Snowden, another Overton heir who is on the group's board, said it makes more sense to focus redevelopment efforts on other decaying parts of downtown.

"There seems to be a lot of empty space down there," she said. "The whole thing (RDC project) could go one block back and you could have the best of both worlds - development and green space," she said.

Other group members fear development could forever scar an area that features "the prettiest view in Memphis," said Hite McLean, Virginia's husband and a local lawyer who is a board member.

"To me, once you set the precedent of allowing development on the public promenade, the whole thing is gone. You lose control of it."

John Gary, the group's vice president, said that while the land could use some change, "We can certainly make the promenade more user-friendly without selling it to private developers."

The Friends group claims to enjoy a growing following. An organizational meeting last week drew 52 people, and the group's Web site www.friendsforourriverfront.org, has registered about 1,000 hits in recent weeks, Gary said.

But Gayden said the Friends group has overlooked the views of many heirs who feel that city leaders should be able to decide how to best use the land for the good of Memphis. He said he is surveying descendants on the issue.

So far, "well over 50 percent would submit to whatever the leaders feel would be best for Memphis," Gayden said.

If there is development on the promenade, the heirs "ought to have a right to participate," he adds.

Representatives of RDC, the nonprofit established to manage riverfront projects, contend development is needed and that the Friends group's aversion to it is shortsighted.

They see the promenade as a linchpin to their vision for the entire riverfront.

Drafts prepared by a prestigious New York planning firm envision a new promenade recessed into the bluff along with one above at the Front Street level. Pedestrian bridges would arch over Monroe and Court, and parking would be buried in the bluffs, beneath the new buildings.

The old Custom House and Post Office could be renovated into a new University of Memphis law school.

Towers as high as 400, 300 and 150 feet are suggested on three of the blocks. Planners envision the first floors of the structures having public uses, and they'd prefer that developers lease, not own, space on the promenade.

RDC officials say that by replacing some of the current clutter of buildings with more suitably sized and designed structures, their project actually would increase - by more than 60 percent - the amount of open space in the promenade area. That would improve access to the riverfront and the views of it.

Revenue from the commercial activity would fund the public improvements needed for the projects.

The development will help the riverfront, they say, by making it more attractive, safe and vibrant.

"The goal is to do something on the river that brings people to the river," said John W. Stokes, chairman of the RDC board.

Kristi Jernigan, board vice chairman, said that with facilities like Tom Lee Park, Confederate Park, Ashburn-Coppock Park and Greenbelt Park, there are already enough parks along the Memphis riverfront.

"We have the green space downtown," she said. "But we can't really afford to tear down the best property we have downtown and say, 'Here's another park.' "

RDC officials say that without the commercial activity to attract people, parks and walkways are empty and unappealing.

"That's when downtowns become frightening - when you're all alone in a space that you're not familiar with," Jernigan said.

She contends the project will change the face of downtown.

"I think there will be a huge psychological shift once we turn our face back toward the river."

Copyright 2004, commercialappeal.com - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved

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Sunday, September 07, 2003

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

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Construction: 2012-2013

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

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

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

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Thursday, March 14, 2002

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

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2002 The Commercial Appeal

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Thursday, August 23, 2001

Down By the Riverside

The Riverfront Development Corporation prepares to sell its vision for Mud Island's future. Will Memphis buy it?

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then a process that could reshape downtown Memphis for the next 50 years begins next month when the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) starts selling its vision for a dramatically different riverfront.

Starting from public hearings and a mom-and-apple-pie vision statement of a "world-class riverfront" that "binds us together as a community," the RDC and its consultants have come up with a package of short-term (think 2002-2003) and long-term improvements (not soon, but probably well short of the RDC's ruffle-no-feathers 50-year horizon).

The final draft of the master plan will be approved within two months. But the rendering on these pages is generally state-of-the-art, although it shows buildings where there will not be buildings and omits a pedestrian bridge from the foot of Union Avenue to Mud Island. Prominent features of the plan include:
  • A massive land bridge connecting Mud Island to downtown and dividing the present slackwater harbor into a smaller harbor and a narrow 150-acre lake.
  • Extensive residential and commercial development on Mud Island River Park.
  • Preserving part of the park (mainly the southern end and river's edge) as public park.
  • Keeping the model of the Mississippi River in the park but getting rid of the amphitheater and possibly the monorail, while expanding the museum but putting it in a new building.
  • Saving prime space on the land bridge for a corporate headquarters in case some company wants to relocate from the suburbs or another city in the future.
  • A circular outdoor plaza and cruise-boat dock at the foot of Beale Street and the northern end of Tom Lee Park.
  • Relocation of all marinas and small-boat tie-ups to the southern end of the slackwater harbor next to the cobblestones, which would be shored up with a seawall.
  • Development of the public promenade known as the Overton Blocks which includes the fire station, post office, Cossitt Library, and parking garages.
The driving principle behind all of this: Make it pay. "There has to be something to pay for the infrastructure," says Benny Lendermon, president of the RDC. "We're trying to create three times as much private investment as public dollars. That gives enough payback."

Lendermon and Kristi Jernigan, vice chairman of the RDC, will start selling the plan in earnest next month. Among other things, this will test how well the tortoise-and-hare RDC partnership works, now that it has usurped the powers of the Memphis Park Commission in all riverfront matters. Lendermon comes from the public sector, where he served in city government for some two decades, viewing no less than 13 riverfront plans that came and went, by his count. He knows better than anyone that major parts of the plan need political and corporate support and funding, plus the blessing of regulators, preservationists, and the courts. Kristi and Dean Jernigan were the driving forces behind AutoZone Park, which went from concept to completion in three years and was praised in a feature article last week in The New York Times.

The picture that ran with the article was a reminder that downtown Memphis still has a ways to go. It showed AutoZone Park with the 30-story Sterick Building in the background. Few of the Times readers probably realized that the Sterick Building has been empty for years.

One reason the RDC plan will have more impact than its predecessors is that it builds on some work already funded and in progress. The low-hanging fruit includes the sidewalk next to Riverside Drive between Tom Lee Park and Jefferson Davis Park which has been under construction all summer. Eventually it will extend all the way to Mud Island, running along the west side of The Pyramid. Improvements are also underway to stabilize the cobblestones. The RDC also took away the admission charge to the grounds of Mud Island River Park this summer and plans to use Mud Island for more events, including this year's Blues Ball, previously held at The Peabody, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, and Central Station.

Other changes that are likely within a year or two include placing medians in Riverside Drive and lowering the speed limit, scheduling more activities at Tom Lee Park, and improving stairway connections from the bluffs to Tom Lee Park as well as the docking facility and plaza at the foot of Beale Street where it meets the river.
The more ambitious parts of the plan are the massive land bridge, the lake, the Overton Blocks, and the Mud Island makeover. Politics, a lack of public funding or private investment, regulatory or engineering problems, or failure to reach agreement with the Overton heirs could stall any or all of these indefinitely. But the opening of AutoZone Park and Peabody Place and the relocation of the NBA Grizzlies have created a feeling that all things are possible, at least in the minds of RDC officials.

"Now there is an implementer," says Lendermon.

The RDC, for example, is actively contacting and negotiating with the Overton heirs through the Baker Donelson Bearman and Caldwell law firm. Lendermon says that, contrary to newspaper reports, the RDC has "a productive working relationship" with brothers Kevin and Rusty Hyneman, who own a key piece of land on Mud Island between the two bridges. There are relatively few industries on the harbor compared to other places that RDC members visited, including Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and New York -- all cities that managed to start or complete waterfront redevelopments.

"The real issue now is defining costs and testing this with developers," says Jernigan.

For now the RDC is only looking for their expertise, not commitments. But Lendermon and Jernigan think there could be substantial progress on the land bridge and Overton Blocks in five to seven years. Those two projects alone would create prime sites for a major corporate headquarters -- something downtown hasn't landed since AutoZone moved to Front Street 10 years ago.

Here's a detailed look at specific parts of the riverfront plan, with comments by Lendermon and Jernigan.

Tom Lee Park

Memphis In May stays. So does the Beale Street Music Fest. "We'd like to think we could improve the layout and vegetation to accommodate more non-Memphis In May uses," says Lendermon. The park will get more seating, places for vendors, and connections to the stairways on the bluff.

"Next year we would like to look at programming Tom Lee Park more," says Jernigan. "Kind of like what Battery Park in New York does with their Hudson River summer festival and activities from bike rental to in-line skating to morning tai-chi workouts."

Vance and Confederate Parks need improvements too, and one possibility, Jernigan says, is "a total upgrade of all the greenspaces that are here now that are going to stay long-term."

Riverside Drive

Think slower. The goal is to accommodate the same volume of traffic at a lower speed. The RDC will soon take bids to build a 10-foot planted median as well as lighted pedestrian crossings at Beale and the stairways on the bluff and a change in pavement to encourage slower speeds at the juncture of Interstate 55 and Riverside Drive. The RDC is also working with the city of Memphis to accelerate the work schedule on an interchange at Crump Boulevard and I-55 and a connection between Riverside Drive and Second and Third Streets near the south end of Riverside Drive so that those streets can take more traffic. The width of the roadway will be widened by covering up a drainage ditch on one side.

Beale Street Landing

This circular pavilion will serve as a docking facility for large steamboats, a dropoff place for shuttle buses, and a concession stand. It will be the terminus of Beale Street, Tom Lee Park, and the Cobblestone Walkway and will have some sort of tall monument or tower to draw attention to itself. Planners think the tip of Mud Island has the potential to be something on the order of the coming together of great rivers in Pittsburgh. Since the harbor is not exactly a river at all, much less a great one, this seems a stretch, but this is a key location in the overall plan. A near-term improvement.

The Cobblestones

In a word, difficult. Between dealing with historic preservation interests, Memphis In May, lawsuits from injured boat passengers, and regular tour-boat traffic, the cobblestones have proven "more of a challenge than we anticipated," Lendermon says. Some of the "less historic" cobblestones have been removed to accommodate a retaining wall to hold the rest of them in place. Low spots will be filled in, but people will still be allowed to walk on the cobblestones, although there will also be walkways above them for those who prefer not to risk a tumble.

Long-awaited Ron Terry Plaza at the foot of Union is still alive, but the RDC is trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the new walkway under construction. A planned pedestrian bridge from the foot of Union to Mud Island further complicates matters. "The worst thing would be to build Ron Terry Plaza and five years from now go in there and tear part of it out," says Lendermon. Once seen as a near-term improvement, the cobblestones could be a work in progress for years if the land bridge happens.

Mud Island Park

Twenty years ago its buildings were so "now." Which could be why they now look so "then."
Two decades of public apathy are enough in the minds of the RDC. Major changes in the long term, minor ones in the near term. Admission to the grounds is free this summer, and Lendermon says attendance was up 50 percent in July. The amphitheater is rarely booked, despite a sold-out rap concert last weekend and a beer festival this weekend. Pat Tigrett's Blues Ball is moving to Mud Island, the scene of her bridge-lighting party in 1987. Over the next two years, the RDC would like to move more events that attract a few hundred to a few thousand people to Mud Island and leave mega-events at Tom Lee Park.

The museum and amphitheater stay open for the next year or two, but long term the amphitheater most likely goes, say Lendermon and Jernigan. The river model stays, possibly as the centerpiece of a future hotel, but the Gulf of Mexico part shrinks. "It definitely will not be a swimming pool," says Lendermon. A new seawall braces the southern tip and harbor, letting people get down to a proposed new walkway closer to the water. Coupled with the land bridge, Mud Island River Park between the amphitheater and the museum becomes a mixed-use development, long term. The south end and the western edge along the river remain a public park.

The Overton Blocks

This enticing piece of the puzzle is hamstrung by a historic covenant prohibiting private development. The RDC envisions some private development facing the river, a la the AutoZone headquarters, mixed with a lot of public space and parks. The post office stays, maybe as a new home for the Wonders series. Buildings would be subject to height restrictions. A lawsuit is likely, even welcomed.

"A court has to legally decree something and put its stamp of approval on it," says Lendermon. "There is no way we can enter into a private-party contract with the Overton heirs without the judicial system being involved."
Another approach would be to argue that the RDC is by definition a public purpose and use condemnation proceedings.

"We're going to have to work with the city and their political will, so it's going to have to be a joint effort," says Jernigan.

Despite all the obstacles, the RDC is optimistic because the potential is so great.

"Even the Overton heirs are for it," says Lendermon. "The fact that there is an entity focused on the riverfront I think gives the heirs some confidence that something is going to happen and that it is going to be in accordance with a plan that is going to be executed."

The Land Bridge

Lendermon estimates it would take two years to get the permits and design it once there is agreement to go forward with this riverfront centerpiece. Construction would take two more years, following the method used to expand Tom Lee Park.

"Five years would be quick," he says. "We think it is more like 10, realistically, before you have that site ready. We will be talking a lot to the development community about this one."
There are concerns that the project, in addition to being hugely expensive, could be so big that nothing happens and momentum is lost, as happened at Battery Park in New York. Or it could simply shift businesses away from other parts of downtown, with no net gain.
Ideally, the land bridge would fill up with housing, commercial sites, a hotel, and office buildings, with a public plaza rounding off the harbor on the south side. Development costs would be offset by lot sales and leases.

The Lake

A 150-acre lake is created north of the land bridge. It becomes a prime site for residential development instead of the industrial users now on its eastern bank. The RDC estimates it will take two or three years to move the industries, and three to five more to finish the lake. The existing marina would move to the cobblestones.
"The lake would be a great neighborhood generator for Uptown," says Jernigan.

(Uptown is the residential development northwest of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.)

One possibility is connecting the lake with the harbor via a San Antonio-style river walk cutting through the land bridge.

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Sunday, April 08, 2001

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

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 12, 2001

A Not So Crazy Plan

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc.

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Thursday, January 18, 2001

Guest Editorial: Considering All Options Will Produce Best Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Dean Jernigan

Dean Jernigan is co-founder of the Memphis Redbirds and chairman and chief executive officer of Storage USA.

FOUR years ago, when my wife, Kristi, and I began thinking about bringing a higher level of baseball to this region, we considered many options. We weighed the option of purchasing the former Memphis Chicks against soliciting Major League Baseball for a triple-A expansion franchise.

We considered renovating Tim McCarver Stadium vs. building a new ballpark in east Shelby County vs. building a state-of-the-art ballpark in the core of downtown Memphis. We considered whether to follow traditional roles of team ownership or to give ownership of this amenity to the citizens of the Mid-South.

A tremendous amount of public discussion surrounded each element of these options. The Commercial Appeal published articles and editorials. Every talk radio host seemed to have a different opinion about every option but one: The one clear consensus was that the new ballpark should be built in east Shelby County - it didn't really matter where, as long as it was far away from downtown.

Still, Kristi and I insisted on giving careful consideration to all the options. Last season, more than 900,000 people enjoyed baseball in AutoZone Park, and many of them were re-introduced to downtown Memphis. I think most were pleased.

Similarly, we must consider all options in the riverfront master plan. There is a very important reason for hiring planners from diverse regions who possess varying experiences with waterfronts: They bring a fresh and informed perspective to elements that those of us who are closest to them might not otherwise see.

World-class planners make great efforts to learn and understand the nuances of a new place and the culture of its people before they begin the planning process. Cooper-Robertson & Partners has met with more than 200 people from our city and county to do just this for the Memphis riverfront.

A world-class riverfront will have a significant cost structure. The best way to secure the required finances is through development opportunities. The planners have been charged with creating a plan that is economically feasible. Therefore, they must identify city land that can be developed and generate a revenue stream.

The Overton Heirs property is one prominent area of our city that our founders had the foresight to set aside for public use. This land probably cannot be developed for private commercial use.

The city has full control of this promenade, which unfortunately includes many visual and physical barriers to the riverfront. By eliminating some parking garages and other poorly designed structures, we can enhance and create a great civic green space, while removing barriers to the riverfront. This space could become our Central Park.

Tom Lee Park is a wonderful green space on Riverside Drive, but it is grossly underused throughout the year, except during the Memphis in May festival. It is important to study the concept of moving Tom Lee Park into the core of our central business district, onto the Overton Heirs property along the bluff and Front Street.

This green space could benefit all of downtown, and could be used 12 months out of the year. I don't know what the best use might be for the land opposite Riverside Drive that is the present site of Tom Lee Park, but I strongly doubt it would need to be green space if we are successful in moving Tom Lee Park onto the Overton Heirs property.

We need not worry now about that ultimate use. Instead, we should pursue with vigor such things as the development of Mud Island, the creation of a magnificent lake at the foot of our bluffs, and a beautiful new green space in the middle of our downtown named Tom Lee Park. The new Tom Lee Park could become a great home for Memphis in May, allowing it to have an economic impact on all of downtown.

Our master planners are extremely competent and are presenting a number of options for our collective consideration. We do ourselves and our city a tremendous disservice by deciding against one or another of these options prematurely.

We must be big thinkers, and we must venture outside of our comfort zones. Let us commit to having open minds in considering all possibilities.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Friday, January 05, 2001

Riverfront Development holds workshops; Throws around ideas big and small

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston and Chris Przybyszewski

Urged to think big and avoid practical details for now, Memphians sounded off about plans to redevelop the riverfront, Mud Island, Front Street, and Tom Lee Park. Listening were members of the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), a public-private partnership looking at ways to improve the riverfront.

Key players of the RDC include Kristi and Dean Jernigan, patrons of AutoZone Park, and Benny Lendermon, former director of public works for Memphis and a designer of Tom Lee Park. At this week's series of meetings, commission board members and politicians stayed in the background while consultants presented broad themes and encouraged small groups of Memphians to respond.

"This session was specifically meant to provoke people," said consultant Brian Shea. "It's not that we're personally pushing any of these crazy notions." Shea is director of the lead planning team of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, a consulting firm based in New York City. He went on to say that the goal of these discussions was to determine, “what are the most important battles to fight,” and which aspects of the riverfront should be left until after major renovations are complete.

This could be difficult considering the myriad of special interest groups, whose concerns stretch from the historical to the environmental to the residential. However, Randy Morton, a member of the consultant team, warns that the current plans will not have a specific thematic approach, such as concentratingon on every historical marker on the river. “We can’t make everything on the riverfront special or it would all be normal,” he said.

Ideas tossed around included: developing housing in Tom Lee Park to raise money for other riverfront projects; a museum spanning the Wolf River and connecting downtown to Mud Island; commercial and residential development of Mud Island; turning the Wolf River harbor into a lake blocked by a dam; taking traffic off of Riverside Drive or rerouting it even closer to the Mississippi River; and making Memphis in May a street festival spanning Beale Street to Main Street instead of a Tom Lee Park festival.

Here's some of what they said:

Shea said one of the consultants' starting principles is that "it is difficult to enjoy and access the riverfront because of barriers." These include Riverside Drive, the cobblestones, and the hands-off development policy toward the west side of Front Street.

Planners suggest taking traffic off Riverside Drive and putting it on Second and Third Streets and turning the trolley from a "tourist toy" into a real transit system.

Mud Island has the potential for a "point park" at its southern tip where the Wolf River harbor and Mississippi River converge. Shea cited Pittsburgh as a city with such a point park.

Developer Robert Snowden urged planners to not get carried away with plans that ignore Memphians' disinclination to walk. He also discounted the need for any more public parks. "We don't need another park, we need to enhance what we have," he said. And Snowden warned that current residents and tenants on Front Street "are going to raise holy hell if you block their view of the river."

Candace Damon, an economic feasibility consultant, said "downtown desperately needs new office development." Planners see Front Street as the most likely site for such development if Memphis can overcome restrictions in the Overton promenade agreement with the heirs of the city founders.

Shea said that as a visitor he found the existing museum on Mud Island inadequate because "for one thing, you never see the river." But others defended the museum. "The concept of having that kind of Mississippi River museum must be maintained," said Susan Jones. She also urged planners to consider running tour boats to destinations such as Chucalissa or Shelby Forest.

Options for the Wolf River include leaving it alone, closing it off at the foot of Beale Street, or closing it off closer to Harbor Town to create a smaller lake that would not fluctuate with the rise and fall of the Mississippi River. A show of hands in one group found the most support for the smaller lake.

Such a lake, however, would close off the existing Wolf River marina from access to the Mississippi, potentially alienating boat-owners. One possible solution is to build a lock at the proposed lake’s mouth, which — though costly — would provide a better access road to Mud Island, and a dam for the Wolf River. The opposing argument is to create a land bridge at the site, providing development space that could pay for the cost of construction as well as serving as a dam.

Parking downtown was another major concern of one of the focus groups. Morton said that the problem is not so much in quantity as in organization. “Downtown [Memphis] has 20,000 parking spaces, more than the current developmental need,” he said. However, he noted that people are not able to find parking when they need it. The problem, Morton said, is that most of the parking in Memphis is not shared, but is used for a single purpose. As an example, Morton noted that the Pyramid boasts 6,000 spaces which are not used except during Pyramid events. By opening up such spaces to the public, parking problems could be lessened.

Tom Lee Park shapes up as one of the most controversial elements in the planners' inventory. Damon said developing it residentially could provide money to do other things, but realistically "you can't take a park without giving a park somewhere else." Others suggested such development would detract from the view of the river from the Bluff Walk.

The RDC will continue these discussions with the public for the next three months as part of its year-long study of the riverfront. Memphians can continue to contribute to the discussion via online access at the RDC’s website at www.memphisriverfront.com.

Copyright 2001 The Memphis Flyer

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Thursday, January 04, 2001

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

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal

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Friday, September 01, 2000

What on riverfront can fall? Architects ask board

Reaction is 'Very few sacred things'

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

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

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

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

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

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

"How far can we go?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have a funeral," said Shea.

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

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

"Yes," said several around the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Sunday, May 28, 2000

Editorial: The Promenade: Founders' riverfront vision can still be realized

Commercial Appeal
Editorial

RHYME IT with lemonade if you like, in the parlance of square dancing. Or say prom-en-AAD if you'd prefer. It can be noun or verb. Whichever one chooses, the word evokes a nostalgic, somewhat formal sense of pleasurable walking, in no great hurry so as to take full visual advantage of the scenery, human as well as natural.

It is physically and esthetically the focus of the latest effort to realize the vision of Memphis's trio of founders when they laid out the city in 1819, labeling the land west of Front from Union north to Jackson a "public promenade," relinquishing all claim to the land "now and forever" as long as public use continued.

For the most part, that arrangement still prevails, although the Memphis waterfront lacks the drawing power of, say, St. Louis or Chicago. It has great potential, though, and the recently incorporated Riverfront Development Corp. should come up with some splendid ideas.

One idea it must begin with is to keep intact a commitment described by founder John Overton, by making public access to the riverfront a non-negotiable requirement in any development plans.

No development in the area should hamper public access because the Promenade, which has through the years shrunk to about half its original size, is the public's land and the river is the public's river.

Its access should never be bartered away to lure private development into the historic area. What is essentially Memphis, from the historic cobblestone river landing to -- bless its heart -- the unprofitable but one-of-a-kind Mud Island River Park, must be preserved.

And there can't be any backing away from the commitment to finish uncompleted sections of the riverwalk and bluffwalk with unimpeded views of the Mississippi.
P
art of that project is expected to get under way soon with the approval of a contractor for the $4.5 million Cobblestone Walkway project, linking Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center with Tom Lee Park along the western edge of Riverside Drive, with a plaza at the foot of Union overlooking the harbor.

A planned $3.3 million redesign of Riverside Drive aimed at slowing traffic should help further the aims of the RDC by enabling pedestrians to reach the river more safely.

An important step toward riverfront development was taken last week when the RDC selected a team headed by a New York architectural firm to develop a master plan for the five-mile riverfront project.

The firm has previous experience with New York, St. Louis, Columbus, Boston and Chicago waterfront projects. It will hold public meetings to gather input from the community. The plan is expected to cost $500,000 to $750,000.

Another significant event in the development plan was Memphis real estate developer Robert Snowden's acceptance of the unenviable task of attempting to represent an estimated 200 to 300 heirs to the Memphis founders, one of whom is Snowden himself.

Known collectively as the Overton heirs - no offense intended to the descendants of James Winchester and Andrew Jackson who are also in the group - the heirs would have to approve any non-public use of the Promenade.

Public budgets being as tight as they are, the kind of development that would draw people to the riverfront and put it on a par with St. Louis or New Orleans would most likely require a sizable private investment smack dab in the historic Promenade. This is where the so-called Overton heirs, reportedly divided into five distinct family-oriented factions from coast to coast, would have to be brought in on the deal.

The project is fraught with legal complications, and there are numerous parties that will have to be brought together with the common goal in mind of fulfilling the founders' long-delayed dream.

But some of the city's brightest, most ambitious and civic-minded people, including Benny Lendermon, Kristi Jernigan and John Stokes, are on the case. Everybody grab your partner and promenade.

Copyright 2000, commercialappeal.com - Memphis, TN.

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