Sunday, July 08, 2007

Letters to the CA: Beale Street Landing

Click the "complete article" link below to read the letters to the Commercial Appeal [link] in response to last week's Hot Button question, which was:

Do you think Beale Street Landing, as designed, will attract residents from across Greater Memphis to spend time on the riverfront regularly?

I'm always frustrated and disappointed when I have clients or family and friends in from out of town and they ask me where they can go to get something to eat on the riverfront. Plus, I work Downtown, so it would be great to be able to walk a few blocks and go to a nice lunch or dinner on our riverfront. We will finally have that with Beale Street Landing!

I think the space will attract live music, which always draws a crowd. And what family wouldn't want to bring their kids down to the river for boat rides and cool places to play games?

Adrienne Timberlake

I've longed (for the 44 years I've lived in Memphis) for more ways to enjoy the Mississippi River. I think being able to get so close to the water is the most compelling feature of this complex project. A restaurant on the riverfront that is easy to get to, family-friendly areas and many more trees are amenities that are much needed.

Lucia Gilliland

Has anyone even thought of the parking situation? Or the traffic congestion? Why is someone always trying to turn the Downtown area into an amusement park? And a floating dock no less.

Which brings to mind the one thing that surely would have attracted Memphians as well as visitors down to the river more often -- a casino! There are a number of examples of this that have taken Memphians and visitors a little farther down the river.

Frank B. Tate

Instead of spending 29 million taxpayer dollars on something so risky and unnecessary, why don't we spend this year's Riverfront Development Corporation budget on redevelopment of Mud Island to achieve the same goals? We already have the infrastructure in place. The river park is shamefully underutilized but already paid for.

Everything that can be done with a new expensive boat dock can be accomplished across the harbor even closer to the mighty Mississippi! Add a trolley bridge, a pedestrian drawbridge and easier access for cars via Harbor Town and we might just accomplish our goal of reuniting Memphians with the river for about a tenth of the cost.

Jeffrey Chipman

I've looked at the four artist renderings of Beale Street Landing that were shown to City Council in May, and I now see accidents and crimes waiting to happen. There are too many places where an unattended child could get hurt or climb over a wall and go splat, or splash, below. There are too many walls, "islands" and strips of trees obstructing visibility, so that if someone was hurt or in trouble, they wouldn't be seen. Beale Street Landing is going to require 24/7 security.

Michael Cromer

I'm all for scrutinizing city projects to make sure the money is well spent, but it's time we gave the RDC a break. They have a great track record for making cost-effective riverfront improvements that help lend much-needed civic pride.

Memphians need to shed the cancerous cynicism and come together in excitement over this project.

Beale Street Landing will not only be a docking facility but primarily a place where the public can enjoy the river, regardless of the river level. The plans also include 100 new trees for shade and a green roof component, so it will only make the riverfront look better.

It will be a great way to start giving Memphians more tangible reasons to turn back to the river.

Hunter Sharpe

We go to Paducah, Ky., regularly on weekends. They have a community get-together called Downtown After Dinner every Saturday from May to September, with music of every variety and other activities and displays. Their riverfront has the tiers and walkways that are proposed for here. There is also a feeling of safety there, no matter where you walk.

Before our city officials spend money to draw people Downtown, they need to put the $29 million in city coffers to cover lawsuits, turn the police loose on the criminals, and allow them to clean up the city.

Until that is accomplished, no amount of money spent is going to attract people. Rape, robbery and murder have always been known to take the vibrancy out of any area.

Norma Wilson

Not too long ago, I had the experience of seeing some elderly friends who were visiting Memphis for the first time off on a riverboat cruise. It was quite embarrassing to take them down to the river and see them awkwardly try to navigate the cobblestones. We had to look at mounds of garbage that had been unloaded and heaps of luggage and supplies being loaded out in the open.

Later that same week I traveled to Pittsburgh for a meeting in the Three Rivers district. Across the river from my hotel was a beautiful riverboat landing, bustling with activity. The entire riverfront scene in Pittsburgh was beautiful, inviting and something that the former steel mill city takes great pride in. What a shame that Memphis, the city that defined river trade and entertainment in America, lags so far behind. Let's make our riverfront something to be proud of.

Robert Carter

I believe an addition such as this is long overdue. Both New Orleans and St. Louis have vibrant waterfront areas with numerous restaurants and places of entertainment that encourage not only their own citizens to visit downtown, but tourists as well.

Jack Wilson

Oh, please. Beale Street Landing will bring the same folks as The Pyramid, Peabody Place, Mud Island, the current river park and the Madison Avenue trolley. Will the City Council appoint Joseph Lee as head of the project?

James Dean Moss

Labels: , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Monday, June 04, 2007

Letters: Don't dock taxpayers again

Commercial Appeal [link]
Letters to the Editor

When will the Memphis City Council wake up? A new commercial boat dock? The Riverfront Development Corporation is asking us to spend $18.8 million of city taxpayers' money (not to mention federal earmarks) on something that simply isn't needed (May 25 article, "Beale St. plan restored / City Council puts it back on capital improvements budget").

The part that might be useful ("a place to buy a Coke," as RDC president Benny Lendermon says) could be accomplished far more cheaply with soft-drink machines or licensed street vendors in Tom Lee Park, on the cobblestones or in Jefferson Davis Park. The new hotel at Beale and Wagner will have a restaurant.

Beale Street Landing is a leftover from the repudiated land bridge plan that would have ended the docking at the cobblestones. A new landing is no longer necessary. The steamboat operators hate this floating dock idea. Memphians and tourists think it's fun boarding at the historic cobblestones, and simply want improvements like better walkways, seating and historic information.

Beale Street Landing is an artificiality we can't afford, a make-work, job-protection program for a corporation whose middle name is Development.

Meanwhile, the rest of Memphis languishes, with a high crime rate, a shortage of jobs, poor health and bad roads.

Michael Cromer

This $29 million boat dock is being promoted as a tourist attraction, as in, "Hey let's go to Memphis, they've got a great boat dock," but it is understood that it will be used as a base to transport folks to Tunica for gambling. Hmmmm.

This project is being discussed as money well spent, but we have an empty unpaid-for pyramid, a three-story garage that was supposed to be four stories and a monorail that's not even open year-round that leads to a recreation area with closed shops and restaurants. All paid for by taxpayer dollars. Are we throwing good money after bad?

This project is being promoted as benefiting all Memphians. All Memphians need funded hospitals, libraries, parks, jobs, and good, clean, safe schools and homes before they need a $29 million boat dock.

Our council members are scheduled to vote on this Tuesday. $29 million? Tell them we've had enough.

Kay Guenther

Labels: ,

[Read the complete article...]

Friday, April 29, 2005

Letter: The RDC Responds

Memphis Flyer
Letters to the Editor
Link to original

The Riverfront Development Corporation was established as a result of several communitywide public forums, which affirmed that revitalization of the Memphis riverfront was an important priority for moving this city forward ("River of Dreams," April 21st issue).

Having served first as a steering-committee member studying how best to begin riverfront improvements and now as the RDC's founding chairman, I can assure you that our first task for the city of Memphis was to provide a higher level of service to the green spaces along the riverfront, attract more citizens to the area, and provide appropriate amenities.

We have achieved and maintain a high standard of excellence in caring for the parks. We have added canoe, kayak, and bicycle rentals to Mud Island River Park and started a walking club and overnight camping. Plus, we eliminated the admission fee to Mud Island.

The RDC is in fact doing more with less. The RDC is managing the riverfront at the same cost to the city as in 1999. At that time, riverfront costs had been escalating at a rate of 14 percent a year over the previous four years. Using that rate, the RDC has saved the city $3.9 million.

I do not believe that the citizens of this community want their riverfront to fall into disrepair. I believe this community wants a vibrant riverfront and that the vast majority of people support the RDC. We are working to maintain excellence in all that we do, and I believe the people enjoying the riverfront today expect just that.

John W. Stokes Jr., Chairman
Riverfront Development Corporation


[Read the complete article...]

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Letter: Getting the runaround on information

Commercial Appeal
Letter to the Editor

It used to be easy to obtain information at City Hall, but as your March 13 article ("Citizens wage fight for public documents") notes it has become a very time-consuming process. During the past year I've been given the wrong records, had to submit more than one request for material, had to wait additional weeks for photocopies, and have been told documents didn't exist that later turned up.

What is even more troubling is when the city conducts business through unelected bodies; should the public have less access to information concerning those decisions? Week before last, at the League of Women Voters meeting, Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), said his group's meetings were not open to the public -- that the only way to go is to be invited. Well, the RDC is spending taxpayer money, planning to use eminent domain to take what is supposed to be park land and turn it over to private developers, and has gotten federal money to figure out how to turn the harbor into a lake. Citizens have to be invited to learn more about it!

Sue A. Williams


[Read the complete article...]

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Letter: Land bridge is waste of precious funds

The Commercial Appeal
Letter to the Editor

This week the League of Women Voters hosted a meeting about the proposed land bridge that is a big part of the Riverfront Development Corp.'s master plan for Downtown's waterfront. RDC president Benny Lendermon and Virginia McLean, of Friends for Our Riverfront, were guests.

No matter how you view the proposed changes and their impact on our city, we all must agree that our first priority must be fiscal responsibility. As the numbers began to come out, grudgingly on the part of Lendermon, it became clear we are talking hundreds of millions more than this city has ever put into any public works project.

In a time of severe budget crisis, when our mayor considers cutting $86 million from the city schools, do we need to spend $100 million on the RDC to develop plans for spending hundreds of millions more? Where are our priorities? Should we invest in our people, our poverty, our crime, our education, our homelessness and our police forces? Probably, but for some reason, our elected officials are more interested in creating estate homes on the harbor and turning our Public Promenade into high-priced condos.

We are robbed each time we get our property tax bills. It's time for us to get rid of every politician who votes for funding anything until our children have a decent education. They are our future, not a land bridge that lines the pockets of some of the wealthiest players in the game.

Jeffrey Chipman

Labels: , , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Letter: Spence to Lendermon re: Tennessee Open Meetings Act

During the question and answer session following a recent presentation to the League of Women Voters, Benny Lendermon told the audience that, while it is subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act, the RDC is not subject to the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Here is the complete text of the local attorney's opinion letter upon which Mr. Lendermon apparently relied.

Robert L. J. Spence, Jr.
Attorney at Law

Spence Law Firm
119 S. Main Street, Suite 500, Memphis, TN 38103
901-312-9160, fax 901-312-5501

February 2, 2005


Benny Lendermon
Riverfront Development Corporation
22 N. Front, Suite 960
Memphis, TN 38103

Re: Tennessee Open Meetings Act

Dear Benny:

You have asked for our opinion as to whether the Tennessee Open Meetings Act[1] (the “Act”) is applicable to meetings of the board of directors of the Riverfront Development Corporation (“RDC”). For the following reasons we do not believe that it is applicable. RDC, as a private non-profit corporation, has no legal obligation to give public notice of meetings of its board of directors or to allow the public to attend and observe such meetings.

The Act sets out a declaration of state policy that the “formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”[2] Toward that end the Act further provides that “[a]ll meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee.”[3] “Governing body” is defined in the Act to include the board of directors of several types of non-profit corporations, including those that (1) receive more than 30% of their funding through contracts with the state for community grant funds, [4] (2) provide utility or solid waste disposal systems on behalf of local governments pursuant to state law, [5] (3) provide certain sized cities with heat, steam or incineration services, [6] and (4) act as a municipal bond financing pool for local governments and receive more than 30% of their total annual income through related fees.[7] None of these categories would include the RDC.

    "Government body" is also defined in the Act as:

    (A)The members of any public body which consists of two (2) or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration.

The question thus becomes whether the RDC board meets the criteria for a “public body” for purposes of this definition. “Public body” is not defined in the Act. Nevertheless, the Tennessee Supreme Court, taking guidance from the legislative history and the policy declaration of the Act, has determined it to be:

    clear that for purposes of this Act, the Legislature intended to include any board, commission, committee, agency, authority or any other body, by whatever name, whose origin and authority may be traced to State, City or County legislative action and whose members have authority to make decisions or recommendations on policy or administration affecting the conduct of the business of the people in the government sector.[9]

Thus, the two criteria that must be satisfied in order for the RDC to be considered a “public body” and consequently a “governing body” are: (1) whether RDC’s existence and authority arises from a legislative action by the City, and (2) whether RDC has the authority to make decisions or recommendations about City government policy or administration.

RDC did not originate and was not formed by legislative action of the city. It is a private Tennessee non-profit corporation formed by an independent group of citizens. Although the Mayor of the City recommends persons to serve on its board of directors, its actual invitation to do so is made by the RDC board of directors itself. The Mayor has no appointment power and the City Council has no approval authority with regard to the RDC board of directors. The inclusion of City government officials as ex officio members of the RDC board gives the City a representative presence only, and does not provide or allow the City authority and control over the RDC board. RDC does receive grant money from the City. It also receives significant funding from private grants and contributions and contractual income. Consequently, the City’s grant funding is not so pervasive as to be tantamount to control over the actions and decisions of the RDC board. It appears that neither the original existence nor authority of the RDC can properly be traced to the City, and the RDC does not meet the first prong of the definition of “public body” under the Act.

Nor does the RDC have the authority to make decisions or recommendations about City government policy or administration – the second prong of the analysis of whether it is a “public body” and thus a “government body” subject to the Act. This criteria has been considered by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In Fain vs. Faculty of the College of Law of the University of Tennessee, 552 S.W.2nd 752 (Tenn. App. 1988) the Court considered whether a faculty committee appointed and presided over by the Dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law was a “governing body” subject to the Act. The Court found that although the Dean had the responsibility and power to administer the College of Law, neither he nor the faculty committee had authority to formulate policies governing it. That authority resided solely in the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee. Therefore, the faculty committee was not a “governing body” and was not subject to the Act. Also, in the recent case of Allen v. City of Memphis, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 403 (June 22, 2004), the Court was unable to determine that a committee of the Memphis City Council, formed to review an annexation matter, was a “governing body” due to the fact that the committee had no authority to delete, change or amend the relevant annexation ordinance and that the committee did not act in the capacity of making a “recommendation” regarding the annexation ordinance.

Consistent with its corporate purpose, the RDC is involved with public property located in the Memphis riverfront area. It has no absolute authority over same, however. RDC contracts with the City for capital improvement projects effecting city infrastructure in the riverfront area as well as comprehensive planning projects. The terms and conditions of these contracts are approved and administered by the Mayor and his staff, and funding is approved by the City Council. Pursuant to these contracts RDC implements the policies of the City, as would any similarly situated, independent construction or project management contractor or planning consultant. Similarly RDC manages certain of the City’s park properties located in the riverfront area pursuant to contract with the City. Any operaying policies and procedures that it formulates with regard to these properties are subject to review by the City, and the City retains ultimate authority and control over the use and disposition of such properties. Any proposals or recommendations by the RDC for development of these properties are presented to the City Council, for discussion and approval, in public meetings held pursuant to the Act. RDC does not obtain or exercise independent and absolute authority to make or implement its own policies with regard to its performance of its contracts with the City, including the management of City park properties. As a result the RDC does not meet the second promng of the definition of “public Body.”

Accordingly, we do not believe the RDC falls within any of the definitions of “governing body” in the Act, and is therefore, not subject to the Act.

I hope this responds adequately to your request, and that you will not hesitate to call if you have any questions.

Very truly yours,


Robert L.J. Spence, Jr.


[1] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-101 et seq.
[2] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-101 (a).
[3] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-102 (a).
[4] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-102(b)1)(B). “(b)(1) ‘Governing body’ means: (B) The board of directors of any nonprofit corporation which contracts with a state agency to receive community grant funds in consideration for rendering specified services to the public; provided, that community grant funds comprise at least thirty percent (30%) of the total annual income of such corporation….”
[5] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-102(b)(1)(C). “(b)(1) ‘Governing body’ means: (C) The board of directors of any not-for-profit corporation authorized by the laws of Tennessee to act for the benefit or on behalf of any one (1) or more counties, cities, towns and local governments pursuant to the provisions of title 7, chapter 54 or 58.
[6] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-102(b)(1)(D). “(b)(1) ‘Governing body’ means (D) The board of directors of any nonprofit corporation which through contract or otherwise provides a metropolitan form of government having a population in excess of five hundred thousand (500,000) according to the 1990 federal census or any subsequent federal census with heat, steam or incineration of refuse.”
[7] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-102(b)(1)(E). “(b)(1) ‘Governing body’ means (E)(i) The board of directors of any association or nonprofit corporation authorized by the laws of Tennessee that: (a) was established for the benefit of local government officials or counties, cities, towns or other local governments or as a municipal bond financing pool; (b) receives dues, service fees or any other income from local government officials or such local governments that constitute at least thirty percent (30%) of its total annual income; and (c) was authorized as of January 1, 1998, under state law to obtain coverage for its employees in the Tennessee consolidated retirement system.”
[8] Tenn. Code Ann. 8-44-102(b)(1)(A).
[9] Dorrier v. Dark, 537 S.W.2nd 888, 892 (Tenn. 1976).

Labels: ,

[Read the complete article...]

Friday, January 28, 2005

Letter: Honor Promenade's vision, promise

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

Your Jan. 26 edition included a 50-year-old photograph of the almost-completed two-story parking garage on the Public Promenade. In the early 1950s, many questioned whether a parking garage was an appropriate use of that public space. To garner support for the project, the city attorney explained that the garage would be built underground with a beautiful park at street level "with walkways, flowers, grass and shrubbery." (The Commercial Appeal, Nov. 5, 1950)

The Riverfront Development Corp. now says it will put a lot of green space under privately developed high-rise offices and apartments it wants to build on the promenade's remaining few acres?

Why not replace the garage with a beautiful park, as promised by the city attorney in 1950 and envisioned by city founders in 1819?

Hite Mclean

(Also see: Bygone days: Paving Paradise)

Labels: ,

[Read the complete article...]

Monday, January 10, 2005

Letter: Restore CCC as Downtown planner

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

As this community faces the threat of higher taxes, our leaders are making a great show of efforts to reduce expenditures. Consolidation has become Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's solution to the looming shortfalls. He has an opportunity to show his belief in consolidation within his own domain.

Memphis has two semiprivate organizations that oversee the development of our city, the Center City Commission and the Riverfront Development Commission. Both organizations, funded to a large extent by taxpayers, are staffed with highly paid individuals, and both maintain executive office suites in Downtown Memphis.

Before the RDC was created, Downtown development efforts were led solely by the CCC. By removing the riverfront from CCC purview, the mayor was able to provide highly paid jobs for ex-city employees who carried on his vision of a grand-scale rebuilding of the city, centered on a land bridge and lake. In light of the current budget crisis, these plans have taken a low profile.

With the view that consolidated organizations are more efficient than divided and often duplicated efforts, now would be a great time for the mayor to consolidate the efforts of the CCC and the RDC, returning the development of Downtown to the CCC. This act would save millions by reducing duplicated costs, and allow costly planning efforts to return to a more realistic level, benefiting the city and taxpayer alike.

Thomas Kroll

Copyright 2004 - The Commercial Appeal is an E.W. Scripps Company newspaper.

Labels: ,

[Read the complete article...]

Monday, September 20, 2004

Letter: RDC should put a chunk of Tom Lee Park up for sale

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

If the Riverfront Development Corporation is hell-bent on selling public land for private development, perhaps it should consider selling off part of Tom Lee Park.

RDC's refusal to plant additional shade trees, install picnic benches or gazebos or shelters results in an open expanse of land on which to build condos and office buildings, with plenty of space remaining for Memphis in May festivities.

RDC could easily exercise its power of eminent domain because Tom Lee Park doesn't have the easement restrictions the City of Memphis must overcome to promote private development of high-rises on the public promenade.

Tom Lee Park would likely "lease" to private developers for enough money to relocate the fire station and two parking garages from the public promenade. And devel oping a small part of Tom Lee Park might be what the RDC needs to bring "critical mass" to the riverfront.

Bill Tillner

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

Labels: , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Letter: Support of RDC proposal not in best interest of city

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

The Commercial Appeal has again come out against what is good for the city. Instead of supporting what is good, it is supporting what the Riverfront Development Corp.'s monied interests want.

You first opposed, before coming around to support, the Bluffwalk, which is a great addition to our city. Now you support the RDC plan to "sell off" our public riverfront land (promenade) to provide income for the RDC.

Leasing the promenade for a 40-, a 30- and a 15-story tower is contrary to the 1828 deed that gave the land to the citizens of Memphis for public use. The founders of our city had a far better vision of our city than you have. Shame on you.

Bergen Merrill

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

Labels: ,

[Read the complete article...]

Letter: Promenade development would deny preservation

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

It is very apparent that the writers of a May 15 letter to the editor and your May 16 editorial ("Turning the city's face to the river") have both missed the point of the Public Promenade being placed on the list of Tennessee's 10 most endangered historic sites.

The promenade's nomination and its selection to this very important listing are based on the fact that the blufftop area along the west side of Front Street called the Public Promenade was given to the citizens of Memphis as a public open area to be used and visited by all. This listing by the Tennessee Preservation Trust serves to make clear the fact that for over the last 50-plus years Memphis has not been a good steward of the promenade and now is the time to correct the years of inappropriate development, not to add to it.

If the newest development plan by the Riverfront Development Corp. is approved by the City Council as early as today there will simply be no more public bluff/promenade. It will become a squared-off concrete structure with no appearance of the natural green bluff that once stood as a historical part of Memphis history.

June W. West

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

Labels: ,

[Read the complete article...]

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Letters: ULI's Vision Excludes Many in Memphis 'Family'

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

In his April 25 Viewpoint guest column, "'Family room' could bring city together," Wayne Ratkovich fails to extend the invitation to everyone in this city's family. In his endorsement of the Riverfront Development Corp.'s plans for the promenade, Ratkovich cites the Urban Land Institute's vision for a civic "family room" that would include high-dollar restaurant and retail establishments that many economically marginalized Memphians would never be able to visit.

It is understandable that Ratkovich, an outsider, might not be familiar with the whole Memphis family. He may not have had time to visit the failing schools or lunch with the homeless population at one of our soup kitchens.

Chances are he does not understand the broken government systems that funnel huge sums of city and county money into economic development projects that cater to those with substantial means, leaving large tracts of chronic poverty thriving in need.

It is understandable that Ratkovich may have missed the immense needs here, but it is inexcusable that our governments and quasi-governmental entities would make the same mistake time and again. Surely they see the many social issues looming over our collective heads.

We are seeing the failure of economic stimulus to correct our broken neighborhoods and schools. Maybe our city's stewards will redirect the plans for a "family room" on the riverfront, and focus our resources on correcting the issues that cripple our educational and social systems. Maybe they will create a longer-term plan for economic growth by ensuring that all citizens have access to the education and services needed to exploit economic opportunities.

J. Marc Cunningham

Memphis's founders saw a different vision

The headline on an April 25 Viewpoint guest column praising the RDC's scheme for the riverfront, "Vision of founders will come to life," is misleading, at best.

John Overton, one of Memphis's founders, clearly defined their vision of the promenade: "between the front lots (east of Front Street) and the river is an ample vacant space, reserved as a promenade, all of which must contribute very much to the health and comfort of the place, as well as to its security and ornament."

Note the phrases "ample vacant space" and "all of which." Obviously, the intention is a walkway through an open space park.

Since then, this "ample vacant space" has picked up a customs house/post office, a library, a fire station and two parking garages - all of which, even though they were needed public uses, wronged both the citizens of Memphis and the Overton heirs.

Now the RDC proposes that the library, the fire station, and both parking garages be replaced with a wall of medium- and high-rise buildings along Front Street, with "promenade" walkway balconies on the west. This is not public use, and again deprives Memphians of the park and promenade the founders envisioned.

It's a shame that we are considering leasing to developers the use of this property, which is a birthright of all Memphians.

Roy Harrover

I live in downtown Memphis. I am passionate about it.

When called to vote on the RDC's plan, the City Council must balance what is good for the few against what is good for the many.

Friends for Our Riverfront is lobbying to retain the area as a public park and promenade. The RDC would like to erect a couple of high-rise buildings, of 23 to 30 stories each, and lease them to private developers.

Does the RDC plan mean that when driving west on Union Avenue we will be in a shadow cast by a 400-foot wall lining the bluff and blocking our sunlight and view? How much will the project cost and who will pay for it?

It's nice to have someone looking out for us. How fortunate we are to have citizens who pay attention to issues that will forever affect all of us and generations to come. Thank you, FfOR.
Relying on our politicians and corporate leaders to keep us informed is neither wise nor tradition here. What height precedents will the City Council be setting if it decides in favor of the RDC? What will that mean to future developments on our river?

If you favor the RDC's plan, you are in the company of some very powerful politicians and prominent people. If you favor the FfOR plan, now is the time to get involved.

Leigh L. Davis

I don't have Grizzlies tickets, political influence nor the money to make significant campaign contributions. I do have, however, one vote and a sincere concern for the future of our riverfront.

I ask the City Council to carefully scrutinize the RDC's proposal to allow the development of 300- to 400-foot high-rise towers on public property.

Bill Tillner

Local architects offered consulting help, AIA says

In response to your April 28 article "Architects urge open space on riverfront," I want to go on record to say that RDC president Benny Lendermon's statement that officials "worked a great deal" with the Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects in the planning process is false.

True, we have asked the RDC to consider consulting with AIA Memphis in the planning process and to use us as a resource, but to date this has not happened.

Our AIA chapter adopted a resolution asking the RDC and the City Council to "explore a broader range of alternatives" than the RDC's plan.

I want to reiterate that the resolution, which was formed after presentations from both the RDC and Friends for Our Riverfront, was challenged before being supported by our board and then sent out to the membership for their vote. Eighty-two percent of our polled membership agreed with the resolution.

I also believe that we went out of our way to communicate our position to the RDC before making the resolution public.

I have since been made aware that we are not alone in our position and have the support of a stronger majority than those who originally responded to the poll, as well as the support of many outside our organization. I resent Lendermon's comments.

Rebecca Conrad
President, AIA Memphis

Stifling ideas for growth gets Memphis nowhere

The great cities of the world became great because they had bold ideas for growth. Tour the outer drive in Chicago, and I dare anyone not to be inspired.

If these cities had listened to the objections cited by the writer of your April 25 letter to the editor, "Honor city's heritage, not costly 'urban fantasy' ," they would still be floundering around in political folderol - as Memphis is.

Let us all be a little tolerant in viewing plans for growth for our city. As a Chicago transplant, I look forward to the future here.

Memphis will never be a great city if we continue to stifle ideas for growth.

Don Meyers

Labels: , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Friday, April 30, 2004

Benny Lendermon Responds to Jack Belz

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


DATE: Friday, April 30, 2004

FROM: Benny Lendermon

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

RE: Memphis Promenade Public Realm Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Monday, April 26, 2004

Jack Belz writes to the City Council

Developer Jack Belz emailed a memorandum to City Council and RDC President Benny Lendermon, expressing his reservations about the Promenade Land Use Plan. Here is the text of the memo. (Lendermon's response is reproduced at this link.)


DATE: April 26, 2004

TO: Memphis City Council

FROM: Jack Belz, Ron Belz, John Dudas

RE: Response to Benny Lendermon’s e-mail - 4/21/04: Memphis Promenade Public Realm Plan

We support the relocation of the parking garages below the Front Street grade, the construction of pedestrian bridges over Monroe and other appropriate streets, the relocation of the fire station and the adaptive reuse of the Post Office for a major public purpose like the Law School. We would like to see the development of an attractive "esplanade" along the river side of the promenade area. We would even support a limited amount of low-rise structures along the west side of Front which would contain public and possibly residential uses.

We oppose the construction of high rise structures on the west side of Front Street, which are suggested in the Cooper-Robertson plan, for the following reasons:

1. These structures would block the view of already existing properties on the east side of Front, many of which are substantially vacant and in need of new users and rehabilitation.

2. The amount of parking that would be required for new high rise construction on the west side of Front and to accommodate the existing demand for parking from occupied and unoccupied space east of Front St. would require above ground parking structures which would defeat the purpose of relocating the existing parking underground. The amount of parking spaces available for the existing properties east of Front must not be reduced or the revitalization of that area will be jeopardized.

3. The promenade and other aspects of the riverfront should primarily serve as an amenity for the developed portions of downtown and the city in general.

There is adequate vacant property east of Front to accommodate all of the commercial development which the market could absorb for at least 50 years. (If a major corporation agreed to move its headquarters to downtown Memphis only on the condition that it be allowed to develop west of Front, then this could justify considering whether to allow a building in the promenade area. A speculative office building, hotel or other non-single-user facility would not justify building west of Front). The objective of the riverfront development should not be to develop a parallel downtown but rather to provide the environment and amenities to facilitate the optimum development of the existing downtown properties.

In terms of the financing of the proposed promenade public improvements, this area should be treated as any other public project and financed in the same way as a park, or public parking garage or plaza is financed. For example, Downtown property owners have been paying a special assessment on their property for almost 30 years in order to fund Main Street and other projects through the Center City Commission. Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) is being used in Uptown and another district has been proposed for the balance of downtown in order to finance public improvements. The TIF revenues would result from the new development and renovation activities which would take place in downtown including Mud Island, the Bio Tech area and other areas within the CBID. Transferring development and rehabilitation activities from the currently built up areas of downtown to a new publicly created land area, which admittedly would have fewer obstacles for construction than the built up areas in order to create a limited amount of tax (land lease) value to fund public improvements, would retard the revitalization of Main St., 2nd St., Union etc.

The riverfront public improvements should compete on the priority list with public improvements needed in the already developed portions of downtown. It is misleading to imply that there will be no cost to the community if the promenade land was leased to private interests to build something that should be built in the already developed areas of downtown in order to fund a portion of the riverfront public improvements. If potential users are transferred from the currently developed portions of downtown to the promenade then the existing non-utilized properties will remain below their optimum value longer, which will cause blight on the surrounding properties and reduce the value and productivity of those properties. We will, in fact, be sacrificing the area east of Front for a new town west of Front.

It is also misleading to suggest that the approximate $50 million of cost, which has been floating around as an estimate associated with the promenade projects, can be financed by private development on the promenade. A $50 million bond issue would require approximately $4 million per year of revenue to amortize the debt service on the bond issue. It is unlikely that private interests could justify paying $4 million per year in land costs for the limited amount of property available on the Promenade.

Consequently, a substantial portion of the revenues for the debt service on the public improvements to the promenade would need to come from the City-wide property taxes or some other public source of funds. The proposal does not have reasonable certainty and no protection for the taxpayers that it will not simply become a transfer of this asset to private interests who are around to reap the benefits of a failed financial plan. In other words, this action could retard the revitalization of the currently developed portions of downtown and turn over a large portion of the public space overlooking the waterfront to private interests in order to raise a relatively small amount of funds for these improvements. The financing assumptions need reevaluation before the City adopts a plan based on this thesis.

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

Labels: , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Letter: Legal questions demand answers

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

In 1819, Memphis's founders (being developers themselves) employed a checks and balances mechanism to protect the promenade from future developers.

They gave Memphians a perpetual easement, with the stipulation that the property always be a public promenade. They allowed the underlying land to pass to their heirs, who for all practical purposes cannot do anything with it while the easement remains.

If an easement's stipulations are violated, the landowners may sue to stop the violations or ask the court to dissolve the easement. In the 1960s, the heirs sued the city to prohibit leasing a portion of the promenade to a commercial developer. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the heirs.

Given that precedent, what does the RDC plan to do? It seems they would abandon the easement, reverting full control of the property to the heirs. Then they would have the city take the land by eminent domain, paying the heirs current market value.

That raises three disturbing questions:
  • Should the RDC and the city be allowed to destroy a valuable possession of the citizens of Memphis (the easement) without appropriate public process?
  • Will Memphians then be forced to pay for something that was already theirs?
  • If the proposed development fails to provide sufficient revenue to cover the debt service, will future generations of Memphians foot the bill?

Arguably, the only logical purpose of abandoning the easement, then buying the land at today's prices, is to enable commercial development. It appears that taxpayers, not developers, would bear the brunt of the business risks.

Regardless of how one feels about the esthetics of the proposed development, these questions demand to be answered.

Michael Cromer
Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

Labels: , ,

[Read the complete article...]

Letter: Skip a meeting, and somehow plans change

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

I attended the first two of three public meetings presented by the Riverfront Development Corp. last year. I was pleased and intrigued with the plans for the four-block area of the public promenade between Union and Adams avenues.

To my relief, a land bridge/dam across the former Wolf River channel that had been proposed earlier as part of the riverfront development had disappeared. The inappropriate parking garages, fire station and the ugly modern addition to the Cossitt Library were to be razed, while keeping and refurbishing the beautiful, historic post office.

In their place along the foot of the bluff, an array of shops, bars, boutiques and restaurants were to be built, tiered into the face of the bluff and extending east to Front Street. As I recall, this proposed development was to be low level, no taller than one or two stories on the west side of Front.

After missing the third RDC meeting, I attended a presentation last month by Friends for Our Riverfront.

The RDC's attractive plan appears to have been drastically changed. It is now dominated by three skyscrapers, from 150 feet to 400 feet high, on the river bluff. Where did these leviathans come from? They were not part of the RDC presentation that I found so attractive. Is this bait-and-switch on the part of RDC?

With considerable empty downtown office space available, do we need more office buildings? Who will pay for them? Do we need the river views from existing buildings blocked by front-row monsters?

How can anyone vote on a proposal that seems to change drastically almost every time it is presented?

As for the open promenade and park plans proposed by Friends for Our Riverfront, I don't think Memphis needs more parkland on our riverfront. With Martyrs Park, Tom Lee Park, Jefferson Davis Park, the Tennessee Welcome Center and the residential portion of Mud Island, we already have almost three miles of open riverfront parkland, in addition to the riverwalk along the bluff.

The four-block, tourist-friendly bistro/shopping development in the face of the bluff with a low level development on Front makes sense to me. Isn't it a reasonable compromise?

William B. Strong

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

Labels: , ,

[Read the complete article...]