Sunday, December 09, 2007

Work finally set to start on Beale Street Landing

Waterfront plans revised after historic group had objections
Commercial Appeal [link]
By Tom Charlier

Satisfied that modest design changes will protect the Downtown cobblestones area, Tennessee historic-preservation officials have cleared the way for construction to begin on the Beale Street Landing project.

The Tennessee Historical Commission dropped its objections to the $29million riverboat dock and waterfront amenity after the city's Riverfront Development Corp. agreed to change color schemes and relocate and downsize one feature of the landing.

With the revisions, the project will not "adversely affect" the cobblestones area, which is part of the city's historic landing on the Mississippi River and within the Cotton Row Historic District, commission executive director Patrick McIntyre said in a letter last week.

The commission's consent was needed because federal grant money will help fund the project.

The decision removes the last barrier to construction, which will begin "real, real, real soon," said RDC president Benny Lendermon. Completion is expected in 2010.

"We're really pleased to get this resolved as quickly as we did," Lendermon added.

The landing, situated at the foot of Beale between Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones, will feature an elaborate docking facility serving excursion and cruise boats and other vessels no matter how high or low the Mississippi might be. It also will include terraced pods designed to help bring people closer to the river.

Critics, however, have described the project as an extravagant boondoggle.

The RDC, a nonprofit group overseeing improvement projects along the city's frontage on the Mississippi, had been planning to begin work more than two months ago when the historical commission ruled that the original design would have adverse effects.

State officials said the vertical profile of the landing was out of character with the downward-sloping cobblestones.

Although the commission outlined six conditions for dropping its objections, the key changes clearing the way for the project included:

Making the color of the dock and ramp structures "earthen rust" rather than the originally planned red.

Moving the "island," or pod, closest to the cobblestones to the east, closer to Riverside Drive, and reducing its size by 15 percent. As a result, it won't stick out as much over the cobblestones.

A prominent critic of the landing said the revised design represents an improvement.

"It kind of calms it down, makes it less intrusive," said Virginia McLean, president of the group Friends for Our Riverfront.

She's not sold on the landing yet, though.

"It's going to cost a lot of money," McLean said.

[More on the decision here.]

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tennessee preservation group wants educational kiosks on Beale Street Landing

Commercial Appeal [link]
by Tom Charlier

State historic-preservation officials might drop some of their objections to Beale Street Landing if educational kiosks and other interpretive features are added to the project, an official said Wednesday.

Tennessee Historical Commission executive director Patrick McIntyre said the kiosks could explain to tourists and newcomers the past importance of the cobblestone landing to the Memphis riverfront.

The comments by McIntyre came at a meeting in which local and state officials and interested groups discussed ways to reduce the project's effects on the cobblestones, which lie within the Cotton Row Historic District.

Earlier this fall, McIntyre's office ruled that the landing "as currently proposed will adversely affect the historic property through the introduction of out-of-character elements into its setting."

The decision effectively blocked this month's planned start of construction on the $29 million project by the Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC)

Linking Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones, the landing would serve as a riverboat docking facility and an amenity providing terraced access to the water's edge on the Mississippi. Critics have described it as a costly, impractical and unnecessary.

After the meeting, RDC president Benny Lendermon said interpretive features will be included in the landing.

On Wednesday, McIntyre elaborated on the state's objections to the project. He said the "uplifted" landing is out of character with the downward sloping cobblestones, and the construction would occur on areas once part of the cobblestones.

Some of the concerns voiced by citizens in attendance included the need to restore the cobblestones, which have deteriorated and now cover less area because of work done by the city more than 15 years ago.

Lendermon said the RDC has secured $6 million from Congress for the cobblestone-restoration work. But that project also must win approval from historic-preservation officials, and they won't take action on it until issues with the landing are resolved.

"We're ready to move forward," Lendermon said.

Some critics of the project also said it should be relocated, while others argued for a more distinct separation between the landing and cobblestones.

Lendermon said the RDC will work with preservation officials and review the concerns expressed at the meeting before submitting proposed project modifications to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the process.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

'Memphis Fast Forward' political ties, accountability questioned

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Alex Doniach (Contact)

A debate among County Commissioners erupted Wednesday about whether to put $1 million in county funds toward an economic development campaign that has pledged to produce thousands of new jobs and millions in new tax revenue.

The development plan, one piece of the economic growth strategy "Memphis Fast Forward," will attempt to create 49,395 jobs by 2011.

The Memphis Fast Forward initiative is spearheaded by Memphis Tomorrow, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and the Memphis Chamber of Commerce.

But on Wednesday, some commissioners said they weren't confident how the funds would be spent.

They also expressed concerns about using taxpayer dollars for a plan that would give money to MPACT Memphis, a nonprofit that Commissioner Henri Brooks said has direct ties to New Path, a separate organization that endorses political candidates.

Brooks said New Path co-founder Darrell Cobbins is a former president of MPACT Memphis. He currently sits on the board of advisers.

"MPACT has a direct relationship with New Path; New Path endorses candidates," Brooks said. "We are not going to give money to political organizations."

Commissioner Sidney Chism agreed that the commission should stay clear of any efforts connected to New Path.

"All I want to do is make sure that we keep politics out of a funding effort that we've got something to do with," Chism said.

The economic development plan is broken down into 15 strategies that rely on the participation of local organizations, such as the Mid-South Minority Business Council, the Memphis Regional Chamber and MPACT Memphis, to create jobs and attract people to Memphis.

The City Council and state government have already pledged $1.5 million each. The private sector has given about $5 million.

Memphis Tomorrow president Blair Taylor reassured commissioners Wednesday that MPACT Memphis is a nonprofit that, by federal law, is not allowed to endorse political candidates.

She also said the commission's funds could be left out of MPACT Memphis' piece of the project.

And Commissioner Mike Carpenter reminded the commission that New Path is a separate organization that is not listed on the plan.

"Let's not get into, in this process, a lot of cherry-picking about what things get funded and what things don't," Carpenter said. "We've got to move this community forward and we've got to move it in a big way and in a fast way."

But there were other concerns about the plan. Commissioner Steve Mulroy found little support in a motion to keep county dollars away from the controversial Beale Street Landing project, which is included in the plan.

Brooks and Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said they were still unclear about how the county's $1 million would be used.

In light of the concerns, Chairman David Lillard delayed the vote until the full commission meets Monday.

Editor's note: The following extract was taken from page 22 of MEMPHISED: Memphis Area Economic Development Plan, prepared by Market Street Services on behalf of the Memphis Fast Forward. This is the program that Shelby County is being asked to help fund. Click to see the entire page.

Click here to download our scan of the entire, 40-page Memphis Area Redevelopment Plan. Warning: 6 MB PDF file, requires Adobe Reader version 6 or later. (7 MB copy for Reader version 5 here.)

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Friday, October 12, 2007

MBJ: Beale Landing hits roadblock

Project delayed by historic concerns
Memphis Business Journal
by Andy Ashby

The Riverfront Development Corp. would like to be seeking construction bids right now for its 29.4 milliom Beale Street Landing Project, but a state historical preservation office's ruling could delay the process up to six months.

MBJ article page 1 [PDF, 50KB]
MBJ article page 2 [PDF, 126KB]

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ruling delays plans for Beale Street Landing

Historic group cites threat to cobblestones
Commercial Appeal [link]
by Tom Charlier

Construction of Beale Street Landing, which had been scheduled to go out for bids as early as this week, will be delayed by a new state ruling that the project threatens the historic cobblestones on Memphis' riverfront.

The decision by the Tennessee Historical Commission means the city's Riverfront Development Corp. must meet with all groups interested in the project and explore alternative designs.

Changes are needed because the project "as currently proposed will adversely affect the historic property through the introduction of out-of-character elements into its setting," commission executive director and State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick McIntyre said in a letter.

Situated between Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones, the $29 million Beale Street Landing would serve as a riverboat docking facility and an amenity providing terraced access to the water's edge on the Mississippi. Critics have described it as a costly, impractical and unnecessary.

RDC president Benny Lendermon said that he's disappointed in the ruling but still confident the project can proceed.

"It's a little disheartening but part of the process," he said. "We were ready to go out for bids this week if we got approval."

The head of a group opposing the RDC plan praised the state decision, saying it could lead to more public scrutiny.

"I think the ruling is pretty wise," said Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront.

The cobblestones, part of the city's historic landing on the Mississippi, lie within the Cotton Row Historic District.

The approval of historic-preservation officials is needed as part of a more encompassing permit required of any project receiving federal funds.

Roughly $7 million of the cost of Beale Street Landing would come from federal sources. Another $3 million or so would come from the state, with the city responsible for the rest.

Although the specific part of the project to be bid first won't involve federal funds, Lendermon said RDC officials don't want to start construction without the permit.

"We don't want to spend any significant dollars on the project until all the hurdles are cleared," he said.

Lendermon pledged to meet with interested groups and review alternatives.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Focus-Grouped Park

Cities are building new parks at a rate not seen for 100 years. Jon Weinbach on the increasingly heated debate about what to put in them.

Wall Street Journal [link to original]
By Jon Weinbach

There's a new status symbol for American cities and it's not a soaring office tower or retro stadium. To many civic leaders, nothing says progressiveness and prosperity like an elaborate urban park.

Hudson River Park, New York; 550 acres; Opened 2003 Construction, partly on top of old piers, is continuing along Manhattan's West Side. It's the largest open-space development in New York since Central Park, with green spaces, trails for bikers and Rollerbladers, and free wireless Internet.

On a scale not seen since the "City Beautiful" movement of the late 19th century, public green spaces are proliferating. In Irvine, Calif., work has begun on a $1.1 billion recreational area that will be 60% larger than New York's Central Park. Private donors in Houston financed the bulk of a $93 million downtown greensward, while the mayor of Louisville, Ky., wants to ring the city's borders with 100 miles of trails. In all, 29 of the nation's biggest cities have added nearly 14,000 acres of new parkland in two years -- the equivalent of about 11,000 football fields.

But even grass and trees can be complicated. Citizens and planners across the country are getting tied up in a larger debate about what a park should be -- one that often pits people who believe in peace and quiet and the soulful contemplation of nature against those who prefer zip lines, Frisbee golf and hang-gliding.

In the Twin Cities, some residents don't agree with the decision to build a public sports field with artificial turf. Park builders in Dallas are trying to find room in one new project for a backgammon area. And an effort to rehabilitate Manhattan's Washington Square Park has been met by three lawsuits so far -- including an attempt by preservationists to keep the city from moving the central fountain about 15 feet to the east. "You'd think we were proposing to build a nuclear waste dump," says Adrian Benepe, the city's commissioner of parks and recreation.

Gold Medal Park, Minneapolis; 7.5 acres; Opened 2007 Built on a set of old parking lots, site aims to foster quiet activities like picnics and strolls rather than sports. It was financed by a $5 million donation from former United Health Care chief executive William McGuire.

At a public meeting earlier this month in Louisville, about 150 people came to weigh in on Floyd's Fork Greenway, a 27-mile stretch of parks, bike paths and canoe launches to be built along a scenic creek. After the presentation, residents furiously scribbled suggestions on project maps that hung around the room. Among them: "A nature trail can't run along a highway!"; "Leave an area large enough for a hot air balloon launch"; and from one particularly agitated person, "Many people were not notified of this meeting." Ralph Stanton, a goateed tile contractor in his mid-50s, was concerned that the park plans didn't include a trail wide enough to accommodate all three of his horses. "Kentucky is the home of the Derby, but we've got to go to Indiana to ride," said Mr. Stanton, clutching his cowboy hat. "They ought to get the horse people more involved."

Symbols of Democracy

For decades, local and federal governments had cut back on park budgets as funding needs grew for education, health care and safety. That marked a change from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when urban parks were held up as symbols of democracy, public health and progressive social planning -- and received generous government support. There was another surge of park building during the "Great Society" era of President Lyndon Johnson, but as more city residents fled for the suburbs, many urban parks were not properly maintained -- and green spaces deteriorated or disappeared.

Federal money is still hard to come by. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that provides grants for state and national parks, will receive about $28 million this fiscal year, down nearly 80% from 2002. Another initiative, the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program, has not been funded in five years.

BeltLine, Atlanta; Over 1,200 acres; Opening unknown The initiative, which awaits funding, would double Atlanta's park acreage. It calls for converting this former quarry into the city's largest park.

A number of factors are spurring the current parks boom, from research about the health benefits of green space to interest from private donors and corporate sponsors. Developers who once fought with conservationists are now pushing the idea, after discovering that successful parks -- such as Manhattan's Bryant Park and Atlanta's Piedmont Park -- can dramatically increase property values.

City leaders are also using parks as a marketing tool. In an effort to draw young professionals and graying suburbanites, a number of cities including Denver, Philadelphia and San Diego have gentrified their downtowns recently. But politicians are finding that most of the new residents grew up with access to running trails, sports fields and the like -- and expect to have the same access in the city.

The largest increases in park space over the last two years took place in sprawling municipalities like Houston and Jacksonville, Fla., but even densely packed older cities such as Cleveland (with 187 new acres) and Philadelphia (22 acres) are finding ways to create new open space, often on former military bases or industrial sites. Seattle's nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park, opened earlier this year, was built on a former oil-transfer site. Other cities have focused on building parks on reclaimed brownfields -- industrial or commercial sites tainted by pollution -- especially near valuable waterfront or downtown real estate. Pittsburgh, the long-time hub of the U.S. steel industry, redeveloped a 283-acre slag dump along the Monongahela River a few years ago, converting it into a residential complex and 200 acres of green space.

New York is in the midst of "the biggest period of park construction and redevelopment since the 1930s," says Mr. Benepe, the parks commissioner. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sat on the boards of two local park foundations before taking office, recently increased the parks department's operating annual budget to about $355 million -- double the total in 2000. The city's most ambitious projects are building a park on top of an abandoned elevated railway line in Manhattan and converting the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island to a 2,315-acre recreation area.

As cities increasingly rely on corporate donors, real-estate developers and private, not-for-profit entities for park funding, they're facing some criticism. When Chicago's Millennium Park, opened in 2004, named prominent areas after corporate sponsors such as SBC, Boeing and British Petroleum, some traditionalists cried foul. Several cities have recently devised guidelines for sponsorship and naming rights -- in Denver, a company has to contribute 50% of all capital costs to get its name or logo on a new park

Millennium Park, Chicago; 24.5 acres; Opened 2004 Some have criticized the park for naming prominent areas -- including the Frank Gehry-designed BP Bridge, pictured here -- after corporate sponsors.

But in most cases, the arguments revolve around one issue: the purpose of a park. In Chico, Calif., work on the city's new master plan for Bidwell Park has been hamstrung by a fight between preservationists and disc golfers who have been using a remote part of the park to play the Frisbee-inspired sport. Environmental advocates say the golfers are damaging trees and compacting the soil. At a meeting earlier this month, two golfers said their course should not be treated any differently than bike or hiking trails.

Planners for downtown Houston's 12-acre, $93 million Discovery Green park, which is set to open next year, wanted to create a "critical mass of activities" to generate buzz in a long-forgotten area of town, says Philip Myrick, vice president of Project for Public Space, a New York nonprofit that helped conceive the park's programs. Throughout 2005, the group conducted about a dozen small meetings with different "stakeholders" -- ranging from Hispanic community leaders to downtown employees to elementary-school students -- and held workshops for anyone interested in contributing ideas. The Hispanic community wanted open space for events, while the students proposed adding a "zip line" ride, a pulley suspended from a cable wire that allows thrill seekers to fly through the air.

The final park plans included a dog area, a jogging trail, a puppet theater and a "birthday veranda" for parties -- but no zip line.

Bocce Ball and Dogs

"Just having a baseball diamond, a grove of trees and a couple soccer fields is really the old model," says landscape architect James Burnett, whose firm is designing a $80 million park in downtown Dallas that will cover a sunken eight-lane freeway. The current plans for the site, tentatively called Woodall Rodgers Park, include a bocce ball court, a backgammon area, spaces for leashed and unleashed dogs and a botanical garden. "The program list can get very long," he says. "The discussion is always heated."

Great Park of Orange County, Orange County, Calif.; 1,347 acres; Opening 2009 (projected) Plans for the $1.1 billion project, on a former military base, include a 2.5-mile man-made canyon and a massive wildlife corridor. Most visitors will need to drive there, since it's far from residential neighborhoods.

In some ways, the skirmishes over space mirror previous controversies over park land. After Central Park opened in the 1800s, New York City commissioners were overwhelmed by public requests for boat rides and more activities, even though landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted imagined the park as "purely passive space," says Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania and author of a 1999 biography of Mr. Olmsted.

But now that prime urban real estate is much more scarce and expensive, "it's much more challenging to satisfy everyone's notion of what a park should be," he says. As a result, many of the new projects share a theme-park quality, with neatly organized areas catering to different groups. "You want to please as many people as possible, but we've become so different," he says.

Few parks today match the cost or scope of the Great Park of Orange County in Southern California, on the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The decision to build the park came after years of battles over the fate of the base, which closed eight years ago. In 1994, county voters narrowly approved a plan to convert the base into an airport, but opponents stalled the effort until 2002, when voters approved a measure overturning the airport plan in favor of a park.

The Navy handled the sale of the base, dividing it into four parcels. In 2005, Lennar Corp., the nation's second-largest home builder, bought all four lots for about $650 million. In order to build on the site, Lennar had to turn over a chunk of the land to the public for park development, contribute $200 million toward the creation of the park, and spend another $201 million on infrastructure. For its part, Lennar plans to create a sprawling, 3,400-unit residential development around the park, as well as a 750-acre "Lifelong Learning" area that's slated to include a college campus and senior housing.

The park won't begin to open until 2009, though its first attraction, a balloon ride that will take riders 500 feet in the air, is scheduled to debut on July 14. (The balloon will be orange, naturally.) Last March, the park's designers announced a projected cost of about $1.1 billion -- not including the funds needed to construct a planned set of museums or a botanical garden.

No to Advertising

To generate revenue, the park is exploring sponsorship, naming rights and sublease options, as well as charging fees for parking and certain events and activities, like evening softball games. However, earlier this month the park's board of directors voted not to put advertising on the new balloon ride, despite estimates that it could bring in as much as $250,000. (Visitors may be charged for parking though.)

Like most park projects, this one has youth sports organizations and enthusiasts of every stripe angling for prime turf. Last year, the board asked for suggestions how to develop the park's 165-acre sports area -- and got an avalanche of proposals. The list includes a "casting pond" to teach aspiring fly fishermen, a research center to study children's exercise habits, and a "California Sports Hall of Fame" honoring local athletes. Mike Meier, a 56-year-old hang-gliding manufacturer from Orange, Calif., concedes his request for hang-gliding space probably won't get top priority. Nonetheless, he spent "about 30 or 40 hours" putting together a 12-page proposal, which included sketches of a bowl-shaped hill where beginner-level pilots could learn how to take off. "It wasn't a Madison Avenue-like production," he says. "I'm not holding my breath."

In contrast to most urban green spaces, which are centered around pedestrian access, few people will be able to walk to the Great Park -- aside from residents in Lennar's new homes. (The site is in a remote area a few miles northeast of Interstate 5, far from anything resembling a neighborhood.) There are plans to create a light-rail service that will connect an enlarged train station in Irvine with stops at the park and a nearby shopping center, but even Roy Cooper, the park's operations director, admits that transportation is a major obstacle. "If we provide alternative, convenient transportation, we might have a shot at getting people out of their cars -- but this is Orange County," he says.

Discovery Green, Houston; 12 acres; Opening 2008 The park -- located between the city's two recently built sports venues, the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Field -- is expected to cost $93 million.

Write to Jon Weinbach at

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Tourism zone bill gets nod

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Richard Locker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmakers amended both bills with requirements for minority contractor participation.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

WREG-TV: Beale Street Landing Debate

Reported by Daralene Jones

Link to video report on WREG's site (opens in separate windows).

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

WMC-TV: Memphis City Council approves $29 million Beale Street Landing

WMC-TV Channel 5 [link]
Reported by Janice Broach

Below is the full text of the Channel 5 report as posted on the Web. Click here to download an iPod video (9 MB file) of the broadcast segment, which was the lead story on the 10:00 news. It will also play in the latest version of Quicktime. Note: A technical glitch toward the end of the broadcast segment has been edited out, truncating E.C. Jones' remarks.

After taking the project off the table just weeks ago, Tuesday night the Memphis City Council approved Beale Street Landing, a $29 million project that will change the face of Memphis' riverfront. At Tuesday night's council meeting, many in attendance made it clear they didn't like the idea.

"My big problem with the design for the Beale Street Landing is that it does not say 'This is Memphis.' It is not could be anywhere," said Linda Ireland.

"The price tag is 29.4 million dollars," said Susan Caldwell. "It's a lot of money. It's almost half of what we paid for the Pyramid, and all of it is taxpayer money."

"There are a lot of assets downtown with much less money with views, public access, and with things to do," said Steve Sondheim. "There's really nothing the public can do in this facility but look at each other and wait for an occasional boat that may or may not come."

Council member E. C. Jones said Memphis needs to spend the money on more important things.

"Every time you put a project downtown it takes away from somewhere else in the city," he said. "I think we spent a lot of money downtown. We got the river walk. The mayor's done a great job on downtown. At some point, are you going to just continue, and forget about the other people in the city?"

$10 million of the $29 million project cost of the project will come from state and federal money. That money can only be used for this riverfront project, and if there had been any more delays in approving Beale Street Landing, the money would have been lost.

Work on the Beale Street Landing project could start as early as this fall. It is expected to take two years to complete.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

5 goals set toward making Memphis 'choice' city

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

In local economic development efforts, "green" refers to more than just money.

According to a draft version of the economic development portion of Memphis Fast Forward -- an economic growth strategy spearheaded by the City of Memphis, Shelby County, Memphis Regional Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow -- Shelby Farms would act as the eastern anchor of a countywide "greenprint" strategy that could help attract and retain highly coveted "knowledge workers."

Making Memphis a place of choice for knowledge workers -- young, highly educated, upwardly mobile -- is one of the five goals of the economic development plan and the "greenprint" is one of 15 strategies designed to reach the goals.
"This is a comprehensive economic development plan that will help grow the economic pie for all the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County," said John Moore, president and CEO of the chamber.

Goal 1: Develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism

From Kemmons Wilson, who forever changed the hotel industry, to Frederick W. Smith, who revolutionized the package delivery business, the Bluff City has produced a long list of entrepreneurs and forward thinkers in business.

The economic development plan seeks to capitalize on those past successes and drive the creation of new high-value ventures and jobs.

To do that, the plan calls for the creation of a national entrepreneurship "center of excellence."

The Memphis Entrepreneurial Institute would license intellectual property from local and national universities and company research departments. It would also create business plans and secure management teams to start new companies based on the intellectual property.

The plan also calls for growing the share of minority firms in existing markets like roofing or food services that are underrepresented by minority vendors.

The program would include the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurial Development, the business incubator launched recently by the Mid-South Minority Business Council.

Goal 2: Market Memphis and Shelby County

"Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy," Ken Glass, co-chair of Memphis Fast Forward and former president, CEO and chairman of First Horizon National Corp., parent of First Tennessee Bank, recently told members of the County Commission.

Instead of harping on the negative, Glass and other officials want residents to accentuate the positive locally and abroad.

One strategy includes crafting a marketing campaign designed to convince Mid-Southerners that Memphis and Shelby County are great places to live, work and play -- a potentially tough trick in a city with violent crime and public corruption issues.

The campaign also would urge Memphians to "talk up" the city when they travel.

"We have a lot of great stories and we need to tell them," Moore said.

Goal 3: Pursue target industries

The city and county would target four key industries: logistics, music/film, biosciences and tourism.

The plan calls for revising local payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentives so they are more aligned with the targeted industries.

Much of that has already been done. The City Council and County Commission recently enacted sweeping changes to the PILOT program of the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board. Part of those changes centered on awarding extra points to companies in targeted industries.

The plan also calls for developing a comprehensive logistics and aerotropolis strategy. Again, much of that is already in the works.

Tom Schmitt, president and chief executive of FedEx Supply Chain Solutions, is heading a 15-member aerotropolis committee.

The group has hired John Kasarda, who coined the term aerotropolis, which refers to powerful centers of commerce growing up around airports. They are in the process of raising funds from the private sector for an estimated $200,000 yearly budget.

The plan also calls for executing the Memphis Music Industry Strategic Plan, which includes bringing national and international music events to Memphis, recruiting new artists and labels, and establishing the Sam Phillips Center for Independent Music, a planned resource center for local musicians and others in the industry.

The five-year plan calls for $4.4 million to make the Sam Phillips Center a reality, including almost $1 million in the first year.

Goal Four: Grow existing firms

The chamber and a host of other local groups would attempt to recruit and create additional venture capital firms, which "seed" start-up companies and help growing firms expand.

The plan also calls on the MMBC, headed by Luke Yancy III, to deploy its Joint Venture Initiative to pair small Memphis firms with large minority firms outside of Memphis for execution of local contracts.

Goal Five: Make Memphis a place of choice for knowledge workers

All across the country, cities are increasingly competing for people, particularly the young, upwardly mobile knowledge-based workers of the future.

Because these workers are in such high demand, it is often the intangibles -- parks, recreational activities, nightlife, museums and institutions of higher learning -- that can "close the deal."

The plan places high priority on two controversial Downtown issues.

One is the construction of Beale Street Landing, a planned $29 million improvement to Tom Lee Park that includes a boat dock.

Recently, the Memphis City Council's budget committee for capital improvements reversed a previous vote by other members of the committee that deleted the project from the city's plans entirely. To stay afloat, Beale Street Landing needs the support of the full council when it meets Tuesday.

The plan also calls for resolving the legal issues surrounding the Promenade, a four-block area of Front Street between Union and Adams set aside by Memphis founders for public use.

The Riverfront Development Corp. wants private development on the Promenade to pay for public improvements, a plan that has been met with resistance by some citizens, particularly a grass-roots organization called Friends For Our Riverfront.

The plan also calls on establishing Shelby County's park system as one of the country's best by creating a "seamless system" linking Shelby Farms with Downtown parks and other green spaces via the Wolf River Greenway, Memphis Greenline and other green corridors.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Turley wants fairgrounds project

Developer seeks legislative OK to use sales tax money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Public's domain

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

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

The Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Corrected RDC Capital Improvements Program Budget 2008-2012

A corrected CIP budget was reviewed in committee today. Download all five pages in a single PDF file (508 KB). (Click here for the earlier, uncorrected version.)

Update: Click here to see the artist renderings of Beale Street Landing as of May 11, 2007, as provided to City Council members.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

RDC Capital Improvements Plan 2008-2012

Click each image below to enlarge. Or download all five pages in a single PDF file (616KB).

RDC Summary (click to enlarge)

Beale Street Landing (click to enlarge)

Cobblestones (click to enlarge)

Park Improvements (click to enlarge)

Current vs. Proposed (General Obligation Bonds) (click to enlarge)

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

River has something for all

Race helps spur interest in Mississippi's charms

Commercial Appeal [link]
by Bryan Brasher

Before many Mid-Southerners have breakfast Saturday morning, more than 500 people will begin paddling canoes and kayaks from Green Belt Park south toward Jefferson Davis Park on the main body of the Mississippi River.

For some of the paddlers, the 26th annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race will be their first exposure to the Mississippi.

But many others have been enjoying the legendary waterway for years -- and in ways you might not have imagined.

Once feared by even the surliest river rats, the Mississippi has become a hotbed destination for a vast array of people who simply can't stand to spend their free time within the confines of four walls.

City officials who are marketing the Memphis Riverfront expect that interest to continue growing.

In fact, they're counting on it.

"The river and river front are free to use, so there are no actual numbers -- no paper trail -- to tell us how many people are going out there," said Dorchelle Spence, director of communications for the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation. "But we see anecdotal evidence from our windows all of the time. We have a front-row seat from our offices on Front Street -- and I can say without a doubt, recreational interest in the river is growing."

Paddling frenzy

Spence said companies like Outdoors Inc. and the Mississippi-based Quapaw Canoe Company have helped raise people's knowledge of the river by providing safe, easy, educational trips onto the water.

Saturday's race is a perfect example.

When Outdoors Inc. owner Joe Royer started his Canoe & Kayak Race back in 1981, one of his chief goals was promoting the river -- not only abroad, but to locals who may have been ignoring the river their whole lives.

"I understand that people love to get away to Yellowstone for a week or to the Smokies for a week to have a great experience outdoors," Royer said. "But that's not always possible -- and if you live in this area, it's not even necessary. We have one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world right here in our own backyard."

Royer's race has introduced thousands of paddlers to the river in a safe, structured environment. People who have grown up fearing the river's legendary whirlpools and cross currents have paddled his course incident-free for more than a quarter-century with safety officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency looking on.

Even people who dare not venture out onto the water in a canoe or kayak have gained an appreciation for the Mississippi River during the race.

"For some people this is a race," Royer said. "For others, it's an event.

"You'll see people gathered along the banks of the river watching the race. There will be people barbecuing and playing with their kids. All of those people are enjoying the river, even if they're not on the water."

Little bit of everything

On its web site at, the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation has a list that shows the tremendous diversity of activities available along the river.

The list includes everything from canoeing and kayaking to meditating and relaxing. It lists new-age activities like yoga, Pilates and rollerblading, and age-old pursuits like painting, kite-flying -- and even dating.

"Sunsets in Memphis are just like the sunsets that people get in the West," Spence said. "You have the sun setting over the water against a pastoral plain, and it's a very romantic setting.

"Certainly, it's a popular dating destination -- and an inexpensive one, too."

For those who don't see dating as a true form of outdoors recreation, the Riverfront Development Corporation is working to make traditional outdoors pursuits more readily available.

The Development Corporation lists 11 downtown parks on its riverfront map, including Mud Island River Park, which is now renting canoes, kayaks and pedal boats for use in Mud Island Harbor.

Plans are also in the works for Beale Street Landing -- a modern docking facility that will allow people to get close to the water without boarding a boat.

"Right now, there is really no place where you can dip your feet in the water or sit close to the Mississippi," Spence said. "If you walk down the cobblestone bank, you get into that muddy, mucky section, and it just isn't that much fun.

"The Beale Street Landing facility will allow people to experience the river up close."

Construction is scheduled to begin on Beale Street Landing this year as soon as the high water subsides. The project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

An artist's rendering of the project is available at

(Cat)fish of a lifetime

While many people are finding new ways to enjoy the Mississippi, one long-time river pursuit -- the pursuit of giant catfish -- is also growing.

Famed Mississippi River fishing guide James Patterson takes a solid stream of catfishermen onto the river on day-time trips that range in price from $250-$400 for two people.

His web site at features more than 50 photos of customers holding catfish that weighed 20 pounds or more -- and those fish were caught in 2006 alone. A separate gallery features dozens more pics of catfish as large as 61 pounds.

Such world-class catfishing has led to national attention for the Memphis portions of the Mississippi River, and it's prompted visits from numerous major tournament trails.

The Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest Tournament Trail will visit Memphis on July 28, and the Cabela's King Kat Trail will return on Aug. 25.

"I get excited every time we come to Memphis because you just never know what sort of fish might be brought to the scales from that Mississippi River," said Darrell VanVanctor, director of the Cabela's King Kat Trail. "People who haven't experienced catfishing on the river owe it to themselves to try it just once."

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Playing Placemaker

Fred Kent pushes ideas over icons and gives Memphis a mixed review.

Memphis Flyer [link]
April 5, 2007
by John Branston

A visionary is someone with a healthy ego and big ideas who agrees with you.

In its never-ending efforts to better itself, Memphis has engaged at least a half-dozen consultants in the last few years to tell us what to do with our parks, downtown, Shelby Farms, waterfront, and bike paths. Whether any of them are visionaries depends on where you happen to be standing.

Want to tell Memphis what you think? Get in line. Recent visitors and their sponsors include city expert Ken Jackson (Urban Land Institute), park experts Alexander Garvin (Shelby Farms) and Charles Jordan (Friends for Our Riverfront), and waterfront experts Cooper, Robertson & Partners (Riverfront Development Corporation, or RDC).

Last week it was Fred Kent's turn to take a whack at the waterfront. A New Yorker most of his adult life (he organized Earth Day in 1970 when John Lindsay was mayor), Kent's Project for Public Spaces has turned Placemaking with a capital "P" into a brand of sorts. Sixty-something, easy-going, and casually dressed, Kent and his son Ethan, who is in the family business, log something like 150,000 miles a year compiling lists of places good and bad. Their big idea is that big ideas for city improvements are often wrong, especially if they're architectural monuments. The Kents think a lot of little ideas from a lot of "stake-holders" usually produces a better result. They call it the "power of 10," as in 10 destinations that each have 10 things to do

Not surprisingly, Fred Kent is no fan of The Pyramid or the proposed $27 million Beale Street Landing with its floating pods in the Mississippi River at Tom Lee Park.

"That will be one of the great design disasters that will haunt you for 20 years before you have the guts to take it out," he predicted. "And The Pyramid -- what a bad symbol for a city. I would tear it down. The only question is, will you do it 10 years from now or next year."

The Kents came to Memphis at the invitation of Friends for Our Riverfront and Memphis Heritage to tape a television interview and run one of their patented Placemaking workshops for about 140 people last Saturday. We split up into groups and headed via the trolley to seven downtown destinations, pencils and report cards in hand. It was Saturday morning, and the rain hadn't blown in yet. The COGIC funeral and the ballgame at AutoZone Park were far enough away that they didn't interfere. The downtown parks looked like they usually do -- generally well kept but lightly used except for the Kemet Jubilee parade that was winding down at Tom Lee Park.

"You guys are going to come up with all these amazing ideas," Kent said.

Well, maybe. At the cobblestones, my assigned destination, I trekked along the sidewalk on Riverside Drive and down the steps, averting a thrown-away sanitary napkin. I crossed the stones that group leader Susan Caldwell told us were once used to balance the loads in riverboats. A few cars were parked near the tour boats, and two powerboats and a kayak glided through the brown water of the harbor.

"It's not attractive to the eye," said Sybil McCrackin, from the Kemet parade.

That was the consensus of our group, too, when we summarized our scribbling at lunch. Short-term suggestions were to remove the utility poles, put in historic markers, eliminate parking, add a patch of grass, and put public art on the long gray wall beneath the sidewalk. Long-term ideas included a floating restaurant, Wi-Fi, paddleboats, and concession stands. As RDC president Benny Lendermon told me later, however, a floating restaurant failed several years ago, MudIsland is experimenting with boat rentals, and the Landmarks Commission objected to painting the wall.

"We wanted all of that," said Lendermon, who also played the game and met for an hour or so with the Kents. Beale Street Landing, the RDC's signature project, is still a go, but the underground parking garage has been scrapped.

There was much similarity to the seven groups' suggestions (see -- vendors, bathrooms, and street performers, which made me wish Flyer columnist Tim Sampson (All Mimes Must Die!) had been there. No one pledged the first $1,000, but the total bill wouldn't have approached $27 million.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ideas for riverfront flow at workshop

Proposals include fountains, cafes, concessions, play area

The Commercial Appeal [link]
April 1, 2007
By Pamela Perkins

For anyone walking along the Mississippi River bluff in the stifling Memphis summer heat, just looking at a large body of water is not enough.

It would be nice to have public water fountains at parks that overlook the Mississippi River -- among other user-friendly touches at areas along Front Street and Riverside Drive, such as garbage cans, more cafes, food and beverage vendors and bicycle racks.

Those were the prevailing ideas at a "Placemaking" workshop led by New York-based Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit agency that helps make public areas more attractive. Its projects include Rockefeller Center in New York and Chapel Street in New Haven, Conn.

"They say, 'This is your space. How would you use it?'" said Virginia McLean, board president of the nonprofit Friends for Our Riverfront, which organized the workshop along with Rhodes College, the University of Memphis Mid-South Planning and Zoning Institute and Memphis Heritage.

The workshop's 135 participants included Downtown residents, planning students from the U of M and Rhodes, and Center City Commission officials. They divided into groups, and toured sites along the river, interviewing visitors.

Upon returning, they presented their findings, many of which included more landscaping, lighting and signs that explain the historic nature of sites such as the Cossitt Library, Confederate Park and Court Square.

The rusty fountain at Court Square should be working, one group suggested.

Cafes, concessions and more public events would do well at Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park, which also needs a play area for children, better seating and water fountains, they suggested.

Also, the cobblestone area on Riverside near Madison could be given a name as well as seating and signs.

"We're going to try to put it all together and get a report done," McLean said. The group eventually may present the report to city officials.

The Friends group has been wary of the city-owned Riverfront Development Corp's. plans, which it believes diminishes Downtown's character.

Dianne Dixon, a founding member of the RDC board who also attended the workshop, said what she heard at the workshop jibes with the Riverfront group's plans.

After the $27 million Beale Street Landing project is completed, the RDC wants to restore the cobblestone area in a "preservation manner," she said.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Study: Economic development program here lags competitors, a new study finds

The Commercial Appeal [link]
March 30, 2007
by Amos Maki

A new study blasts Memphis and Shelby County for an economic development program that is the "most under-funded in the nation."

The study, commissioned by local public and private officials, says the lack of funding has resulted in a "dearth of the programs, key personnel and marketing channels" necessary to grow and recruit businesses to the area.

"As the world of business recruitment has become more competitive, we have gone in the opposite direction," said Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton. "We're not even on the ball field."

Wharton, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, the Memphis Regional Chamber and local business group Memphis Tomorrow commissioned the study to create a new economic development plan.

The plan will be part of a broader four-part economic growth initiative called "Memphis Fast Forward" that focuses on crime, government efficiency, economic development and education, and workforce development.

While still in draft form, the economic development plan -- produced by Atlanta-based Market Street Services and funded by Memphis Tomorrow -- targets four key industries: Logistics, Music/Film, Biosciences and Tourism.

The five-year plan would create 49,395 jobs, about triple the number of jobs created from 2004-2007.

Those new jobs would generate $53.3 million in new tax revenue annually for the city and $32.1 million in new tax revenue annually for the county after five years.

"It's not like we're going to throw money in a black hole and never see anything happen," said Gary Shorb, president and CEO of Methodist Healthcare and vice chair of Memphis Tomorrow. "It's an investment with a return."

Market Street Services found that Memphis and Shelby County's economic development budget paled in comparison with peer cities like Nashville, Knoxville, Louisville, Ky., Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Orlando, Fla., and Richmond, Va.

In fact, even Sioux Falls, S.D. -- with a metro population of 213,000 -- invested more in 2005 in economic development initiatives than Memphis and Shelby County.

The 2005 budget for the Sioux Falls chamber's five-year economic development program was $1.7 million. The 2005 budget for the Memphis Regional Chamber's latest five-year plan, Think Memphis, was $324,000. Together, Memphis and Shelby County invested only $350,000 in economic development through the chamber in 2006.

Nashville's economic development plan -- called Nashville 2010 -- was also developed by Market Street and had a $3 million budget in 2005.

"I'm not going to sugar coat numbers, they're either good or bad," said John Moore, president and CEO of the Memphis Regional Chamber. "But this plan is about moving forward and I see opportunity after opportunity."

Moore sounds optimistic because despite serious handicaps the chamber has been able to bring significant new business to the area, including a $250 million Nucor steel mill and ServiceMaster's corporate headquarters last year.

"We've been successful in spite of ourselves," said Larry Jensen, president and CEO of real estate firm Commercial Advisors LLC and one of the local officials involved in developing the plan. "So if you step back and say 'Let's be strategic in our thinking,' we can take this thing to the next level."

Getting to that level will require a new five-year, $66 million economic development plan. At $13.2 million a year, that would be more than 40 times the amount the chamber had budgeted in 2005 for Think Memphis.

Securing that budget would require an all-out push by the public and private sectors, said Ken Glass, chairman of Memphis Tomorrow and outgoing chairman and CEO of First Horizon National Corp., parent of First Tennessee.

"The major portion of it, we think we will get it from the major players (in business)," Glass said.
Moore and others are entering a "quiet phase" of talks with some of the city's most high-profile executives to secure private funding before presenting the completed plan to the public.

"At every level, it's the top companies and top leaders of those companies that carry the flag on this type of initiative," said Moore, formerly the most senior Northwest Airlines executive in Memphis.

Supporters say the performance benchmarks set forth in the plan -- including significant increases in job creation, wages, per capita income and minority-owned companies, combined with equally large decreases in unemployment and poverty rates -- will help attract broad public and private sector support.

Herenton said the plan will likely need $1.5 million a year each from the city and county and that he will request that the City Council provide the funding.

"I think if it is adequately funded and implemented it will move Memphis and Shelby County to a new level in terms of economic growth, job creation, minority business development and per capita income, which will raise the quality of life for the whole community," Herenton said.

Wharton said his administration has already budgeted $1.25 million for economic development in the 2008, which starts July 1. "Shelby County is going to put its money where its mouth is," Wharton said.

Luke Yancy, president and CEO of the Mid-South Minority Business Council, expects the plan to have an army of supporters from the public and private sectors because each side was heavily involved in the planning process.

"I think this particular plan has been well thought out and I think we had representation from all areas of the community," Yancy said. "It attacks the issue of economics in this community and the disparity between the haves and have-nots.

"Unless we address this issue of economics, then our city will not prosper and become the world class city it has the potential to become," he said.

-- Amos Maki: 529-2351

Memphis fast forward
  • What: New economic development plan for Memphis and Shelby County
  • Why: Memphis-Shelby County has the most underfunded economic development program in the nation
  • How: A five-year, $66 million economic development plan with public and private contributions.
  • Targeted industries: Logistics, Music/Film, Biosciences and Tourism.
  • Goals: Creating 49,395 jobs over five years.
  • Benefit: $53.3 million in new tax revenue annually for the city and $32.1 million in new tax revenue annually for the county.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

City to request screen for harbor pumping station

Commercial Appeal [Link]
March 25, 2007
by Tom Charlier

Terry Hanson's twice-weekly canoe outings in Wolf River Harbor would be a lot nicer without all the soft-drink cups, beer cans and other litter lining the banks like a dirty ring on a bathtub.

"It's horrible," the 52-year-old Downtown resident said after an outing last week. "It's not just the trash. It's the unkempt nature of the riverbank."

For years, the problem of litter in the harbor near Downtown has rankled outdoors enthusiasts and raised the eyebrows of tourists.

Rains wash the trash from city streets into storm sewers, which dump it into the harbor at the Bayou Gayoso Pumping Station at North Front and Saffarans. Prevailing southerly breezes can help keep it there.

But within the next month, Memphis will take the first step toward a multimillion-dollar solution to the problem. City officials will issue a request for proposals for a screen mechanism that would be installed at the pumping station to trap much of the litter before it reaches the harbor.

The project won't be simple. The bar screens that officials envision must be sufficiently sturdy and elaborate to catch trash without impeding the flow of water and contributing to flooding Downtown, city public works director Jerry Collins said.

"The first step is to figure how to implement a screening device that will actually work," he said. "It's not going to be an easy application."

The storm sewers and pumping station are critical components of the city's drainage and flood-control system.

During normal conditions -- when the Mississippi River has not risen to within 5 feet of flood stage -- storm water flows by gravity through concrete channels and reservoirs, entering the harbor through a gate at the pump station. When the river is at least 29.5 feet on the Memphis gauge, the gate is closed and the water is pumped through a flood wall protecting Downtown.

Since there are screens to protect the pumps, the litter problem occurs mostly when water is flowing through the open gate.

Collins said the city plans to issue the request within the next 30 days and receive the proposals 30 days after that.

Although no precise timetable or cost estimate for the project has been prepared, "we're definitely talking about millions of dollars," he said.

The screen project will be funded through the storm water fees that households, businesses and agencies have been paying since last May. The fees bring in nearly $13 million a year, with average residential household paying $2.18 a month.

Memphis officials had delayed decisions as to how the harbor should be cleaned up because of the prospect of a land bridge to Mud Island, which had been planned by the city's Riverfront Development Corp. and would have turned much of the harbor into a lake. The RDC's decision in late 2005 to drop the land-bridge plan opened the way for the screen project.

Terry Templeton, manager of the division of water pollution control in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Memphis field office, said that while litter is generally not as serious as chemical pollution, it is an environmental problem.

The screens should trap much of the litter, but ordinary citizens can help even more, he said.

"The ultimate solution for trash is for all of us not to litter," Templeton said.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

CA: RDC attracts ex-city officials

'Retired Directors Club' provides lucrative jobs
Commercial Appeal [link]
By Jacinthia Jones
February 22, 2007

The joke at City Hall goes like this: The Memphis Riverfront Development Corp. is where city department heads go to retire.

The RDC's three highest paid employees are retired division directors for the city of Memphis who now draw city pensions while earning sizeable salaries at the nonprofit created in 2000 at the city's behest to oversee downtown parkland.

Under contract with the city, the RDC manages Mud Island River Park, Tom Lee Park and nine other parks for $2.2 million annually, down from the the $2.6 million it received annually during its first five-year contract.

Former city public works director Benny Lendermon has been at the helm of the organization since its inception, a group born from the recommendation of a city-appointed steering committee charged with finding a way to better market and utilize the riverfront.

As president, Lendermon, 54, earns $198,290 plus a $4,800 auto allowance and other benefits, according to RDC.

That's more than Mayor Willie Herenton's $160,000 salary and its nearly double the $99,800 Lendermon earned as Memphis public works director.

He retired in 2000 after 24 years of service and went to work for RDC. On top of his salary, Lendermon collects his monthly city pension of $5,093.

Danny Lemmons, the retired general services director for the city, earns $98,437 as director of operations for RDC.

Lemmons, 64, retired from the city in 1992 with more than 20 years of service. His monthly pension is $3,580.

And John Conroy, 63, the city's former engineer, makes $126,052 in his post as RDC's vice president of project development. Conroy's monthly city pension is $3,017.

He retired from Memphis government in 2002 with 13 years and nine months of service under the city's controversial 12-year pension rule for appointed and elected officials that has since been rescinded.

Connections to City Hall extend beyond the three former directors. The RDC's director of communications, Dorchelle Spence, is the wife of former city attorney Robert Spence. She earns $98,437.

"We've heard the jokes," said Lendermon, but shrugs it off.

Instead, he ticks off RDC's accomplishments: new cobblestones on the riverfront, new steps down the bluffs, medians along Riverside Drive, not to mention sprucing up Mud Island and other parks that had begun to languish under the city's watch.

"All of our projects have come within budget, with no overruns." That's been possible, he says, because the nonprofit isn't tied down by government red tape.

The group is now preparing to tackle its largest project yet, overseeing the city's $27 million Beale Street Landing.

Still, the RDC, though separate from the city, is almost wholly supported by the local government.

"We get the majority of our money from the city, there's no doubt," Lendermon said, adding that if the city ever canceled the contract, "We'd go away."

Besides the $2 million the agency receives from the city annually to manage the parks, the nonprofit gets about $250,000 from private sources like the Plough Foundation, Lendermon said. Its concert series at the amphitheater brought in $50,000 this past season, in addition to other revenue from Mud Island museum admissions and park rental fees.

When Lendermon began to assemble his team at the RDC, he turned to those he knew. He worked with Lemmons at the city and said he knew his work ethic.

When Lemmons joined RDC, he'd been retired from the city for more than 10 years. Lendermon said he had to persuade him to take a pay cut, leave his job in industrial development at the railroad, and join him at the nonprofit.

Similarly, with Conroy, Lendermon said he approached the then-city engineer looking for names of prospects. Lendermon interviewed three who didn't make the cut, before later hiring Conroy for much less.

Memphis City Council Chairman Tom Marshall has heard the RDC jokes as well. One is that RDC stands for "Retired Directors Club."

"Honestly, it just doesn't bother me. Many of us have even laughed about it," he said, dismissing the situation as "water cooler discussion."

Marshall says the council this year may have to address the "brain drain" leaving City Hall to work at city agencies. Otherwise, Marshall says he's happy to have qualified individuals at the RDC who "have a pulse on how things work in the city system."

Councilman Scott McCormick, chairman of the council's park committee and the latest addition to the RDC board, believes the RDC has performed admirably. "They do a much better job of managing the parks than we did."

More info:

Top jobs at RDC
Three retired city of Memphis executives now work for the Riverfront Development Corp., a nonprofit that manages downtown parkland under contract with the city.

Benny Lendermon, 54
Pension: $5,093/month
RDC pay: $198,290/year

Danny Lemmons, 64
Pension: $3,580/month
RDC pay: $98,437/year

John Conroy, 63
Pension: $3,017/month
RDC pay: $126,052

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Beale Street Landing work OK'd

The Commercial Appeal
By Yann Ranaivo
July 28, 2006

Architects Danny Bounds and Paul Gillespie can build Beale Street Landing over an archaeological site on the Wolf River Harbor.

Memphis Landmarks Commission recently approved a permit to build over the historic site near the cobblestones at their meeting with Bounds and Riverfront Development Corp. president Benny Lendermon.

Relics from 19th Century Memphis remain buried under the cobblestones at the site.

The permit was issued under the condition that Bounds and Gillespie Architects and the RDC would have a ready source of replacement cobblestones if the existing ones are lost or damaged during building.

Landmarks Commission manager Nancy Baker said the replacement provision was necessary because they're building so close to the cobblestones.

"They can rattle them and make them move. Some have already begun falling into the Wolf River Harbor," she said.

If replacement cobblestones are needed, Memphis public works director Jerry Collins said he would provide them at no cost.

Beale Street Landing will include a park with walkways and islet terraces at different elevations to accommodate the changing Mississippi River levels and provide an attractive link to the cobblestones.

There will also be a terminal building, parking garage and floating dock, which will provide docking for commercial excursion vessels. State and federal funds will provide more than $10 million for the $27.3 million project.

Bounds and RDC also released the final designs for the landing, but Lendermon said the only significant change is the grass roof of the terminal building, which blends in with Tom Lee Park.

Phase one of the project, widening the Wolf River channel, began last spring. Bounds expects phase two, building the rim wall along the shoreline, to begin in late fall. The project should be completed by late 2007 or early 2008 "depending on the level of the river," Bounds said.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On Shaky Ground?

Part of new Mud Island condos sit on landslide site

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andy Meek

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

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

Landslide victory

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation of sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star-spangled home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Finding Safe Harbor: Beale Street Landing to lay anchor soon

The Daily News [Link to article]
By Andy Ashby

The Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC) has absorbed $500,000 of city budget cuts and appears ready to move ahead on its largest project to date, the $29.3 million Beale Street Landing.

When the Memphis City Council approved the city budget June 6, the RDC received $2.1 million for its operating budget for fiscal year 2007, down 18 percent from $2.6 million last year. The RDC's total operating budget is projected to be $4.2 million, down slightly from last year's $4.3 million.

The RDC was able to fill the city funding gap by reducing expenditures and through a projected revenue increase stemming from the operation of Mud Island River Park. The park includes the 5,000-seat Mud Island Amphitheater.

From disconcerting to concerts

When the RDC took over the amphitheater's operations from the city in 2000, the concert venue made almost no money, said RDC president Benny Lendermon. Last year, eight concerts netted more than $200,000 in profits. Next year, the RDC has a minimum of eight concerts planned, with a potential for more.

The RDC also will not offer raises to its 35 full-time employees next year.

"The normal citizen's experience on the riverfront will not change through these budget cuts," Lendermon said.

The RDC also adjusted the funding structure for its Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs), spreading the city's payments over three years to lessen the impact on each year's budget. Previously, the city was funding Beale Street Landing over fiscal years 2007 and 2008.

Now the money is going to be spread across three years, with the RDC receiving CIP money in fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Beale Street Landing, which features a floating dock and five islands set at varying heights along the Mississippi River, is the biggest project on the RDC's CIP budget.

The millions at high tide

In last year's CIP budget, the project would cost the city $7.2 million in fiscal year 2007 and $12.7 million in fiscal year 2008, with $9.2 million in reprogrammed money, which is state and federal funding.

Under the new CIP budget, the city will pay $2 million in fiscal year 2007, $9 million in fiscal year 2008 and $7.8 in fiscal year 2009. The project now will get $10.5 million in reprogrammed money, as more state and federal funding has been found since last year, Lendermon said.

Once completed, Beale Street Landing will consist of five islands set at different levels of a terrace along the bank of the river and will be connected by bridges. Some of the lower islands will flood occasionally as the water level changes. This will allow visitors to get close to the river.

AYE, AYE: Capt. William Lozier, owner and operator of Memphis Riverboats Inc., is concerned the Beale Street Landing project will cause logistical problems for his fleet of three riverboats. Since it started in 1955, the company has operated from the cobblestones at the foot of Monroe Avenue and Riverside Drive. -- PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW ASHBYA 13,000-square-foot building will be constructed on the northeastern edge of the property with glass windows facing the river. The first floor of the building will be 10,000 square feet and could host a gift shop, a ticket terminal for boating companies and a restaurant. The second floor will have 3,000 square feet for utility equipment.

"That building will house what is one of the missing links for that area now," Lendermon said. "If you're in Tom Lee Park or at the cobblestones, you're a long way from a Coke, a burger or a glass of wine."

Hope floats

The project also features grass planted over the roof of the building, which slopes down on both ends, with one side landing in Tom Lee Park to the south and the other ending in a planned plaza to the north.

The RDC also is planning a 70-space garage under the building. This is down from the initial plan's 100 spots, another cost-cutting move.

Beale Street Landing's total project cost will remain $29.3 million, despite rising construction costs.

"Prices are certainly going up," Lendermon said. "Katrina and fuel prices have greatly increased the cost of this project, although we've committed to build this project for a set amount of money ($29.3 million). We deal with the increased price through changes in the project."

One change will be a shortened floating dock, which will rise and fall according to the Mississippi River's level. The original design called for a 580-foot floating dock. The RDC reduced the dock length by 100 feet to save money.

The reduction made the dock long enough to accommodate large steamboats and excursion boats.

"We felt it wasn't worthwhile to spend another million dollars extending this floating dock when it wasn't needed for the docking of vessels," Lendermon said.

When planning the landing, the RDC also reduced the number of islands at Beale Street Landing from six to five.

The first phase of the landing was completed in August 2005, when Great Lakes Docks and Dredge Inc. widened the point where the Wolf River Harbor meets the Mississippi.

Lendermon said he hopes bidding for the second phase of the landing, which involves building a sea wall to allow for construction of the rest of the project, will begin in early July. The second phase of the project should start in September, with the entire landing scheduled to be finished in early 2009.

Voice of reason

Beale Street Landing would change the appearance of Memphis' riverfront, but some citizens aren't sure it's needed.

Friends for our Riverfront, a nonprofit citizens group, has spoken out about several RDC projects, such as the proposed land bridge to Mud Island and the development of the public promenade area along Front Street. While the organization might seem to be anti-RDC, that's not the case, said Friends president Virginia McLean.

"But in terms of (the Beale Street Landing project), we think they really need to be evaluated in terms of the cost, in terms of the need and in terms of whether it's a good investment," she said. "Is there really a need for Beale Street Landing, or would the cobblestone area we already have, with improvements that could cost less, suffice?"

Capt. William Lozier, owner and operator of Memphis Riverboats Inc., said he also thinks the cobblestones are a better investment. The company has been in Lozier's family since 1955 and always has operated from the cobblestones at the foot of Monroe Avenue and Riverside Drive.

"We like where we're at," Lozier said. "Yeah, we'd like a new facility, but a new facility comes with new problems."

The company operates three riverboats, and Lozier said he has plans to put two more into service next year. Once Beale Street Landing is built, it could add another step to his departures.

"We would have to deal with the logistics of another landing and where the boat is going to disembark from," he said.

Setting sail from good to great

Some Memphians are excited about Beale Street Landing as a terminus for one of the city's most famous streets.

"If you go there today, it's in a dismal condition," said Carol Coletta, host of "Smart City," a nationally syndicated radio show that focuses on urban issues. "It's really no way to treat the Mississippi riverfront of a city that has ambition or pride."

Coletta said she thinks Beale Street Landing could be a key development for Memphis' riverfront.

"I think one of the reasons Beale Street Landing is so important is because it will set the tone from an urban design standpoint," she said. "It will set the standard for everything that comes after it. It doesn't need to just be good, it needs to be great."

Lendermon said he agrees with Coletta and thinks Beale Street Landing will provide a connection to the water that Memphians desperately need.

"You can't physically get to the water anywhere in Memphis except for the cobblestones and many people can't walk on the cobblestones," he said. "This will be a place you can get to the water's edge any time and in a very pleasant way."

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