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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Friday, November 04, 2005

House bill counters eminent domain ruling

Associated Press
Link to original

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Contending that the Supreme Court has undermined a pillar of American society -- the sanctity of the home -- the House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday to block the court-approved seizure of private property for use by developers.

The bill, passed 376-38, would withhold federal money from state and local governments that use powers of eminent domain to force businesses and homeowners to give up their property for commercial uses.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in June, recognized the power of local governments to seize property needed for private development projects that generate tax revenue. The decision drew criticism from private property, civil rights, farm and religious groups that said it was an abuse of the Fifth Amendment's "takings clause." That language provides for the taking of private property, with fair compensation, for public use.

The court's June decision, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, changed established constitutional principles by holding that "any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party."

The ruling in Kelo v. City of New London allowed the Connecticut city to exercise state eminent domain law to require several homeowners to cede their property for commercial use.

With this "infamous" decision, said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, "homes and small businesses across the country have been placed in grave jeopardy and threatened by the government wrecking ball."

The bill, said Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice, which represented the Kelo homeowners before the Supreme Court, "highlights the fact that this nation's eminent domain and urban renewal laws need serious and substantial changes."

But opponents argued that the federal government should not be interceding in what should be a local issue. "We should not change federal law every time members of Congress disagree with the judgment of a locality when it uses eminent domain for the purpose of economic development," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia.

The legislation is the latest, and most far-reaching, of several congressional responses to the court ruling. The House previously passed a measure to bar federal transportation money from going for improvements on land seized for private development. The Senate approved an amendment to a transportation spending bill applying similar restrictions. The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced companion legislation.

About half the states are also considering changes in their laws to prevent takings for private use.

The Bush administration, backing the House bill, said in a statement that "private property rights are the bedrock of the nation's economy and enjoy constitutionally protected status. They should also receive an appropriate level of protection by the federal government."

The House bill would cut off for two years all federal economic development funds to states and localities that use economic development as a rationale for property seizures. It also would bar the federal government from using eminent domain powers for economic development.

"By subjecting all projects to penalties, we are removing a loophole that localities can exploit by playing a 'shell game' with projects," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, a chief sponsor.

The House, by a voice vote, approved Gingrey's proposal to bar states or localities in pursuit of more tax money from exercising eminent domain over nonprofit or tax-exempt religious organizations. Churches, he said, "should not have to fear because God does not pay enough in taxes."

Eminent domain, the right of government to take property for public use, is typically used for projects that benefit an entire community, such as highways, airports or schools.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion in Kelo, said in an August speech that while he had concerns about the results, the ruling was legally correct because the high court has "always allowed local policy-makers wide latitude in determining how best to achieve legitimate public goals."

Several lawmakers who opposed the House bill said eminent domain has long been used by local governments for economic development projects such as the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and the cleaning up of Times Square in New York. The District of Columbia is expected to use eminent domain to secure land for a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

A Dam Shame

The dam was damned from the start. So how did it survive so long?

The Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

On Monday, the Riverfront Development Corporation unanimously voted to remove the land bridge or dam between downtown and Mud Island from its strategic and implementation plans. Not a single member expressed support for what can fairly be called a $100 million turkey, although the exact dollars are anyone's guess.

Members of the illustrious RDC board agreed that the dam was unnecessary, unfeasible, and so unpopular that it was a general hindrance to the RDC, the five-year-old nonprofit agency responsible for developing and maintaining the public riverfront.

Better late than never. But the history of the land bridge is an instructive lesson in public process in Memphis.

One of the first people to propose it was E.H. Crump, the political boss of Memphis, who made the suggestion to a newspaper reporter in 1953, 25 years before work began on Mud Island River Park. But the latest 38-acre brainstorm was the product of a group of consultants -- Cooper, Robertson & Partners -- who were hired in 2000 and paid $750,000 for a 50-year master plan whose relevance is suddenly nil.

Nice work if you can get it.

High-priced consultants don't materialize out of thin air. Mayor Willie Herenton hosted public forums on the riverfront in 1999 and supported the creation of the RDC, which supplanted the Memphis Park Commission, in 2000. A former city division director, Benny Lendermon, was hired to run it. The board was packed with influential downtowners and celebrities such as Cybill Shepherd and Jerry West.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners conducted a series of community meetings on the riverfront. After 18 months, they issued a Memphis Riverfront Master Plan. Its centerpiece, literally, was the land bridge or dam between Court Avenue and Poplar Avenue. Whence it came, no one really knows. Community forums, like reporters' interviews, are a small and subjective sampling of public opinion. It is usually a stretch to generalize from them, but consultants and reporters do it all the time.

My guess is that high-priced consulting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For $750,000, Cooper, Robertson & Partners couldn't very well stop with such common-sense recommendations as a better boat landing, well-manicured parks with additional activities, an improved Promenade, and a nicely lighted sidewalk from Tom Lee Park to The Pyramid. For a big price, there had to be a big deal.

The land bridge was always couched in uncertainty: It might not be built for several years, it might or might not have high-rise buildings on it, it might or might not screw up the Wolf River harbor, it might or might not be paid for by private development. But it was too big to ignore. It was right there in the models and renderings. Of course people were going to react to it, and react they did. A second group of consultants, the Urban Land Institute, which was paid $110,000, threw up a bunch of red flags in 2003 but stopped short of recommending that the land bridge not be built.

For a while, Lendermon and the RDC tried to downplay the land bridge by pushing back the timetable. But everything else in the master plan was contingent upon it in some way. The death blow probably came last month when Jack Belz, developer of Peabody Place and the Peabody hotel, ripped it in a speech to a civic group.

Once the dam was broken, the flood broke through. RDC board members led by Dan Turley, Angus McEachran, Rickey Peete, and Kevin Kane, said kill it and kill it good. "It's not going to go away if we are vague," McEachran said. Board member Jim Hunt noted that nearly half the board members were absent and that the decision would reverse years of planning. Heads nodded in agreement.

By my watch, the RDC "debate" lasted five minutes. The land bridge was a dead duck, and the RDC's new signature project is the $27.5 million Beale Street Landing, which has its own critics but looks like a relative bargain and will probably get built.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Riverfront Plans Promise Debate, Change

RDC prepares for summer start on Beale Street Landing

Daily News
by Andy Meek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Letters: Public won't escape riverfront bill

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

Your April 22 article, "Shutting off Wolf? Land bridge would force companies to move," said: "The land bridge is a central feature of a $292 million master plan of improvements -- most of them privately financed -- sought by the city's Riverfront Development Corp."

If you are talking about the "$292 million" (a figure that is out of date), most if not all of it is actually public financing. But if you really meant to describe the entire master plan (with "improvements," i.e. buildings), then you used the wrong figure. It should be more like $1.3 billion.

I refer to the financial projections provided by the Riverfront Development Corp. in January 2003 to the Urban Land Institute:

The capital cost of the project (with contingencies) was actually estimated at $340 million. (That's in 2002-2003 dollars, and will likely change after the Corps of Engineers does its feasibility study.)

The financials refer to a $200 million "public portion" (which is supposed to be injected evenly over 10 years). The financials do not detail what portions are federal, state and local.

Consistent with the above, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton referred to $100 million over five years planned for in the 2003 Capital Improvement Program budget.

The remaining $140 million ($340 million less the public portion) is to be financed by debt. It does not take a rocket scientist to guess that the public will be involved with this debt, most likely by guaranteeing the bond issues.

Whether you count only the $200 million or the entire $340 million (including debt), most of the capital cost of the land bridge and lake is not privately financed. Therefore, your characterization is highly misleading, if not an outright error.

You don't have to rely on my word about the financial projections. Go to the RDC Web site and look at the master plan itself, which predates the ULI submission.

No question, the $292 million (or the slightly more current estimate of $340 million) is intended to be paid with public financing. Clearly, a correction should be published, lest Memphians be fooled into thinking they will get a land bridge and lake for free.

Michael Cromer

This so-called land bridge is really an earthen dam several blocks wide that would close off the harbor to barge traffic to link Downtown with Mud Island and make new land, in the river, available to private developers to create a second Downtown and a small recreational lake. Taxpayers will pay for this dam, just as they will pay for most of the RDC's "improvements" to the Mississippi riverfront.

Taxpayers will pay for the RDC's attempts to seize the Promenade blocks by eminent domain, and taxpayers will pay for the ensuing lawsuits as the heirs of Memphis's founders struggle to keep that land in the hands of the people. Taxpayers will pay to relocate all of the buildings on the Promenade, which include the City of Memphis Fire Headquarters, Cossitt Library, two garages and, depending on what is done with it, the Customs House and Post Office. Even RDC president Benny Lendermon was forced to admit on television that the public would have to pay for the relocation of the fire headquarters.

Taxpayers will pay a large part of the cost of placing the floating islands, terminal and docking facility at the foot of Beale Street, which is a $27.5 million project.

It is inaccurate and misleading for you to claim that all of these projects in the RDC master plan will be financed by private developers. You need to get the facts instead of taking the RDC's word.

Mimi Waite

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Riverfront planners watching high court eminent domain case

Commercial Appeal
by Tom Charlier

A Connecticut legal battle that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court could help determine whether Memphis uses eminent domain to seize the downtown acreage it covets for an expansive riverfront redevelopment.

The high court late last month agreed to hear a case arising from a waterfront development project in New London, Conn., that bears similarities to the one envisioned in a 50-year, $292 million plan of improvements along the Mississippi River in Memphis.

Proponents and critics of the plan say they'll be watching the court's ruling in the New London case because it's likely to determine when and how governments may seize private property for economic development projects.

"I think it will be very telling," said John Gary, vice president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that has opposed portions of the plan set forth by the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit group guiding the city's efforts to remake its waterfront.

While stressing that he'd prefer to use other means to obtain property, RDC president Benny Lendermon said eminent domain is "an option that we've always considered."

The New London case, he said, "may have some bearing on it, one way or another."

The Connecticut dispute began when officials announced plans to raze a working-class neighborhood to make way for a hotel, health club and offices along the Thames River. As in the Memphis proposal, a major goal of the development is to attract people to the waterfront.

However, several homeowners sued, calling the plan an unjustified taking of their property. The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a ruling earlier this year, sided with the city's claims that the promise of additional tax revenue justified the condemnation of the waterfront property.

The New London case is the latest of several focusing on eminent domain. It follows a Michigan Supreme Court ruling this year that overturned a two-decade-old decision allowing Detroit to raze an ethnic neighborhood to accommodate an auto plant.

With more and more cities turning to redevelopment projects to boost their sagging budgets, the Connecticut case has ramifications nationwide, officials say.

Municipal leaders argue that cities should be able to use eminent domain to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods.

"If the court takes away this tool that has 50 years of precedence, where will cities find the revenues to do the things they are legislatively charged to do?" said David Parkhurst, principal legislative counsel for the National League of Cities.

But property rights groups contend that in employing condemnation, cities often have strayed from their constitutional charge to transfer the property for public use. In thousands of cases, the private land has been taken for the benefit of private developers and businesses, said Bert Gall, a staff attorney for the Institute of Justice in Washington, which is representing the New London homeowners.

"Public use is not condominiums. It's not offices, it's not retail," Gall said.

In Memphis, the plan pursued by the RDC would revamp a five-mile stretch of the riverfront. It includes mixed-used commercial development, including high-rise towers, in the historic promenade area along Front Street, construction of a lake and a 50-acre land bridge to Mud Island and redevelopment of current industrial sites.

In a recent report assessing the RDC plan, the Urban Land Institute raised the prospect that eminent domain might be needed.

"Given the critical amounts of land needed for riverfront development, this tool may become important to the RDC," the institute's report said.

Still, RDC officials say they'll try to avoid condemnation. To obtain the promenade area, they plan to negotiate with the heirs to the Memphis founders who set it aside for public use.

"I'd rather not even have to consider it (eminent domain)," said John W. Stokes, chairman of the RDC board.

Lendermon said he remains confident the promenade area can be acquired without eminent domain. He said a condemnation case there would be "very convoluted" because the owners - the founders' heirs - number in the hundreds and don't have direct use of the land because of an easement held by the city.

"You're condemning these rights that are somewhat nebulous," Lendermon said.

Other areas where the city might have to condemn land for the riverfront project include the industries along the Wolf River harbor.

RDC officials say the court's ruling in the New London case, which is expected as early as next summer, will provide some needed guidelines on the use of eminent domain.

"I think the pendulum has swung away from condemnations that used to go through pretty easily," Stokes said.

Copyright 2004 by The Commercial Appeal

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Friday, September 24, 2004

A Riverfront

Memphis Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the heirs united?

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

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

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

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

What powers does the RDC have?

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

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

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

What does Friends for Our Riverfront want?

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

What happened to the lake and land bridge?

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

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

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

Nothing like the old double-negative endorsement.

What about parking?

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

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

Where did those 400-foot office towers come from?

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

Where do the mayor and City Council stand?

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

Who's winning?

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

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

Is it going to court?

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

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Sunday, May 02, 2004

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

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

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

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

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

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

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

J. Marc Cunningham

Memphis's founders saw a different vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Harrover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leigh L. Davis

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

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

Bill Tillner

Local architects offered consulting help, AIA says

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Conrad
President, AIA Memphis

Stifling ideas for growth gets Memphis nowhere

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

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

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

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

Don Meyers

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Friday, April 30, 2004

Benny Lendermon Responds to Jack Belz

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


DATE: Friday, April 30, 2004

FROM: Benny Lendermon

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

RE: Memphis Promenade Public Realm Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Pushing the limits of 'public use': Owners see their land taken -- and handed over to developers

USA Today
by Dennis Cauchon

Rene Corie installs drapes in Florida mansions. Her husband, David, builds the mansions' gates.

Eight years ago, the working-class couple finally found some waterfront real estate they could afford: a two-bedroom house for $70,000 in Riviera Beach, a poor town near the wealthy enclaves of Palm Beach and Jupiter.

But Riviera Beach now wants to bulldoze the Cories' home and 2,200 others to make way for one of the nation's grandest redevelopment plans: a collection of high-rise condos, bigger homes and upscale shops. The city plans to use eminent domain -- its power to confiscate private property for projects that benefit the public -- to take the homes of 5,100 people if the residents do not agree to move."

It's un-American to take my property and give it to a private developer," says Rene Corie, 55."I couldn't afford a water view anywhere else."

The use of eminent domain is meeting growing resistance in courts, legislatures and neighborhoods from Connecticut to Ohio and Colorado. The criticism targets local governments' efforts to spur economic growth by transferring land from homeowners and shopkeepers to developers or corporations.

Local governments are using eminent domain to acquire land for Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers that need big sites for stores. Land also is being taken for manufacturing plants, hotels, condominiums and parking lots.

Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown says his predominantly black community is trying to take advantage of its greatest resource: the waterfront. "For their own selfish reasons, some people want to live near the water and pay little or no taxes," he says. "Who wouldn't? But city government has to look out for all residents."

Larry Morandi, environmental program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, says cities are using eminent domain to address financial problems. "They are taking property they don't believe is generating enough tax revenue and turning it over to a developer who will generate more taxes," he says.

To accomplish this, cities are pushing the legal limits of eminent domain. California City, Calif., declared vacant property in the Mojave Desert as "urbanized and blighted" so it could acquire land for a Hyundai auto testing facility.

Legislatures in 10 states this year are considering limits on the use of eminent domain that benefits private corporations, but the measures aren't likely to pass immediately. "It's a tough concept for legislators to understand," Morandi says. "It often takes several years for these types of laws to pass." The Arizona Legislature last year enacted similar limits."

The use of eminent domain has expanded for years, but the pendulum is swinging the other way now," says Scott Bullock, attorney at the Institute for Justice, a non-profit legal group in Washington, D.C., that is trying to establish precedents for limiting the practice.

Government at all levels has long used eminent domain to acquire land to build roads, schools, parks, hospitals and other projects of public benefit. The Constitution says private property can be taken for "public use" if the owner receives "just compensation." Courts have traditionally defined "public use" broadly. "Just compensation" usually means fair market value as determined by an appraiser.

Whether economic development justifies the use of eminent domain is at the heart of many disputes.

In a landmark case, Detroit cleared the ethnic Poletown neighborhood in 1981 for a General Motors luxury car plant. The city took 1,300 homes, 140 businesses, six churches and a hospital. The Michigan Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn the precedent in a current case that involves taking 1,300 acres near the Detroit airport for a business complex.

City planners say eminent domain is a crucial tool for restoring the economic health of cities and older suburbs. Older communities often need higher tax revenue and new attractions to remain vibrant."

Sometimes you have to acquire an old gas station or massage parlor to make way for a better use," says Jeffrey Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council, an association of professionals involved in community development. "The community is often 100% behind these projects, and the problem may be one landowner who wants $1 million for a $400,000 project."

New York City used eminent domain to acquire land for a Pathmark supermarket on 125th Street in Harlem."Without eminent domain, that supermarket never would have happened," says Orlando Artze, program vice president of the Local Initiatives Support Coalition, a national non-profit corporation that helps revitalize urban neighborhoods.

Harlem's Pathmark store has brought the neighborhood 100 jobs, lower food prices and the convenience of not having to travel 40 blocks to shop, Artze says. But he and other urban planners fears that aggressive use of eminent domain could backfire. "If it's overused, we run the risk of legislatures and courts becoming skeptical -- and that would be bad news for people who care about inner cities," he says.

In Florida, Riviera Beach, a city of about 30,000 people, wants to redevelop 800 acres along its waterfront and U.S. Highway 1 with luxury housing, yachts and upscale shops.

The mayor says the project will increase the assessed value of the property from less than $80 million to as much as $2 billion. The added tax revenue will finance better roads, new schools and safe streets, Brown says. "We will eliminate poverty in Riviera Beach."

But Herman McCray, a restaurant owner and former city councilman, says razing whole neighborhoods is too great a price to pay. "Things should be done in moderation," he says.

Rene Corie's waterfront view may soon be gone. Across the street, a lot has been cleared for high-rise condos. The developer plans to build an 8-foot-high wall around the complex. "They are taking what I love," she says.

The mayor sees it differently: "The people who live on the water are cheating the poorest members of our community."

Eminent domain rulings in courts
Recent court cases that have limited government power to confiscate private property:

* The Colorado Supreme Court on March 1 rejected a Denver suburb's attempt to take a private lake for a new Wal-Mart.

* The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in October that the city of Mesa couldn't take a brake-repair shop so an Ace hardware store could expand.

* The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that a local government could not take a privately owned auto scrap yard and give it to an auto racetrack for a parking lot.

But property rights advocates aren't winning every case. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on March 3 that a private, non-profit corporation, which had been given eminent domain authority by the city, could take 15 riverfront homes in New London and turn the land over to a developer. Opponents plan to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not ruled on whether economic development is a legitimate reason for government to take property.

© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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Sunday, September 07, 2003

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

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Construction: 2012-2013

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

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

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

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Sunday, March 23, 2003

ULI Briefing Book

In the late summer 2003, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) released the final report [PDF, 1 MB] of their review of the RDC's plans for the Memphis Riverfront. Their study was based on briefings and materials provided by the RDC during the ULI Panel's visit to Memphis, March 23-28, 2003. Much of this material was prepared by other RDC-paid consultants. Virtually all of it can be downloaded below.

The "ULI Briefing Book" refers to a looseleaf binder containing hardcopy of the presentations and other documents given to the ULI Panel for their study. Each participant received a copy.

Except for Appendix B, the contents of the ULI Briefing book, scanned into PDF files, can be downloaded at the links below. The contents of Appendix B (the cash flow projections) are posted in an earlier article. The documents are highly relevant because they form the study basis for the ULI's final report and conclusions.

Click here to download Tabs 1 through 6 of the Briefing Book binder. [Warning to dial-up users: This file is in excess of 5 MB.] Sections include:
  • Sponsor & Summary of the Problem
  • Questions to be Addressed
  • History
  • Boundaries and Context Map
  • Description of the Study Area
  • Economics

Click here to download Tabs 7 through 13 of the Briefing Book binder. [Warning to dial-up users: This file is in excess of 7 MB.] Sections include:
  • Demographics
  • Metro Memphis and MCBI Maps
  • Housing Market
  • Commercial Development
  • Government
  • Private Sector Involvement
  • Interview List

Click here to download the contents of Appendix A (Tab 14 of the binder). [Warning to dial-up users: This file is in excess of 7 MB.] This is a Powerpoint presentation of a Preliminary Market Analysis done in November, 2000.

Appendix B (Tab 15) can be found in this earlier article.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

ULI Briefing Book Appendix B: Projected Cash Flow Analysis

In 2003, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) released the final report of their study of the RDC's plans for the Memphis Riverfront. Their study was based on briefings and materials provided by the RDC, much of which was prepared by other RDC-paid consultants. The "ULI Briefing Book" refers to a looseleaf binder containing hardcopy of the presentations and other documents given to the ULI for their study.

One of those documents, inserted as "Appendix B" in the binder, was a cash flow forecast for the Riverfront project, including the land bridge, lake, and Mud Island development, but not including the fruits of the Promenade Land Use Plan still under development.

A copy of that Appendix, scanned into a PDF file, can be downloaded by clicking here. [Warning to dial-up users: The file is well over 3 MB.] The spreadsheets are dated January 15, 2003.

Here are some highlights, taken from page 13 of the Appendix (page 14 in the PDF):
  • The projections assumed that the City of Memphis would contribute $200 million toward the capital cost of the project.
  • The projections assumed the rest of the $340 million capital cost would be financed by the issuance of bonds.
  • It was calculated that the RDC (on an operating basis) would go into the red by another $131 million before it went cash flow positive in the 21st year. "Public revenues" would apparently be needed to cover the shortfall.
  • The unpaid bond debt would still be over $116 million in year 30.
That was Scenario A. Scenario B was based on more pessimistic assumptions.

Click to enlarge

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