Thursday, June 17, 1999

You Bet, Herenton Says, Mud Island Ought to Be Free, Riverside Tamer

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Mayor Willie Herenton on Wednesday quickly embraced two tough recommendations for the Memphis waterfront: Make Mud Island River Park free, and subdue the traffic on Riverside Drive.

Herenton joined members of three citizen focus groups and other city leaders aboard the Island Queen to hear results of the groups' discussions.

About 60 people participated in the sessions Tuesday and Wednesday organized by the mayor's Riverfront Steering Committee and funded by the Plough Foundation. They were asked to focus on solutions to development issues raised during a larger February workshop. Led by Matt Arnn of The Waterfront Center in Washington, the groups focused on solving problems related to access, docking, cobblestones, Mud Island River Park and other waterfront parks and public spaces.

All three groups concurred that the river park should not have to make money, that it should be free and easy to access.

Part of increasing access would be to ``calm Riverside Drive traffic'' and make several pedestrian crossings over it from east-west streets, the groups said.

Despite any costs, Herenton said, "Absolutely, Mud Island must become user-friendly (with) free access to families. Looking at this list, I'm excited about calming Riverside Drive traffic."

In earlier remarks, Herenton vowed to develop "the unique terrain we have on the Memphis riverfront. . . . We're going to make this happen." City Public Works Division staff explained their drawings of concepts that arose after the February discussion. The ideas included a land bridge to Mud Island from Court Street; a drawbridge and a 1,900-foot pedestrian bridge from Beale; a dock on six acres of Tom Lee Park and a new dock notched into the cobblestones.

After animated discussions, none won rousing support. But the drawbridge and dock concepts drew calls for further consideration.

The other points on which all three groups agreed were.

-- Water taxis in the harbor.

-- Continued docking of small excursion boats at the historic cobblestones.

-- Phase out automobile parking on cobblestones.

-- Add "new generation" activities to the river park.

-- Add private amenities and activities to waterfront parks, such as bike or skate rental, food vendors or a conference center hotel.

-- Upgrade design elements along the riverfront to create connections. Increase animation, security and maintenance in parks and public spaces.

The steering committee will consider the recommendations July 28. They are to present a final proposal to Herenton by year's end.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Riverfront Goal: Get the Public to Believe in the Plan

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

The headline stretched across a full page of The Commercial Appeal declared: "Memphis' River Front Will Be a Thing of Beauty and Utility If the Planning Commission's Dream Ever Becomes a Reality."

The date was May 25, 1924.

Precisely 75 years later, Memphis's latest Riverfront Steering Committee met high atop a downtown tower to reignite the dream.

"Our job is to create believability that the thing will be done," said John Stokes, committee chairman and vice-chairman of Morgan Keegan Co. "We must, must, must handle this whole thing so Memphis believes in it."

Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Stokes chairman and Kristi Jernigan vice chairman of the committee after the need for it was identified at a half-day riverfront workshop in February.

Stokes is chairman of the Center City Development Corp. Jernigan is a founder of the Memphis Redbirds Foundation and chairman of the UrbanArt Commission.

Seven other members are former City Council member Fred Davis; architect Dianne Dixon of Memphis Heritage; hotel operator Mabra Holeyfield; Dr. James C. Hunt of the Downtown Neighborhood Association; city public works director Benny Lendermon, Bill Taylor of TVA and City Council member John Vergos.

The City Planning Commission in 1924 proposed a ``beautiful park on Mud Island,'' auto parking on an elevated plaza on the levee and a riverfront promenade with barge terminals on the north and south.

Many years and many riverfront plans later, parking garages were built, Mud Island River Park opened and the Bluffwalk is nearly completed.

The 1999 committee's mission is to manage public involvement, attract public/private initiatives and get projects done to revitalize the riverfront.

"If (a proposal) develops any momentum, it will have to come from the entire community of Memphis," Stokes said. "It has not been decided by any city administrators."

For now, they're focused on a 5-mile stretch from the Wolf River to Chickasaw Heritage Park and from the river to a line three blocks east along Second Street.

Their next step to get public involvement will be three half-day focus group sessions.

About 70 people have been invited to attend the sessions on June 15 and 16, under the direction of Matt Arnn from the Waterfront Center in Washington.

Their task will be to look at trade-offs between various needs or suggestions and possible solutions.

They will be joined by City Council members and the steering committee later on June 16 for a wrapup session on the Memphis Queen.

The committee would then meet in July to further put focus group ideas into a concept to be presented to the public at town hall meetings in the fall.

They hope to have a recommendation for Herenton by year's end.

Herenton backed a $50 million plan, developed by city officials two years ago, to dam the Memphis harbor and form a 36-acre lake and a land bridge to Mud Island park.

It failed to win federal funding.

Workshop participants in February largely rejected that concept except for the need to better connect the park to the city.

"The 'lake plan' is a plan, but not necessarily what we will end up with," Stokes said.

"We're way ahead of Louisville and all these other places. Just go see what's going on in Tom Lee Park."

Most of Memphis's waterfront is publicly owned so potential projects would not be delayed by property acquisition.

Everything along the water's edge is public south of Saffarans for almost 5 miles, except for Founder's Pointe housing development and the Church of the River.
Major projects on Mud Island River Park, Tom Lee's expansion and the Mud Island Greenbelt Park are already done.

Much of a 5-mile trail is complete, linking the waterfront from the north end of Mud Island to Chickasaw Heritage Park.

The city has nearly $11.7 million dedicated to the riverfront from federal and state appropriations and a TVA donation.

Further funding for any future projects would come from public and private sources, Stokes said.

With help from an assistant city attorney, the committee will research the best way to form a nonprofit corporation as a public-private partnership to carry out future riverfront projects.

Vergos, Taylor and Rick Haynes of the Plough Foundation will work with Lendermon on plans for the organization's structure.

The committee Tuesday approved a Riverwalk logo design by the Public Works Department. It will be used on signs, brochures, maps and other material noting the city's series of riverfront trails.

The committee also hired Carol Coletta of Coletta & Co. to handle media relations at $115 an hour under an existing contract with the city.

Photo Caption:
Down by the riverside
The Riverfront Steering Committee will focus revitalization efforts on a five-mile stretch of waterfront from the Wolf River south to Chickasaw Heritage Park and east from the water's edge about three blocks to Second Street.

Copyright 1999, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Wednesday, February 17, 1999

100 Cast About, Snag Some Ideas for Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Ideas to buoy Memphis's five miles of waterfront flowed like the mighty river itself Tuesday at a downtown workshop.

A few snagged agreement among about 100 participants.

The keepers: free year-round access for Memphians to a livelier Mud Island River Park; slower traffic on Riverside Drive; protected cobblestones and a dock for river tour boats.

The throw-back: Mayor Willie Herenton's $50 million lake plan. The half-day workshop, organized by the city and funded by the Plough Foundation, was not meant to be a referendum on the administration's last riverfront redevelopment concept, but its goals were a starting point for the discussion.

"We've seen the public wants to be involved," said Benny Lendermon, city public works director. ``We see that consensus on some things has been reached."

Lendermon said he and city chief administrative officer Rick Masson will meet with Herenton to discuss the next steps.

"We feel very strongly that the public involvement needs to continue...probably in a more intensive way with fewer people."

Herenton was out of town Tuesday and did not attend the workshop. He did attend a pre-workshop reception Monday night sponsored by AutoZone at company headquarters.

City engineer John Conroy detailed the city's most recent ambitious plan, which has failed to win federal funding. It featured two land bridges that transformed the Wolf River Harbor into a lake and created new land for private retail development onto Mud Island and permanent boat docks.

Dick Rigby, Ann Breen and Matt Arun, of the Waterfront Center in Washington, led the discussions Tuesday at the Marriott Hotel. They stressed public access to waterfronts.

With the admonition "Don't worry the money," Rigby sent participants into three small groups.

The lake plan drew little positive comment, except for the piece that would somehow link Mud Island.

"I don't see that Mud Island can ever become an amenity unless it has a link at the southern end," said Kristi Jernigan of the Memphis Redbirds.

The concept of docking big boats, such as the Delta Queen line and the Memphis Queen Line on the outside of the lake, against the southern dam, was a terrible one for river pilots, said Ralph Bagwell of the Memphis boat company. All three groups agreed on easier, freer access to Mud Island.

"Take down all the gates, locks and security guards and open it up," said John Stokes, vice chairman of Morgan Keegan Co. and chairman of the Center City Development Corp.

Landscape architect Ritchie Smith cautioned, "We need to maintain access to the river visually."

A permanent docking facility for the large river tour boats is a must to hang onto the travelers, said Regina Bearden of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The Delta Queen line is planning 17 arrivals here in 2000," Bearden said. ``They had 48 in Memphis five years ago."

It was more difficult for the groups to agree on how and where to provide for the boats, particularly because the boats' bow thrusters can dislodge the cobblestones, which also are treacherous for passengers to walk on.

Maintenance of the harbor, the waterfront and parks needs more attention, said Dianne Dixon of the Memphis Landmarks Commission, noting riverfront rats are troublesome.

Businessman Hamilton Smythe wanted continued access for recreational boaters and the presence of the two marinas in the harbor. Owners of about 150 small boats represent Memphians who were there when the city turned its back on the riverfront, he said.

Memphis is ahead of many other cities as it considers riverfront improvements because most of the land is city-owned, Rigby said. In addition, the local economy and philanthropic community are strong.

The consultants said other pluses are the riverwalk project that is under way to connect the north and south ends of the riverfront; the cobblestone landing; the trolley, Beale Street, diverse architectural styles, downtown residential growth, baseball stadium plans, a benign climate and the Mississippi River model on Mud Island.

Negatives facing Memphis, they said, include the underused riverfront, Riverside Drive as a barrier to the riverfront, "dead retail" downtown, an "antiquated" Mud Island park, lack of public art, limited park facilities, trash in public areas and lack of a centralized authority and consistent initiatives for riverfront development.

Among their recommendations:
-- Continuing discussion by a riverfront task force.
-- A major change to Riverside Drive and its traffic.
-- Free access to Mud Island at least for Memphians.
-- Further consideration of the big boats' place in Memphis' future.
-- Use of local artists and artisans.
-- A single government entity charged with redevelopment of the riverfront.
-- Consideration of replacing industries on the harbor's north end with denser use such as housing.
-- No parking on the cobblestones.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Meeting Aims to Plot Future of Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

Exploring the next step in riverfront redevelopment tops the agenda today during a public workshop hosted by Mayor Willie Herenton.

Powered by a $10,000 grant from the Plough Foundation, the workshop is from 8 a.m. to noon in the Mark Twain Auditorium of the Marriott Hotel, 250 N. Main.

Dick Rigby of the Waterfront Center in Washington will join city engineer John Conroy in a presentation about the importance of urban waterfronts and the future direction for redevelopment of the Memphis riverfront.

The Waterfront Center is a nonprofit corporation that helps communities enhance urban waterfronts.

The outcome of the workshop will determine the city's next step in riverfront redevelopment, said city Public Works director Benny Lendermon said.

Federal officials did not fund Herenton's request for a $43 million redesign of the harbor. That design would shape a lake at the cobblestones with a new northern opening for harbor traffic and a "land bridge" from Beale Street onto Mud Island.

"Almost a year ago, Mayor Herenton told the city council and the public that if there wasn't forthcoming monies to move the navigational channel from in front of the cobblestones area, to allow us to spring into a larger, grander project, he would go back to the public and eventually the council to get input on what should be done with the Memphis riverfront," Lendermon said.

That's what today's workshop will do, Lendermon said, and with fresh leadership from the Waterfront Center.

"We're not even going in assuming something needs to be done on the riverfront," Lendermon said. "We want to have a frank and open discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of our riverfront and where we need to go from here, what would people like to see change."

Rick Masson, city chief administrative officer, noted that Knoxville, a city much smaller than Memphis, spent $47 million on its waterfront. "We need to find out what kind of interest there is in our riverfront."

Lendermon said he is "flabbergasted" by the "diversity and caliber" of people who pre-registered for the workshop. The roster includes business leaders, advocacy groups, agencies and citizen groups. The meeting is open to the public as well.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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