By Roland Klose
The state has put off approving bids to begin work on a new I-40 Welcome Center until at least February, a Tennessee transportation official said Friday.
The delay has resulted, in part, because of questions raised about how the site at Jefferson and Riverside will be conveyed to the state. The state wants to own the property; the city hasn't decided whether to turn over the site or lease it to the state.
The question of ownership is the latest ripple in a protracted public debate about the I-40 Welcome Center, but state and local officials said they do not view the ownership issue as an obstacle.
Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton and Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris jointly announced the location for an I-40 visitors' center in February, ending years of debate about where to build the facility, which will be designed to showcase the city's attractions to motorists traveling along the east-west interstate corridor.
Several alternative locations had been considered, including putting the center on Arkansas farmland straddling the interstate.
The center, which is estimated to cost about $4.5 million, is being divided into two contracts: one for site preparation and one for actual design and construction.
The state originally planned to take bids for site preparation for the project this week, said Ray Terrell, director of the Bureau of Planning and Development for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Besides the ownership issue, a contributing factor to the delay was that not all the utility contracts for the site were in place, Terrell said.
Before site work begins, sewer, telephone and electrical lines have to be relocated, and those contracts were not in place to meet the December target date, City Engineer James Collins said.
While awarding a contract for site preparation has been delayed, the state is moving forward with the selection of an architectural and engineering firm for the center.
City Atty. Monice Hagler said the city is considering leasing the property to the state because the property is part of the promenade, a narrow band of land stretching roughly north and south from near Saffarans to Beale Street that was preserved for public use in the initial city plat of 1819.
"We need to make sure what we do is legal," Hagler said. She said the city and state are "not in an adversarial position."
Hagler said neither the option on the property granted to International Paper Co. in 1987, nor the existing lease to APCOA Inc., which operates a parking lot on the property, are factors responsible for the delay.
APCOA was awarded the parking lot concession for the property by Sidney Shlenker's Pyramid Management Authority, and the contract was assumed by the city when Shlenker was ousted as Pyramid manager.
Hagler said the contract provided that APCOA would lose its rights to the promenade parking lot if the state exercised its option to put a Welcome Center on the property.
A non-disturbance certificate between the city and APCOA, signed last December by former mayor Dick Hackett, did not change that provision, she said. Company officials could not be reached for comment.
The city granted International Paper a 99-year option to lease 650 of 800 parking spaces in the promenade parking lot.
The option, one of several offered as inducements to lure the company to Memphis, was never exercised.
Copyright 1992, 1994 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN
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