Saturday, May 14, 1994

Herenton sees economic potential of waterfront; Plans are floated to get projects rolling on the river

Commercial Appeal
By Richard Gardner

Mayor W. W. Herenton outlined an ambitious plan Friday to turn the riverfront into an "economic engine" for Memphis, capitalizing on the Mississippi's lure to tourists.

The riverfront could, with proper planning, "become as important to Memphians as the skyline to Chicago, the Arch is to St. Louis and the French Quarter to New Orleans," Herenton said.

The mayor -- at a press conference aboard the visiting Mississippi Queen -- called for the creation of a riverfront development authority to oversee an ambitious range of public and private improvements.

Among improvements the authority would help direct is the proposed renovation of the historic cobblestones.

The project also provides for installation of a retaining wall for a boat basin along the riverfront from Beale Street to Court Avenue. The river would be dredged in that area to accommodate large vessels.

Concrete-filled steel pipes would be driven into the river bottom to anchor dockside facilities, such as floating restaurants and stores.

An estimated 75,000 square feet would be leasable with those improvements.

Delta Queen Steamship Co., whose executives were represented at the press conference, have tentatively committed to increasing their stops in Memphis if the city improves the harbors.

The plan also includes a commitment by the Corps of Engineers to transfer ownership of surplus Dredge Burgess and Motor Vessel Mississippi to the city for use as an interpretative center. The Corps vessels would be linked to the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island and the new Welcome Center.

The total cost of the Wolf River Harbor improvements -- cobblestones, bank improvements and interpretative center -- is estimated at $19.7 million, with federal funding expected to provide about $15 million.

The authority would oversee an area roughly bounded by the Wolf River diversion channel on the north, DeSoto Park on the south, Front Street and the western city limits.

The plan, which goes to City Council on May 24, also recommends saving the historic Tennessee Brewery and Orgill buildings. The plan estimates the cost of renovating the buildings into museums, stores or business headquarters at $21 million.

Other items on the eclectic wish list include:
-- Giving Confederate Park a facelift that includes putting real Civil War-era cannons in the park.
-- Finishing The Pyramid, including finding a way to light the downtown arena.
-- Turning the Wolf River Harbor into "an urban recreation area'' with boat rentals for crew, sculling, canoeing and kayaking.
-- Finding uses for vacant buildings at the U.S. Marine Hospital complex at DeSoto Park.
-- Lighting the Frisco, Memphis & Arkansas and Harahan bridges to give the riverfront "a symmetrical look.''

Herenton, joined by top development and tourism officials, said the authority will provide the "proper planning and execution'' to develop a now underutilized natural asset.

Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane said riverfront development will "pole vault us into the big time."

Council reaction was positive. "It's dynamic," said chairman Florence Leffler. "Everyone who comes to Memphis as a visitor wants to see that river and is awed by the river."

Caption: By Richard Gardner Mayor W. W. Herenton held a press conference aboard the Mississippi Queen Friday to outline a proposal for a riverfront development authority to enhance tourism and commercial use. photo

Copyright 1994 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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