Sunday, August 10, 1997

City Tries to Save Riverfront Project; Ford Jr. Says Federal Funding Unlikely

Commercial Appeal
by Mary Powers

Memphis hopes to save an ambitious riverfront development plan even if the new federal budget doesn't include the $3.5 million startup money, a city official said Saturday.

"There is a chance of getting language to authorize the Corps of Engineers to begin designing the project," said Benny Lendermon, the city's public works director.

"We have talked to the corps numerous times and they have been very supportive of the project."

Such authorization would help ensure future federal funding and avoid significant project delays.

"We are working the Senate side hard" on clearance to begin designing the project, Lendermon said.

Mayor Willie Herenton outlined plans last September to transform the Memphis Harbor into a recreational lake. The project would cost an estimated $43.2 million, $20 million of which city officials envisioned would be federal funds.

It was hoped the federal budget being finalized in Washington would include $3.5 million to begin work.

It doesn't.

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Memphis) and Lendermon said Saturday there is little chance the city's funding would be included in compromise federal appropriations now being finalized.

On Saturday, Ford criticized Herenton's leadership and failure to lobby in support of the city's request.

"Every time City Hall makes a mistake they point the blame at someone else," he said.

Ford spoke after a prayer breakfast that attracted about 900 people to the Memphis Marriott, including Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout. Rout said the county and Ford have a good working relationship.

Herenton didn't attend Saturday's event, and Carey Hoffman, his spokesman, said he wouldn't comment on Ford's remarks.

Herenton and Ford have clashed before, most recently about a summer youth jobs program. City Council member Myron Lowery said he hopes this latest problem will prompt both sides to improve communications.

On Saturday, Ford reiterated that city officials didn't provide the project information his office requested, including a development plan and possible environmental impact. That's why Ford didn't request the appropriation until July 30, several days after the House subcommittee deadline had passed for submitting such requests.

Lendermon said city officials had submitted such information and weren't told that Ford was awaiting additional data.

The same funding request was submitted by Tennessee Sens. Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, both Republicans. It wasn't included in Senate appropriations, which Lendermon said city officials had expected.

Copyright (c) 1997 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Saturday, June 28, 1997

Mayor Herenton’s Riverfront Vision

Downtowner Magazine
June 1997

Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton is answering questions about the overall plan for the Memphis riverfront Saturday, June 28, 1997 at 9 a.m. This is when he hosts "Walk the River With Mayor W. W. Herenton,” where he explains his vision of Downtown riverfront development and celebrates completion of the walkway along Mud Island.

Beginning at the north end of Mud Island, the walk extends four miles and ends at the south end of Tom Lee Park, Markers along the way explain the history and future plans for the riverfront. Buses wait at the end of the line to transport hikers back to their cars. Buses are also positioned at the halfway point for those who do not wish to complete the entire walk.

Mayor Herenton hopes the walk attracts the attention of potential Mud Island developers. He also wants to explain his vision for family entertainment venues along the riverfront and on Mud Island. "Mayor Herenton is focused on realizing the full potential of an area to be shared by all," says Carey Hoffman, Executive Assistant to the Mayor.

The Riverwalk is one part of an ambitious plan that includes preservation of the historic cobblestone landing, home of a floating boardwalk with food and non-motorized boat rental concessions, the Trolley Riverfront Loop, and the Riverbluff Walkway. A landscaped, half-mile long, ten-feet-wide biking and jogging trail with architectural lighting is also in the works. Under consideration is a 28-acre lake, enclosed by dams, featuring a 50-feet-wide vehicle access boulevard and a pedestrian walkway. The Beale Street Gateway, located where Beale Street meets the river, includes an access point to Mud Island and the Riverboat Mooring Facility. The Gateway includes a vehicle drop-off with shelter, feature signs, and a security and control point. The "village" at Mud Island, located at the southern end of Mud Island, is planned in a later phase of development. It includes themed architecture, restaurants, entertainment, retail, and lodging facilities in its half-million square feet. The total concept is designed to provide easy access from one area to the others.

Mayor Herenton's enthusiasm for the Riverwalk is shared by Hoffman. "Mayor Herenton is inviting the public to share in the excitement of the continuing renaissance of Downtown Memphis. Our riverfront is the jewel of Downtown," she says. She is quick to point out that the mayor wants any development of Downtown resources to benefit all Memphians, and not just a select group.

Entertainment plans for the event are incomplete at our press time, but the mayor has arranged for free T-shirts and free passes to Mud Island, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to be distributed at the event. Parking is available at designated areas at the north end of Mud Island. Signs will direct motorists to the parking areas.

Figure: Proposed Riverfront Development. Rendering by Hnedak Bobo Group. (Click to enlarge.)

Click to enlarge

Thursday, June 26, 1997

Editorial: Rising Cost Disturbs Picture-Perfect Lake

Commercial Appeal

THE WORD pictures and architectural renderings of a renovated Memphis Harbor may be captivating, but do the odds for success justify the price? A price that has just jumped at least $13 million.

Right now, it's the federal and state governments that will tackle the question. If they decide the game has gotten too rich, local taxpayers will have their turn.

Mayor W. W. Herenton had a great idea: Continue to develop and renovate the downtown riverfront so it would entice tourists, puff up local pride and generate economic growth. In the process, he said, the different parts of downtown - from South Main and Beale Street to Mud Island and the Wolf River - should be tied together to allow and encourage people to move along the whole length of the riverfront.

The mayor had a substantial amount to build on. Redevelopment has been proceeding, sometimes erratically, for two decades. Even so, he has given the project new life and enthusiasm and an expanded mission.

But will enthusiasm be mugged by rising costs?

A feasibility study released Tuesday estimates that Herenton's harbor plan, including a 36-acre recreational lake enclosed by dams that would link Mud Island to Beale Street and the Interstate 40 welcome center, will cost $43.2 million instead of the $25 million to $30 million that Herenton announced last September.

The higher cost is attributed to the need for a channel at the northern tip of Mud Island, a bridge over the channel and upgraded docking facilities for riverboats. The new channel would connect the harbor north of the lake to the Mississippi River. For safety reasons, it would replace plans for a channel closer to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

Some of the details even have downtown residents scratching their heads. Can the southern tip of Mud Island, for instance, really be raised for private development? In this year's flooding, the Mississippi rose almost to the flagpole on the top of the tip. It sounds like a massive, lengthy job of dredging and filling.

Herenton maintains a positive attitude. His plan, he insists, ''will serve as a catalyst for even greater downtown residential and commercial development.'' He says a ''major riverboat company'' is considering a move to Memphis - something more solid, one would hope, than a ferry service to Tunica.

Publicist Carol Coletta reports that ''some of the biggest entertainment folks around'' showed interest in the harbor plan at an urban entertainment meeting in Los Angeles last spring.

''When you say we're extending Beale Street to an island out in the middle of the Mississippi River, that gets people's attention,'' she said. Well, it's really not out in the middle. Sidney Shlenker thought he had captured the attention of his California friends with his grand plan for The Pyramid. Memphians are likely to feel more reassured when those entertainment folks start investing.

As things stand, the state has committed $7 million for the harbor plan and the city says it is seeking at least $20 million in federal funds. The new cost estimate, presumably, will raise the city's requests. Herenton will host U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater for a riverfront tour this weekend.

Public works director Benny Lendermon suggests that Memphis is due the same federal help that Indianapolis and New Orleans got for similar projects. Memphis has been singing that blues song for decades, but maybe Lendermon is right. Maybe Washington, in the midst of a drive to balance the budget and deep cuts in urban programs, will develop a sudden soft spot for one neglected Southern city.

Or maybe Memphians will have to decide whether they want to find more millions on their own. There's no disputing the attractiveness of the plan - or the difficulty of paying for it.

Copyright (c) 1997 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Wednesday, June 25, 1997

Harbor Lake Cost Rises by Millions; City Hopes to Land Federal Dollars

The Commercial Appeal
by Cornell Christion

The riverfront development plan that calls for converting part of Memphis Harbor to a recreational lake could cost at least $13 million more than first expected.

A feasibility study released Tuesday estimates that the plan will carry a $43.2 million price tag, compared with the $25 million to $30 million projected when the ambitious proposal was announced last September by Mayor W. W. Herenton.

The cost has increased, according to city officials, partly because a channel would be dug at the northern tip of Mud Island instead of just north of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge to connect the Mississippi River to a section of the harbor that would be outside the lake.

That construction would require building a bridge over the channel to maintain vehicular access to Mud Island from the northeast via Mud Island Road.

Other factors for the higher cost include upgrading a proposed riverboat docking facility and adding design expenses not included in the original price estimate.

The state has earmarked $7 million for the project, and city officials say they are aggressively pursuing more than $20 million in federal funding. They won't say whether the city would fund the bulk of the project if that effort fails.

''We're not recommending that at this time. This whole project is being pursued under the assumption that we can gain additional either federal or state funding,'' said public works director Benny Lendermon.

''Other cities have gotten federal funding for similar projects. Indianapolis got a lot of Corps of Engineer money to do something very similar but much more costly. New Orleans got a lot of federal money. It's been done a lot of different places the same way we're doing it.''

The funding pitch is expected to be made Saturday to Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who is scheduled to join Herenton and others for a walking tour of the riverfront.

The feasibility study released Tuesday was prepared by Hnedak Bobo Group and PDR Engineers, who are working as project consultants. Hailed by Herenton, the 37-page study was distributed to City Council members during a council committee meeting.

The plan would convert part of Memphis Harbor into a 36-acre recreational lake enclosed by dams that would link Mud Island to Beale Street and the Interstate 40 welcome center.

A floating riverboat mooring facility would be connected to the ''south dam,'' and the southern tip of Mud Island would be filled for private development. City officials say they have been contacted by a prospective developer whom they declined to name.

''I firmly believe that this development will serve as a catalyst for even greater downtown residential and commercial development,'' Herenton said, adding that the proposal would connect several ''disjointed'' amenities, including Mud Island and Beale Street.
Herenton said riverboat-related tourism and business would increase and that a ''major riverboat company'' is considering moving to Memphis.

Besides the higher cost, the major change in the plan as first announced in September is the location of the channel that would be dug to provide Mississippi River access to industries north of the lake.

The site was moved because putting the channel just north of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge could have created safety problems for barges.

''The close proximity of the bridge to where the outlet channel would have been was something that the navigation community expressed a concern about. Not that it couldn't be navigated safely, but they would just prefer another alternative,'' Lendermon said.

He said the new navigation channel site, which would require widening the Wolf River where it empties into the Mississippi, was suggested by the Corps of Engineers.

City officials think it would increase pleasure boat and other traffic on a largely stagnant portion of the harbor, which could spur development north of The Pyramid.

Lendermon said the city is pursuing more than $17 million in Corps of Engineers funds for the channel and south dam.

He said additional state funding will also be sought, as well as more federal funding through the current reauthorization of a major transportation bill.
The feasibility study divides the projected $43.2 million cost into seven areas:

-- $5.77 million for the north dam connecting the welcome center to Mud Island.
-- $9.90 million for the south dam.
-- $7.81 million for the new navigational channel and bridge.
-- $9.76 million for the riverboat dock.
-- $1.48 million for cobblestone restoration.
-- $3.58 million for Mud Island improvements.
-- $4.93 million for project fees.

The price estimate does not include the cost of developing an estimated 7 to 12 acres that would be created from filling the southern tip of Mud Island and possibly absorbing part of the Mud Island river park.

That land would be privately developed, and the city expects keen interest.
''I had a chance to present this project very informally in Los Angeles . . . at a meeting on urban entertainment districts in March,'' said Carol Coletta, who heads a local firm handling public relations on the project.

''The room was full of people from Disney and Gaylord and some of the biggest entertainment folks around. And it's interesting. When you say we're extending Beale Street to an island out in middle of the Mississippi River, that gets people's attention.''

Copyright (c) 1997 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Wednesday, June 18, 1997

Phase One of Riverfront Project to Begin This Fall

Memphis Flyer
by Debbie Gilbert

The 1997-98 state budget allocates $7 million to Memphis for riverfront development, which means construction can begin later this year along the Mississippi River downtown. But whether Memphis gets the deluxe version or the limited edition depends on the federal government's willingness to contribute additional funding.

According to Benny Lendermon, the city's public-works director, it will take about $35 million to construct the entire project envisioned by Mayor W.W. Herenton and other riverfront supporters. Plans call for a paved, lighted walking/biking path running from Tom Lee Park to the new visitor center just south of The Pyramid; renovation of the historic cobblestones; and a floating boardwalk with boat-rental concessions at the water's edge. Beale Street would be extended west to connect with the southern tip of Mud Island, closing off that end of the harbor, and a dam a little farther north, near the visitor center, would enclose the space to create a 30-acre lake for public use. Boats that now enter the Memphis harbor from the south would instead approach from the north end of Mud Island, near the mouth of the Wolf River.

The city has requested $16 million in federal funding for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that would relocate the current navigational channel. In addition, Memphis has applied to the federal Department of Transportation for $3.5 million in ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) funds to help pay for the pedestrian walkway. "We also hope to get more money from the state in the future," says Lendermon.

Work on the multi-use path along the river should commence this fall, regardless of whether any federal funding comes through. An unspecified amount of the cost will come from the city's capital-improvements budget, and First Tennessee Bank has pledged about $400,000 to build an overlook plaza at the foot of Union Avenue, connecting to the walkway. State funding should cover the cost of stabilizing the cobblestones along the riverbank.

But it's the river's fluctuating depth -- caused by seasonal flooding and the Corps of Engineers' annual dredging -- that's causing the cobblestones to come loose from their foundation, according to Lendermon. The only real solution, he believes, is to build the lake, which would maintain a steady water level."

If we just get the $7 million," he says, "we can always concentrate on saving the cobblestones. But as long as the navigation channel remains the same, we're not sure it would be worth it in the long term."

Lendermon says he'll know within a few months whether the city will get federal funding for the lake. "We're pretty optimistic, because $16 million is really a nominal sum for a Corps of Engineers project."

A feasibility study recently completed by Hnedak Bobo Group and PDR Engineers Inc. showed that the riverfront project is workable. Memphis could benefit economically, both from retail development on the south end of Mud Island and from the new docking facility, which would allow larger boats, including those of the New Orleans-based Delta Queen Line, to operate out of Memphis.

And then there are intangible benefits to be derived from such a project. "Every major city is spending millions to create a waterfront or improve the one they have, because people are naturally attracted to water," says Lendermon. "In Memphis the river is wonderful, but you're up on the bluff looking down on it and can't get close to it. The lake will provide that experience."

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