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

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