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."

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc

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