Wednesday, February 17, 1999

100 Cast About, Snag Some Ideas for Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Ideas to buoy Memphis's five miles of waterfront flowed like the mighty river itself Tuesday at a downtown workshop.

A few snagged agreement among about 100 participants.

The keepers: free year-round access for Memphians to a livelier Mud Island River Park; slower traffic on Riverside Drive; protected cobblestones and a dock for river tour boats.

The throw-back: Mayor Willie Herenton's $50 million lake plan. The half-day workshop, organized by the city and funded by the Plough Foundation, was not meant to be a referendum on the administration's last riverfront redevelopment concept, but its goals were a starting point for the discussion.

"We've seen the public wants to be involved," said Benny Lendermon, city public works director. ``We see that consensus on some things has been reached."

Lendermon said he and city chief administrative officer Rick Masson will meet with Herenton to discuss the next steps.

"We feel very strongly that the public involvement needs to continue...probably in a more intensive way with fewer people."

Herenton was out of town Tuesday and did not attend the workshop. He did attend a pre-workshop reception Monday night sponsored by AutoZone at company headquarters.

City engineer John Conroy detailed the city's most recent ambitious plan, which has failed to win federal funding. It featured two land bridges that transformed the Wolf River Harbor into a lake and created new land for private retail development onto Mud Island and permanent boat docks.

Dick Rigby, Ann Breen and Matt Arun, of the Waterfront Center in Washington, led the discussions Tuesday at the Marriott Hotel. They stressed public access to waterfronts.

With the admonition "Don't worry the money," Rigby sent participants into three small groups.

The lake plan drew little positive comment, except for the piece that would somehow link Mud Island.

"I don't see that Mud Island can ever become an amenity unless it has a link at the southern end," said Kristi Jernigan of the Memphis Redbirds.

The concept of docking big boats, such as the Delta Queen line and the Memphis Queen Line on the outside of the lake, against the southern dam, was a terrible one for river pilots, said Ralph Bagwell of the Memphis boat company. All three groups agreed on easier, freer access to Mud Island.

"Take down all the gates, locks and security guards and open it up," said John Stokes, vice chairman of Morgan Keegan Co. and chairman of the Center City Development Corp.

Landscape architect Ritchie Smith cautioned, "We need to maintain access to the river visually."

A permanent docking facility for the large river tour boats is a must to hang onto the travelers, said Regina Bearden of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The Delta Queen line is planning 17 arrivals here in 2000," Bearden said. ``They had 48 in Memphis five years ago."

It was more difficult for the groups to agree on how and where to provide for the boats, particularly because the boats' bow thrusters can dislodge the cobblestones, which also are treacherous for passengers to walk on.

Maintenance of the harbor, the waterfront and parks needs more attention, said Dianne Dixon of the Memphis Landmarks Commission, noting riverfront rats are troublesome.

Businessman Hamilton Smythe wanted continued access for recreational boaters and the presence of the two marinas in the harbor. Owners of about 150 small boats represent Memphians who were there when the city turned its back on the riverfront, he said.

Memphis is ahead of many other cities as it considers riverfront improvements because most of the land is city-owned, Rigby said. In addition, the local economy and philanthropic community are strong.

The consultants said other pluses are the riverwalk project that is under way to connect the north and south ends of the riverfront; the cobblestone landing; the trolley, Beale Street, diverse architectural styles, downtown residential growth, baseball stadium plans, a benign climate and the Mississippi River model on Mud Island.

Negatives facing Memphis, they said, include the underused riverfront, Riverside Drive as a barrier to the riverfront, "dead retail" downtown, an "antiquated" Mud Island park, lack of public art, limited park facilities, trash in public areas and lack of a centralized authority and consistent initiatives for riverfront development.

Among their recommendations:
-- Continuing discussion by a riverfront task force.
-- A major change to Riverside Drive and its traffic.
-- Free access to Mud Island at least for Memphians.
-- Further consideration of the big boats' place in Memphis' future.
-- Use of local artists and artisans.
-- A single government entity charged with redevelopment of the riverfront.
-- Consideration of replacing industries on the harbor's north end with denser use such as housing.
-- No parking on the cobblestones.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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