Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Riverfront Goal: Get the Public to Believe in the Plan

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

The headline stretched across a full page of The Commercial Appeal declared: "Memphis' River Front Will Be a Thing of Beauty and Utility If the Planning Commission's Dream Ever Becomes a Reality."

The date was May 25, 1924.

Precisely 75 years later, Memphis's latest Riverfront Steering Committee met high atop a downtown tower to reignite the dream.

"Our job is to create believability that the thing will be done," said John Stokes, committee chairman and vice-chairman of Morgan Keegan Co. "We must, must, must handle this whole thing so Memphis believes in it."

Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Stokes chairman and Kristi Jernigan vice chairman of the committee after the need for it was identified at a half-day riverfront workshop in February.

Stokes is chairman of the Center City Development Corp. Jernigan is a founder of the Memphis Redbirds Foundation and chairman of the UrbanArt Commission.

Seven other members are former City Council member Fred Davis; architect Dianne Dixon of Memphis Heritage; hotel operator Mabra Holeyfield; Dr. James C. Hunt of the Downtown Neighborhood Association; city public works director Benny Lendermon, Bill Taylor of TVA and City Council member John Vergos.

The City Planning Commission in 1924 proposed a ``beautiful park on Mud Island,'' auto parking on an elevated plaza on the levee and a riverfront promenade with barge terminals on the north and south.

Many years and many riverfront plans later, parking garages were built, Mud Island River Park opened and the Bluffwalk is nearly completed.

The 1999 committee's mission is to manage public involvement, attract public/private initiatives and get projects done to revitalize the riverfront.

"If (a proposal) develops any momentum, it will have to come from the entire community of Memphis," Stokes said. "It has not been decided by any city administrators."

For now, they're focused on a 5-mile stretch from the Wolf River to Chickasaw Heritage Park and from the river to a line three blocks east along Second Street.

Their next step to get public involvement will be three half-day focus group sessions.

About 70 people have been invited to attend the sessions on June 15 and 16, under the direction of Matt Arnn from the Waterfront Center in Washington.

Their task will be to look at trade-offs between various needs or suggestions and possible solutions.

They will be joined by City Council members and the steering committee later on June 16 for a wrapup session on the Memphis Queen.

The committee would then meet in July to further put focus group ideas into a concept to be presented to the public at town hall meetings in the fall.

They hope to have a recommendation for Herenton by year's end.

Herenton backed a $50 million plan, developed by city officials two years ago, to dam the Memphis harbor and form a 36-acre lake and a land bridge to Mud Island park.

It failed to win federal funding.

Workshop participants in February largely rejected that concept except for the need to better connect the park to the city.

"The 'lake plan' is a plan, but not necessarily what we will end up with," Stokes said.

"We're way ahead of Louisville and all these other places. Just go see what's going on in Tom Lee Park."

Most of Memphis's waterfront is publicly owned so potential projects would not be delayed by property acquisition.

Everything along the water's edge is public south of Saffarans for almost 5 miles, except for Founder's Pointe housing development and the Church of the River.
Major projects on Mud Island River Park, Tom Lee's expansion and the Mud Island Greenbelt Park are already done.

Much of a 5-mile trail is complete, linking the waterfront from the north end of Mud Island to Chickasaw Heritage Park.

The city has nearly $11.7 million dedicated to the riverfront from federal and state appropriations and a TVA donation.

Further funding for any future projects would come from public and private sources, Stokes said.

With help from an assistant city attorney, the committee will research the best way to form a nonprofit corporation as a public-private partnership to carry out future riverfront projects.

Vergos, Taylor and Rick Haynes of the Plough Foundation will work with Lendermon on plans for the organization's structure.

The committee Tuesday approved a Riverwalk logo design by the Public Works Department. It will be used on signs, brochures, maps and other material noting the city's series of riverfront trails.

The committee also hired Carol Coletta of Coletta & Co. to handle media relations at $115 an hour under an existing contract with the city.

Photo Caption:
Down by the riverside
The Riverfront Steering Committee will focus revitalization efforts on a five-mile stretch of waterfront from the Wolf River south to Chickasaw Heritage Park and east from the water's edge about three blocks to Second Street.

Copyright 1999, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Friday, May 14, 1999

What to Do With City's Top Asset; Head of Riverfront Panel Says Memphians' Support Is Crucial

Memphis Business Journal
By Jonathan Scott

An answer to the question of what to do with the riverfront has eluded Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton throughout his first two terms in office.

Now, after more than half a decade of starts and stops, efforts to transform the city's riverfront into an attractive and commercially profitable cornerstone of Downtown redevelopment are set to begin again.

Late last month Herenton appointed members of the Riverfront Steering Committee. Its chairman, John Stokes Jr., says he expects to move quickly in deciding the best use of what may be the most valuable real estate in Memphis - and an area that many consider to be the community's most attractive natural asset.

Many taxpayers may greet as good news the chairman's belief that few, if any, additional tax dollars will be needed to fund a development plan.

While various riverfront plans have been adopted by the administration, Stokes says the steering committee's proposal will adopt a plan only if it is embraced by Memphians.

"Developing this plan must involve as much of the Memphis citizenry as possible," says Stokes, vice chairman of Morgan Keegan & Co. "This will not be a plan that is decided on among ourselves, but one that has input from all different factions of the city and a plan that generally meets with the approval of the folks of Memphis."

In all likelihood, this means that Herenton's costly riverfront plan to transform the harbor into a lake will fall by the wayside. For the present, however, the lake plan and other proposals will be up for discussion, Stokes says.

"We will consider it along with everything else and listen to the pros and cons and decide what is the best to do," he says. "There are those who object to the lake project and plenty who think that it is a great idea."

Herenton has struggled to find a workable development plan for the riverfront since his first term as mayor. After several months of study, in mid-1995 the administration proposed an $8 million plan that included floating shops and restaurants, walkways, docking facilities for large passenger boats, renovation of the cobblestones, and a fountain plaza at the foot of Union Avenue.

By year's end, the project cost had mushroomed to $11million.

In 1996, the proposal was replaced by a far more ambitious - and costly - plan that called for dam construction to transform the harbor into a lake, and the extension of Beale Street westward from where it now deadends on Riverside Drive to the southern tip of Mud Island.

Environmentalists, fearful of the impact on the river, balked at the plan. Some taxpayers thought the more than $50 million cost was, perhaps, not the best use of the public's money.

After several years and many attempts to obtain federal and state government financial assistance for that riverfront development plan, the administration decided earlier this year to take the initiative back to the community.

At a public workshop last February, about 100 people voiced their ideas about what to do with the area. One suggestion was for a riverfront task force, which served as the impetus for the creation of the present steering committee, says Stokes.

Other proposals that came out of the workshop are serving as a sort of framework to guide the steering committee in its planning. For instance, ideas such as improving access to Mud Island, lessening the barrier to the riverfront created by the high traffic volumes and speeding vehicles on Riverside Drive, better docking facilities for river boats, and preserving the cobblestones are all on the committee's list of possible and reasonable goals of any riverfront development plan, says Stokes.

Another main component of the plan will involve the private sector, he adds.

"I don't think there can be a riverfront project that does not involve the private sector and (provide) a lot of development opportunities for the private sector," says Stokes.

"In fact, that is as important as anything else. We do think there is a lot of land available that lends itself beautifully for development. One of the advantages to Memphis is that the city itself already owns a lot of the property, and the city can do a lot toward the development of a part of it."

The city also has some $12 million in hand already for the development of the riverfront, he adds. But another one of the steering committee's objectives will be to determine how to obtain more money, without additional tax dollars, to fund the redevelopment.

Even though past development proposals have failed to materialize completely, bits and pieces of these plans have been constructed and endorsed by the public this decade, Stokes says.

For example, nearly $15 million has already been spent on the expansion of Tom Lee Park, the renovation of Riverside Drive, the new Welcome Center, the nearly completed Bluff Walk, Greenbelt Park, and engineering studies that can be used for future development.

Stokes says other riverfront initiatives could also move forward fairly quickly, once the steering committee is up and running and the public is brought into the process. The first meeting of the steering committee is expected to be held later this month.

"In the end, we want to do things that will attract people to our riverfront," he says. "We want to not only attract tourists, but the people who live here. I think it is important to try to identify those things that everyone agrees are good ideas and things that can be done quickly, not cost much money, and improve the riverfront. We want to have most everything done and developed and be able to start actual work by the first of the year, or thereabouts."

© 1999 American City Business Journals Inc.

NOTICE: Compilation copyright 2005-2010. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of historical, aesthetic, economic, environmental, and other issues relating to the Memphis Riverfront. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to this website. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.