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

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