Thursday, November 09, 2000

Waterfront Revival Mix of Culture, Commerce; Public Applauds Plan

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Riverfront planners Wednesday night proposed construction and bridges on Mud Island River Park, some private development on the legendary public Promenade and a riverboat landing at Tom Lee Park at the foot of Beale Street.

And no one among about 130 citizens at a public meeting objected.

Instead, the question session was peppered with polite applause and compliments after an hourlong presentation by architects and marketing experts hired by the Riverfront Development Corp. to create a master plan for the waterfront.

The presence of two rivers on the city's edge, the Mississippi and the Wolf, "is almost unprecedented" and presents tremendous opportunities, said Brian Shea, an architect with Cooper, Robertson & Partners in New York and planning team leader.

Although they characterized their report as analysis, it was organized around specific ideas or what Shea called "design guidelines."

-- Link waterfront parks, connect the waterfront to the city with a series of streets or bridges and make Riverside Drive continuous northward across the top of Mud Island and back down.

Shea complained that Riverside Drive doesn't live up to its name. "Riverside Drive becomes a ramp to Arkansas - which we have taken."

-- Recognize strong existing neighborhoods and corridors.

-- Shift north-south traffic volume and parking facilities to Second and Third to free Riverside Drive and Main as "civic boulevards," consider eliminating the Hernando DeSoto Bridge ramps and convert the trolley from "tourism event" to a true public transport system.

-- Make the Wolf River harbor south of Auction an active commercial venture with marinas, boat rentals, a promenade, retail, entertainment and cultural facilities. Surround the northern portion with a loop trail and provide canoe, kayak and other water recreation for neighborhoods, as was done in downtown Denver.

-- Develop Mud Island River Park as a special waterfront neighborhood with free access over at least two bridges and mixed use residential development along the Riverwalk, as in San Antonio, Texas. "Mud Island is too open and too empty," Shea said.

The amphitheater could be repositioned to face the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River Museum's programming could become part of a new National Museum of the Mississippi.

Terraced land banks on the remaining southern tip of Mud Island could become Memphis Point Park, designed to endure varying river stages and create "a postcard view" as in other river cities such as Pittsburgh.

-- Maximize development of the Front Street blocks called the Promenade property, which was dedicated for public use by city founders in 1828. The area is also called the Overton heirs property or Overton blocks in reference to the descendants of founder John Overton. They could claim ownership of the land if a nonpublic use were allowed. Lawyers for Riverfront Development are working on the question of how to get permission for new uses.

"Private uses provide money for public purposes," said team member Candace Damon, economic and market analyst with Hamilton Rabinovitz & Alschuler. Allowing a mixture of commercial, residential and cultural uses along with public space attracts private investment that can finance the open spaces, she said.

Shea added, "If this were any other city, this would be the greatest, highest-use real estate."

-- Pull Beale Street's urban entertainment district to Main Street and to the river with a special destination at the riverfront.

-- Reconfigure the north end of Tom Lee Park for a landing for large riverboats.

-- Restore cobblestones for commercial riverboat, restaurant barges and other operations and a promenade walkway along all the blocks of the Overton property.

Relocate parking space for about 5,000 vehicles that use the cobblestones and other waterfront property, "your front yard," Shea said.

-- "Finish" Tom Lee Park.

Shea said the team will return early next year to work on details with local architects.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Monday, October 30, 2000

Downtown Drainage System Stressed Out; Overhaul in Works

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

Memphis plans a multimillion-dollar overhaul of a downtown drainage system officials say is too small to prevent floods and too prone to disgorging pollution on the city's waterfront.

In the midst of a downtown building boom, city officials want to clean up and improve the critical culverts and reservoirs funneling storm water to the Bayou Gayoso Pumping Station and into Wolf River harbor.

A new engineering study concluded the system can't store enough rainwater to prevent flooding when the Mississippi River rises to high stages.

The system also washes litter and debris from streets into the downtown Wolf River harbor, spoiling the scenery for boaters and threatening wildlife.

Details of the project haven't been developed. But likely solutions include the expansion of a network of reservoirs - possibly creating a park-like setting for them - and the installation of mechanical bar screens to extract litter from water.

"It'll take care of three problems - it'll remove litter from the storm water, it'll give us more storage capacity and it'll make the retention basins more esthetically pleasing," said Memphis public works director Jerry Collins.

Although design work is about to begin, actual construction isn't likely to start before the 2005-06 fiscal year. The project will appear on the five-year capital budget plan to be reviewed by the City Council later this year.

Whatever its eventual design, the overhaul project will cost "tens of millions" of dollars, Collins said.

It will be focused on a once-prominent stream - Bayou Gayoso - that has been largely sealed underground in culverts. The bayou flows to the pumping station at 35 W. Saffarans.

Under normal conditions, the stream runs under the plant and pours over a small spillway into the Wolf River harbor. But when the Mississippi is at high stages, blocking the bayou's flow, the station pumps the water into the harbor.

During these high stages, the bayou backs up into a series of five reservoirs, or storage basins, north of Auction and east of Front.

A study completed last spring by PDR Engineers Inc. concluded the basins are insufficient to keep downtown areas dry if a heavy storm were to occur when the Mississippi is within 4 feet of flood stage.

The reservoirs can hold 196 acre-feet of water - enough to cover 196 acres a foot deep.

However, to absorb a five-year storm event - the heaviest rain that can be expected in any five-year period - 209 acre-feet of storage is needed. And to retain a 10-year flood, 252 acre-feet of capacity would be required.

Collins said that in addition to expanding the basins, the project will make them more attractive. Covering entire city blocks, the barren, unsightly reservoirs are surrounded by chain-link fences.

"Those basins are extremely functional, but they weren't designed and built many years ago to be an attractive feature of the downtown area," Collins said.

City officials also want to deal with the pollution problem traceable to the bayou. Litter washing off streets and gutters often makes its way into the reservoirs and the bayou, eventually ending up in the harbor.

Boaters, environmentalists, tourists and others occasionally have complained about the trash problem.

Jeffrey Laper, a boater who moved to Memphis from Seattle five years ago, said it's common to find litter ranging from plastic bottles and buckets to syringes, diapers and tires in the harbor.

"It goes on and on. It gets real disgusting," he said.

Laper said the city should give the cleanup project a high priority. He said the pollution is a threat to the ducks, cranes, turtles, beavers and other creatures he sees in the harbor.

"It just boggles my mind how this isn't being taken care of," Laper said.

Terry Templeton, the regulator overseeing Memphis-area water-pollution problems for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said his office has received two or three complaints about harbor pollution in the past two years. "Typically, they're the result of some storm event washing stuff downstream," Templeton said.

Collins said litter in storm water is a problem that's not confined to Bayou Gayoso. The city has begun a public education campaign focusing on the causes and prevention of storm water pollution.

But to deal with the litter problem in the bayou, Collins said, the project likely will include the installation of mechanical bar screens, which filter and remove debris from water. The overall design for the expanded retention basins will determine where bar screens are placed.

The devices aren't cheap - the city just paid $2 million to replace eight bar screens at a wastewater-treatment plant.

Given the high cost of the drainage-overhaul work, Collins acknowledged it might take several years to complete.

"The emphasis we'll give it will largely be determined by what the city perceives is the biggest problem," he said.

Caption:photo : map

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Thursday, October 05, 2000

Plans for Riverfront Rollin' Right Along

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

A contract between the new Riverfront Development Corp. and the city could be ready in 30 to 45 days.

Negotiations to give the nonprofit organization authority and funds to manage, maintain and develop riverfront parks and other public lands is going well, RDC board member John McConomy told the board Wednesday.

The Baker Donelson Bearman and Caldwell law firm is representing RDC in the complex negotiations, McConomy said, dealing with the turnover of park lands and Mud Island River Park and giving RDC authority to execute a master plan of development.

A special part of the discussion is the historic "promenade" property deeded for public use by city founders, said McConomy, executive vice president and general counsel of Storage USA. Legal issues around the promenade include what it can be used for "and how we get the ability to use it," he said.

Consultants from New York and Denver, hired to produce a Memphis riverfront master plan, will return next month with drawings of their initial analysis, said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The RDC executive committee spent Tuesday in New York to review preliminary findings and tour Battery Park City, a 10 1/2-mile development along the Hudson River. Several of the Memphis consulting team members worked on the Battery Park project.

"These people (consultants) are so excited about being a part of the only place in the country where you can come to get a view and a feel of the mighty Mississippi River," said RDC chairman John Stokes. Instead of seeing Mud Island as a liability, "these people see that as a magnificent opportunity," Stokes said.

The consultants, headed by New York architects Cooper Robertson & Partners, will present their analysis during at least one large public meeting in mid-November and possibly several smaller meetings, Lendermon said.

Meanwhile, citizens can make suggestions for the riverfront on the RDC's Website at

Lendermon said he has been surprised at the number and quality of comments on the Website.

Friday, September 01, 2000

What on riverfront can fall? Architects ask board

Reaction is 'Very few sacred things'

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Rip up Mud Island River Park and start over. Level the bluff-top parking garages. Remove the unused Interstate 40 "ramps to nowhere."

Those ideas came Thursday from a national consulting team that is just starting work on a master plan for future development of Memphis's 5-mile riverfront.

The consultants and the folks who hired them, the Riverfront Development Corp., emphasized that the suggestions are preliminary - an effort to see what limits they face in redesigning Memphis's river face.

In their first meeting with the full RDC board, consultants Brian Shea, Mark Johnson and Candace Damon asked members to react to a "demolish, reconfigure or rebuild" list.

"We want to test and see how aggressive we can be," said Shea with Cooper, Robertson & Partners, New York architects and leaders of the planning team hired by the RDC.

"How far can we go?"

"There are very few sacred things on the riverfront," said RDC vice chairman Kristi Jernigan, co-founder of the Memphis Redbirds. "We should think as big and as broad as we can. As long as we're economically grounded and have good design principles, the sky's the limit."

RDC board secretary Dr. James Hunt, former chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Memphis, said, "The beauty of what we have is there's so little that needs to be torn down."

With no major expressway or industry onsite, little is sacred on the riverfront, Hunt said, "other than the Church of the River."

On Shea's "demolition" list for the nonprofit agency's consideration:
-- The Mud Island Amphitheatre.
-- The Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island.
-- Other Mud Island structures and fixtures.
-- The monorail.
-- All buildings on the Promenade except the U.S. Post Office in the historic Customs House.
-- Jefferson Davis Park.
-- The southern tip of Mud Island.
-- The Lone Star Industries concrete plant.

The board took no formal votes. Board members either reacted as Shea read it - voicing the most agreement when the I-40 ramps and concrete plant were named - or spoke up for ideas later.

Benny Lendermon, RDC president and former city public works director, cautioned the board to remember that these were preliminary observations.

"They're being very candid and open. You wanted to know what their first reactions are. They could come back next month and change."

Planners hope to have a scheme completed by next June. They held the first in a series of public meetings Wednesday and expect to hold several more.

The vast arms of the unused interstate ramps, built to connect to a Midtown expressway that was never built, could be torn down, Johnson explained.

The ramps' redwood-sized columns fill acres of land west of the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

"They're built to a freeway plan that's not going to happen," said Johnson of Civitas Inc., landscape designers from Denver.

"State DOT (Department of Transportation) is still in mourning about that," said City Councilman and RDC board member John Vergos, referring to the years-long battle that stopped the road project.

"Have a funeral," said Shea.

Near the ramps are the dozen silos of Lone Star Industries that ships 400,000 tons of cement to concrete makers annually.

"Move it," said Shea. "It may be the best investment one could do."

"Yes," said several around the room.

Mud Island's five-block-long scale model of the river should be preserved, said deputy director of public works Cindy Buchanan, but its other architecture is like a "bunker."

The 52-acre, $63 million park opened in 1982 and has been consistently controversial for its cost and failure to draw visitors. A radical remake of the park proposed by Pyramid developer Sidney Shlenker a decade ago never materialized.

The planners noted several times how large and unique Memphis's waterfront is. It's really four riverfronts, Johnson said, with distinct areas: west of the Wolf River channel, east of the channel, around Mud Island and along Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones.

Johnson wondered whether the tip of Mud Island could be cut off to widen what is now a narrow harbor channel.

The promenade land, deeded for public use by the men who founded the city in 1819, today reaches from Union Avenue north to Auction. Front Street forms the eastern boundary for most of the promenade's length.

In addition to the Customs House (the only Promenade structure on the National Register of Historic Places), the property holds the Cossitt Library, a 1967 Fire Department headquarters, two parking garages, the garage and monorail terminal for Mud Island and, below the bluff, the Tennessee Welcome Center.

Past court judgments have indicated that the land would revert to ownership of the founders' heirs if a nonpublic use were allowed.

The RDC is working with representatives of the 200 to 300 heirs and with lawyers to consider new ways the property could legally be used.

One current use for a piece of the promenade is Jefferson Davis Park, dedicated in 1930 at the harbor's edge directly below Confederate Park.

While no board member Thursday answered Shea's question about whether the park, beloved by Civil War devotees, could be demolished or rebuilt, Jernigan said, "That's a great piece of real estate."

Later, RDC chairman John Stokes, vice-chairman of Morgan Keegan, said, "We're in the most early stages of all this ... No plans have yet been laid and really won't be without ... all entities talked to."

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Friday, June 30, 2000

IRS Form 990: 1999-2000

Here is the RDC's IRS Form 990 for the fical year ended June 30, 2000 [PDF, 618 KB].

Wednesday, May 31, 2000

RDC Executive Committee - 2000

Here are the RDC Executive Committee minutes for the entire year 2000 (year of inception), scanned into a single PDF file. The first meeting is dated May 31, 2000.

Click here to download the PDF file [649 KB]

Sunday, May 28, 2000

Editorial: The Promenade: Founders' riverfront vision can still be realized

Commercial Appeal

RHYME IT with lemonade if you like, in the parlance of square dancing. Or say prom-en-AAD if you'd prefer. It can be noun or verb. Whichever one chooses, the word evokes a nostalgic, somewhat formal sense of pleasurable walking, in no great hurry so as to take full visual advantage of the scenery, human as well as natural.

It is physically and esthetically the focus of the latest effort to realize the vision of Memphis's trio of founders when they laid out the city in 1819, labeling the land west of Front from Union north to Jackson a "public promenade," relinquishing all claim to the land "now and forever" as long as public use continued.

For the most part, that arrangement still prevails, although the Memphis waterfront lacks the drawing power of, say, St. Louis or Chicago. It has great potential, though, and the recently incorporated Riverfront Development Corp. should come up with some splendid ideas.

One idea it must begin with is to keep intact a commitment described by founder John Overton, by making public access to the riverfront a non-negotiable requirement in any development plans.

No development in the area should hamper public access because the Promenade, which has through the years shrunk to about half its original size, is the public's land and the river is the public's river.

Its access should never be bartered away to lure private development into the historic area. What is essentially Memphis, from the historic cobblestone river landing to -- bless its heart -- the unprofitable but one-of-a-kind Mud Island River Park, must be preserved.

And there can't be any backing away from the commitment to finish uncompleted sections of the riverwalk and bluffwalk with unimpeded views of the Mississippi.
art of that project is expected to get under way soon with the approval of a contractor for the $4.5 million Cobblestone Walkway project, linking Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center with Tom Lee Park along the western edge of Riverside Drive, with a plaza at the foot of Union overlooking the harbor.

A planned $3.3 million redesign of Riverside Drive aimed at slowing traffic should help further the aims of the RDC by enabling pedestrians to reach the river more safely.

An important step toward riverfront development was taken last week when the RDC selected a team headed by a New York architectural firm to develop a master plan for the five-mile riverfront project.

The firm has previous experience with New York, St. Louis, Columbus, Boston and Chicago waterfront projects. It will hold public meetings to gather input from the community. The plan is expected to cost $500,000 to $750,000.

Another significant event in the development plan was Memphis real estate developer Robert Snowden's acceptance of the unenviable task of attempting to represent an estimated 200 to 300 heirs to the Memphis founders, one of whom is Snowden himself.

Known collectively as the Overton heirs - no offense intended to the descendants of James Winchester and Andrew Jackson who are also in the group - the heirs would have to approve any non-public use of the Promenade.

Public budgets being as tight as they are, the kind of development that would draw people to the riverfront and put it on a par with St. Louis or New Orleans would most likely require a sizable private investment smack dab in the historic Promenade. This is where the so-called Overton heirs, reportedly divided into five distinct family-oriented factions from coast to coast, would have to be brought in on the deal.

The project is fraught with legal complications, and there are numerous parties that will have to be brought together with the common goal in mind of fulfilling the founders' long-delayed dream.

But some of the city's brightest, most ambitious and civic-minded people, including Benny Lendermon, Kristi Jernigan and John Stokes, are on the case. Everybody grab your partner and promenade.

Copyright 2000, - Memphis, TN.

Sunday, May 21, 2000

On the Memphis Waterfront: Master Plan Must Account for What the Founders Wanted: A Public Promenade

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

A mile of uninterrupted Mississippi River vistas and space to stroll it - such was the vision of the men who bought the edge of the Fourth Chickasaw bluff and drew Memphis on it in 1819.

They labeled the land west of Front from Union north to Jackson as a "public promenade" called Mississippi Row, while declaring the area north of Jackson, where the river ran deep and close to the bluff, as "public landing" for navigation or trade. They relinquished all claim to the land "now and forever" for themselves and their heirs, for as long as the public use continued.

More than 180 years later, the riverfront is very different from the slippery mud bank on which stood founders John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson. The open space never was developed with the pastoral charm they apparently envisioned.

Still, the Promenade's blocks west of Front Street from Auction to Beale are by far the prime land on Memphis's waterfront.

(Click here to see a map of the area.)

Despite the fact that legal battles have shrunk the Promenade area by half, the spectacular location guarantees that new uses for the Promenade are a top goal of the new nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC). One caveat: The founders' terms dictate that the city would lose the land (it would revert to the founders' heirs) if a nonpublic use was allowed.

With that in mind, the RDC board will hire a consulting team later this week to begin a master plan for development and management of the 5-mile Memphis riverfront, including the Promenade.

"It about acts as a wall to the river," said John Stokes, vice chairman of Morgan Keegan and chairman of the public-private RDC, which was formed by Mayor Willie Herenton's riverfront development task force earlier this year.

"We don't think that property right now is doing the downtown or the riverfront much good. If we could come up with a plan that would please the Overton heirs, that would also be good for Memphis, that's what we ought to do."

-- -- --
The new town on the Mississippi River had "wide and spacious" streets, a number of alleys, four public squares "and between the front lots and the river, is an ample vacant space, reserved as a promenade; all of which must contribute very much to the health and comfort of the place, as well as to its security and ornament."

So said Overton in his advertisement for Memphis, published in 1820. The city was founded on May 22, 1819, and incorporated in 1826; the Public Promenade was dedicated for public use in 1828.

Historians call Overton, a judge and businessman who lived southeast of Nashville, the most active of the absentee proprietors of Memphis and the one who planned and directed most of the work of the partners' agents in the river town.

Although he became reputedly the wealthiest man in Tennessee, the slow-moving Memphis investment, which cost Overton about $5,000 in 1794, largely benefited his descendants. Altogether, heirs to the Memphis land are called "Overton heirs" and number between 200 and 300.

Today, land that city founders called the Promenade is still mostly used for public purposes. On it are the historic cobblestone landing, two parks and the ticketing and monorail entrance for Mud Island River Park, three public parking garages, a bit of Memphis Cook Convention Center, the Tennessee Welcome Center and its parking area, a forest of redwood-size concrete columns supporting Interstate 40 ramps and roadways, Memphis Fire Department Headquarters, Cossitt Branch Library and the U.S. Post Office in the historic Custom House.

The only business operating on privately owned land in the area is Lone Star Industries. Its dozen silos, towering due west of the new Performing Arts Center under construction, ship 400,000 tons of cement to concrete makers annually.

In the "public landing" area north of Jackson are The Pyramid arena and its sea of parking, the offices and boats of the U.S. Coast Guard's Lower Mississippi River group and a long grassy strip along the Wolf River, running behind old businesses and vacant lots to Saffarans Street.

Herenton has asked longtime Memphis real estate developer and Overton heir Robert G. Snowden to try to represent his large, extended family in discussions about changing the Promenade. The effort is just beginning.

"That's the basis that we are working on now, to try to be able to speak with some authority and then have the family be willing to accept and do whatever was necessary and required to make it work," said Snowden, chairman of Wilkinson & Snowden Inc., developers of shopping, housing and industrial properties. In the past, each of the five groups of the family was asked to elect a spokesman, Snowden said. In addition, the trust departments at First Tennessee and National Bank of Commercehave close involvement in the property and would be very active in the complicated legal discussion, Snowden said.

"Whatever we do should be best for the city," Snowden said. ". . . But a city is a changing thing. . . . If we're going to have a great city, which we do have, we have to change and meet those changing conditions."

Soon after World War II, Snowden and some other business people met several times on the riverfront to talk about developing old warehouse properties for the booming postwar housing market. They gagged at the stench of sewage dumped into the Mississippi at several points, and mosquitoes swarmed.

"Now I don't think there's a nicer area to live," Snowden said. "It has a view, has everything. Now everybody is looking to develop every square inch of it, so we've got a big decision to make, and not an easy one."

-- -- --
Legal squabbles about what to do with the land go back at least 165 years, but the Promenade remained free of buildings until after the Civil War.

From the beginning, the needs of commerce and transportation ate into the Promenade's space: first riverboats, then railroads, interstate highways, automobile parking and trolley lines.

Farmers camped on the open bluff after hauling bales of cotton on wagons pulled by oxen, horses and mules.

Riverboats nosed in to shore to unload goods and load the Delta's bounty.

Between 1844 and 1886, hefty limestone and granite cobblestones from the upper Midwest were laid to form what is today the largest intact river landing in existence, honored with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

A court in 1834 ruled the city could do what it wanted with the land and cautioned that the Promenade should never be a deterrent to progress.

Through the 1830s, the river deposited new land at the foot of Market, and Memphians added dirt and rubbish to it.

When John D. Martin, W. D. Dabney and James D. Ruffin laid claim to 173 acres that had grown out into the river, the city sued them. The claims were settled in 1844 in what is called the Batture Compromise: Alluvial land north of Market (between Exchange and Winchester) was given to the city, and that south of Market was put in the hands of a trustee, Seth Wheatley, who was to sell the land and divide proceeds among the city, proprietors and heirs and the businessmen.

The city quickly sold its northern portion to the federal government for $20,000 for use as a Navy Yard, but the only ship built in the yard failed to float. In 1852, Congress ceded the yard back to the city, and it began a series of private ownerships that ended with construction of The Pyramid arena there by city and county governments in 1991.

The arena property is owned by the Public Building Authority, while the vast parking area is simply listed as city owned.

Lone Star's cement plant is on Batture Compromise land that became privately owned.

An 1856 editorial in a local newspaper endorsed a proposition to lease or sell the Promenade for about $700,000. "As it is, it is more than useless," the newspaper declared. But an alderman's motion to dispose of the land was defeated in 1857.

Civil War veterans began raising money for the first ambitious project for the land around 1870, when they proposed a Roman forum with benches for thousands of spectators, on the riverfront from Union to Monroe, as a memorial for the war's dead and wounded. Aldermen named the site Monument Square, but local militia companies that had leased the land for drill grounds refused to let go.

Then in 1876 the U.S. government was given part of the Promenade at the foot of Madison for a Customs House, which also housed the post office and federal courts. The building today is the only structure on the Promenade listed on the National Register.

City leaders, eager to lure railroads, in 1881 leased part of the Promenade for a depot and railroad tracks. Casey Jones began his fateful trip to Mississippi from there. More rail leases followed until, by 1973, 22 miles of track threaded through Memphis's riverfront.

In 1888, part of the Promenade at the foot of Monroe was set aside for a castle-like structure called Cossitt Library. A splendid red sandstone building was dedicated Dec. 14, 1892 and it was expanded in 1906 when it also housed a museum. In the late 1960s, after decades of humidity had weakened the sandstone, the original "castle" building was torn down and a new louvered section was added on the Front Street side.

In 1889, the Fire Department headquarters was built on the northwest corner at Union and Front. By the time a new two-level concrete, steel and glass structure was built in 1967, fire officials had begun to fear a collapse.

Seeing the city give up parts of their desired memorial grounds, the Confederates gave up on the river bluff and used their funds to erect a monument in Elmwood Cemetery.

A few years later, the young Memphis Park Commission established Confederate Park beside the Customs House on bluff-top acres citizens had used as a dump. Thick stone walls held new soil in place. By 1908 the park was winning national prizes for civic improvement, with its big flower bed forming the design of the rebel battle flag and Civil War cannon at the bluff's edge. Neither the flag nor the Civil War cannons are there anymore; the current cannons are from World War II.

In 1930, a new park on 2.4 acres along the water's edge below Confederate Park was dedicated to Jefferson Davis.By the 1950s, America's love affair with the automobile demanded more space. The city built two concrete parking garages on the Promenade.

The first, recently named the Riverfront Garage by the Downtown Parking Authority (DPA), was built in 1954 at Monroe and Front, beside the fire station on the last bit of old Chickasaw Park. It belongs to the city, is operated by the DPA, a part of the Memphis Center City Commission, and managed under contract by Allright Central.

The second, Shoppers Garage, was built in 1957 by a Californian between Jefferson and Adams. He pays the city $458.33 a month for his property lease that expires in 2009. DPA would then take full control, and all revenues would come to the city. Allright Central also manages Shoppers.

In 1973, city engineer Robert A. Fosnaugh proposed a 16-lane Riverside expressway to connect the old and new bridges. It would take the Promenade parking lot behind City Hall then run along the top of the bluff generally along the railroad tracks, leaving a strip about 160 feet wide for parkland.

On the other end of the public service spectrum, Rudolph Jones, a consultant to the county conservation board, recommended purchase of 11 acres on the bluff for a 12-foot wide hiking trail from Confederate Park to Harahan Bridge.

Fosnaugh's concept never materialized. But Bluffwalk through downtown opened last year to complete much of Jones's vision.

Developers, consultants and planners through the 1970s proposed, but never funded, massive projects for the river bluff. A "New Promenade" concept would have relied on urban renewal methods to assemble large parcels of property for redevelopment in 18 square blocks in the central business district. A project called the Promenade Gateway in 1975 offered developers the chance to build apartments on the promenade if legal problems were resolved. The project never materialized.

Today, downtown workers and visitors park in vast numbers on the original Promenade. Drivers can slip into large city-metered paved lots, the uneven and unmetered cobblestone landing and three public parking garages.

Travelers also pull into the Tennessee Welcome Center on the river's edge where statues of Elvis Presley and B. B. King stand indoors. The center opened in 1996. From there to The Pyramid and Auction is an asphalt field for parking, below Interstate 40 and its ramps.

-- -- --
Consultants who studied Main Street Mall this winter for the Center City Commission proposed relocating the downtown library and Front Street post office onto Court Square. The historic properties then could become a fine arts high school, museum or other facility, they said.

Current occupants had mixed reactions to the idea. Don Marshall, Memphis postmaster for two years, said the Customs House is almost fully occupied by 100-150 Postal Service employees.

"There are no plans right now for us to even think about vacating that building," Marshall said. "We own that building. If we moved, we'd have to lease space."

Judith Drescher, director of the Public Library and Information Center, was pleased with the mall consultants' idea to make a branch library part of a proposed renovation of Court Square and its surrounding buildings. She's eager to move from the decrepit Cossitt building, where street people used the front fountain as a bathtub and vandals twice beheaded the fountain's sculptured reader.

To modernize and renovate Cossitt's 80,000 square feet as a mixed-use property was estimated to cost up to $6 million 10 years ago. Librarians use only one-eighth of it.

All Drescher wants is 25,000-30,000 square feet, on one level, to serve downtown workers: "We need someone who would renovate an entire building and let us use the bottom for a branch library."

Mall planners didn't reach to the fire station on Front, but the Riverfront Development Corp. probably will. The station is on a parcel that was the subject of a Promenade lawsuit in the early 1960s, when the city negotiated to lease or sell the property to local investors who wanted to construct a hotel. Mid-South Title Co. refused to insure the city's claim. The city went to court.

A chancellor ruled the city held title to the land. The court of appeals reversed him, and was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1965. The upper courts ruled that the heirs held title, so the city could not agree to a private use.

Fire Department Deputy Director J. C. Fleming said fire officials have met with no one to discuss a move and have begun no study for a new site for the station, which also is home to the department's top brass. "This land only belongs to us as long as a fire station is on it," said Fleming.

-- -- --
Under the leadership of Stokes, Memphis Redbirds Foundation co-founder Kristi Jernigan and former Public Works director Benny Lendermon, the Riverfront Development Corp. is negotiating with the city to take management and development control of the public waterfront from Wolf River on the north to Chickasaw Heritage Park and Indian Mounds on the south.

Later this week the RDC board will select a consulting team to hold public hearings and devise a master plan for development of Memphis's riverfront over the next 10-15 years. In coming weeks, the board is expected to approve a contractor for the $4.5 million Cobblestone Walkway project delayed more than three years by the minority contractors' lawsuit against the city.

A walkway 14 feet wide and 2,000 feet long will link Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center with Tom Lee Park along the western edge of Riverside Drive. A plaza at the foot of Union will overlook the harbor.

The UrbanArt Commission is overseeing selection of artists or architects to design three shade structures along the Cobblestone Walkway. Proposals are due Sept. 1.

By fall, a local design and engineering team should complete plans for a $3.3. million redesign of Riverside Drive aimed at slowing traffic and enabling pedestrians to reach the river. Headed by architect Frank Ricks of Looney Ricks Kiss, the team includes PDR Engineers Inc. and landscape architects Ritchie Smith Associates. The project will construct a 6- to 10-foot-wide median to be heavily landscaped, to narrow and slow traffic on the four-lane route.

At the extreme south end, brick pavers, landscaping and signs will alert drivers that they are entering a new environment. RDC would like to have the cobblestone and Riverside Drive projects "substantially completed" by Memphis in May 2001, Lendermon said.

The RDC board has no specific dream for the Promenade land, Lendermon said, but is convinced that the area is a barrier separating the riverfront from downtown.

"We just would like to explore the possibility of some type of development that would knit the riverfront to downtown," he said. "Whether it's totally public, whether it's mixed use, whether it's development that's in partnership with the Overtons, we don't know."

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Map of the Public Promenade and Landing

Reproduced below is a scan of the map that accompanied the Commercial Appeal article on May 21, 2000. The dotted line purports to show the historical boundaries of the land that was dedicated by the City proprietors.

Map of the Public Promenade and Public Landing

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Guest Editorial: For Park Commission

Commercial Appeal
Letter to the Editor
By Fred L. Davis, Member Memphis Park Commission

The Memphis City Council is about to pass on an ordinance that would dismantle the Park Commission. Why does the council want to do this?

Is the commission doing too good a job of keeping politics out of its operations? Is it serving too many diverse needs? If that is the case, the council should state which needs the commission should stop serving. The commission's 100-year history is free of scandals and investigations.

Or does the council have so much free time that it needs another project? I'm at a loss.

The commission was created to manage and preserve the city's most precious natural resources, and to provide a buffer between them and politics. Some of the city's most capable citizens have served as its chairman, including Abe Plough, Bert Ferguson, John D. Martin, William Wolbrecht and John Maxwell.

The commission made enormous progress under John Malmo, who resigned as chairman last June. It spent $200,000 and 2 1/2 years developing a 20-year capital facilities plan, which the City Council approved. If there was any fault with Malmo's service, it was not showing proper deference to the council's ego.

Perhaps its seamless operation has led Memphians to take the commission for granted, and led the council to conclude that anyone can do the commission's work. The commission does not exist just to oversee parks, playgrounds and community centers and provide after-school and summer activities for children. It is also custodian of Memphis's art, recreational and cultural jewels - the Memphis Zoo, the Pink Palace, Lichterman Nature Center and the Goldsmith Civic Garden Center among them.

The commission does not directly manage every facility for which it is responsible, but it does have budget, planning and policy oversight. These responsibilities require decision makers who have acquired these skills in other areas and are willing to share their expertise with the city.

Memphis needs the Park Commission now more than ever.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Friday, April 21, 2000

Park Board Approvals May Be Last

Commercial Appeal
by Wayne Risher

The Memphis Park Commission board conducted minor business Thursday in what may have been the last meeting in its nearly 100-year history.

After a 70-minute delay waiting for a third member to show up to make the meeting official, the board approved a lease agreement for Gagliano and Sowell baseball fields and an adult baseball program entry fee.

The City Council has scheduled a final reading Tuesday on an ordinance abolishing the Park Commission board and replacing it with an advisory board.

Council members have complained that the board is an unnecessary layer of government and unresponsive to public needs.

Park board supporters have decried the council move as an attempt to politicize the city's parks and recreation system.

Board members Fred Davis and Peggy Seessel waited more than an hour past the board's scheduled 1 p.m. meeting time Thursday for the third member, George Jones.

The five-member board, which needs three members to transact business, lost member Rob Baird and chairman John Malmo to resignations last year, and they weren't replaced.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Wednesday, April 05, 2000

New Agency to Take Bids for Riverside Walkway, Plaza

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

The Riverfront Development Corp. will take bids in two weeks for a long-delayed cobblestone walkway and plaza on Riverside Drive.

The new nonprofit organization will contract with the city to spend $4.1 million that the City Council appropriated for the project more than three years ago.

The goal is to begin construction at the end of the Memphis in May International Festival and be done before the 2001 festival starts, said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The city's Riverfront Steering Committee, appointed by Mayor Willie Herenton, officially became the RDC Tuesday when its members became the RDC board of directors and approved its bylaws.

"This marks the beginning, hopefully, of a wonderful time with the river," said RDC incorporator and chairman John Stokes.

RDC leaders are pushing to make the cobblestone walkway their first success as they take charge of management and development of Memphis's 5-mile waterfront.

A minority contractors' lawsuit stopped the original cobblestones project after its designs were approved in early 1997.

The Pickering Firm designed the 10-foot-wide walkway to wind from Jefferson Davis Park and the Tennessee Welcome Center to Tom Lee Park on the western edge of Riverside Drive.

Ritchie Smith Associates designed the $400,000 Ron Terry Plaza funded by First Tennessee Bank to overlook the river on the cobblestones near the foot of Union. Terry was the bank's longtime chairman.

Lendermon said the new bid should be free of the lawsuit's concerns that arose when the city rejected the low bidder.

On Tuesday, Stokes named steering committee members to the RDC board and introduced voting ex officio members: Pete Aviotti Jr. to represent Herenton, Councilman John Vergos to represent the City Council chairman, and chief administrative officer Rick Masson.

Aviott, a Herenton adviser, also chairs the mayor's light rail planning committee and the Super Terminal-Memphis Steering Committee.

Other RDC members are Redbirds co-founder Kristi Jernigan, vice chairman; Plough Foundation executive director Rick Haynes, treasurer; former University of Tennessee, Memphis, chancellor James C. Hunt, secretary; architect Diane Dixon, hotel operator Mabra Holeyfield and TVA official Bill Taylor.Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford and Public Works deputy director Cindy Buchanan were named nonvoting ex officio members.

Fred Davis, a member of the Memphis Park Commission who had been a steering committee member, has said he will join the RDC board only if the park commission survives current City Council actions to eliminate it, Lendermon said.

An RDC nominating committee will seek three to five additional members "with a real love for the river" from the private sector, Stokes said. New members would fill gaps on the board with expertise in areas such as law, marketing and individual philanthropy, said Jernigan.

The RDC will issue requests for proposals for a riverfront master plan on April 14. A firm will be selected on May 24.

Lendermon said he was encouraged by the interest shown by major firms in a recent request for qualifications that was distributed internationally. Some have worked on major waterfront redevelopment projects.

"But the key is to get the person who is best for Memphis. Memphis is different. Memphis is unique," said Lendermon, who retired as city Public Works director to head the new nonprofit RDC.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Tuesday, April 04, 2000

RDC Board Meetings - 2000

Here are the RDC Board of Directors meeting minutes for the entire year 2000 (year of inception), scanned into a single PDF file. The first, organizational meeting occured on April 4, 2000.

Click here to download the PDF file [1.7 MB]

Monday, February 07, 2000

RDC Corporate Charter

Here is the Charter for the Riverfront Development Corporation [PDF, 159 KB], signed January 29, 2000, by John Stokes and filed February 7 with the State of Tennessee.

Thursday, January 27, 2000

Editorial: Park Commission / Citizen Body Still Has Place in City Government

Commercial Appeal

MEMPHIANS are still waiting for the City Council to offer a good reason to abolish the Park Commission. Yet the effort has gathered momentum again, with the likely passage of an ordinance that would shift control of 10 riverfront parks, Mud Island River Park, the cobblestones and the historic promenade from the Park Commission to the mayor and City Council.

A council committee will consider a more ominous proposal next Tuesday: creating a department of city government to handle parks and recreation affairs, eliminating the Park Commission once and for all.

This time the council is launching a strike against the commission over the latter's plan to demolish the old Melrose High School building to make way for a senior citizens' center in Orange Mound. Leaders of the council movement to dump the commission insist it has arisen not from a personality conflict, but from a need to streamline the park system.

Council members also argue that the commission has shown a lack of political sensitivity on issues that usually end up in their laps. In fact, the Park Commission simply made its best judgment of what to do about Melrose and appropriately presented its case to the ultimate authority: the City Council.

The council and the commission have been through this before. The commission recommends a course of action on, say, a proposal to lease some land in Martin Luther King Jr./Riverside Park, or to build a senior citizens' center in Overton Park, or to convert Confederate Park to a monument to cancer survivors. Or perhaps it plays whatever cards it has in its deck to delay something the council wants, such as buying Whitehaven Country Club.

Its tactics occasionally prompt council members to dredge up the hoary proposal to abolish the commission. In 1996 the council created a 10-member advisory panel to study the idea. The group recommended leaving the commission alone. Earlier that year, a City Council funding moratorium on park projects temporarily set park operations on their ear.

This time the council will succeed in dumping the commission, predicts Mayor Willie Herenton, who isn't publicly taking sides on the issue. But the mayor's current agenda, which involves more direct City Hall involvement in schools, day care centers and the Head Start program, would suggest that he wouldn't mind a more direct hand in park operations as well.

An updated legal interpretation of the City Charter holds that the council has the power to get rid of the five-member commission. The Park Commission's defenders, such as Fred Davis, the mayor's nominee to succeed John Malmo as its chairman, hold that only the voters can eliminate the commission because the authority to create it is embedded in the charter.

Whether that interpretation eventually holds up, abolishing the Park Commission is a bad idea. The level of autonomy delegated to the commission to operate city parks provides a necessary buffer between the parks and politics, and a check against their potential degradation as part of a spoils system.

Besides, Park Commission members, who serve without pay, have shown that they can be a useful source of expertise.

COUNCIL members can, and should, continue to make careful and deliberate reviews of Park Commission decisions. And they can support Memphis parks with an adequate budget.

The $20 million annual tax-funded portion of the parks and recreation operating budget has not grown appreciably in 15 years. If council members truly want to do something to improve Memphis parks, a fresh look at the money they allocate to park upkeep would be a better place to start.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Plan Would Give Mayor, Council Authority Over 5-Mile Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

City officials will propose an ordinance next month to give the mayor and City Council control of 10 riverfront parks, Mud Island River Park, the cobblestones and the historic promenade.

The council and mayor would then contract with a new nonprofit group - the Riverfront Development Corp. - to develop, promote and operate the city's 5-mile waterfront.

The new ordinance would amend one that gives the Memphis Park Commission control of all parks and end a turf battle stirred up when the riverfront steering committee sought authority over the riverfront parks a few months ago.

The committee, appointed by Mayor Willie Herenton last year, chartered the nonprofit in November in order to raise corporate and foundation funding and speed up riverfront development.

Both the ordinance and contract could have council approval by late March, Public Works director Benny Lendermon told the steering committee Tuesday. Lendermon will retire from city government to become executive director of the RDC later this year.

"We're real happy and plan to keep the council informed and involved, as well as the mayor," said John Stokes, committee chairman. "We're happy about dealing directly with the council."

Committee leaders did not want to seek approval for their ideas from both the Park Commission board and the City Council, Stokes said. "None of us are interested in wasting time."

City Council member John Vergos, a riverfront committee member, said he expects no difficulty among council members about carving the riverfront parks from the park system.

"They still are city parks . . . We can get them back anytime."

Herenton explained his support for the plan last weekend in a council retreat, Lendermon said. The mayor also alerted council members that his city budget proposal will include $250,000 to help pay RDC's operating costs.

At the same planning session, council members told Herenton the Memphis Park Commission has outlived its usefulness and should be dismantled. Council member Tom Marshall pledged to hold hearings within a month to determine the commission's fate.

Lendermon, Stokes and riverfront committee vice chairman Kristi Jernigan have met with a half-dozen council members and will meet with the remainder to discuss the committee's goals.

"There was no disagreement expressed by those (at the retreat) or from those we met with since" about the parks proposal or operating funds, Lendermon said.

Herenton has committed the estimated $1.5 million in city funds used to operate and maintain the riverfront to the RDC. As the new organization identifies and pursues specific projects, its leaders would seek approval and funding for each from the City Council.

Stokes, Lendermon and Jernigan will ask the Plough Foundation board in February for $250,000 a year for three years for administrative costs.

A year ago, the Plough group provided $19,000 to support a series of public sessions to discuss riverfront objectives.

Jernigan is negotiating a possible location for RDC in the Falls Building.

Parkway Properties, which manages the building, also is developing the historic William R. Moore building and a new garage for AutoZone Park, in a deal made by Jernigan and her husband, Dean, co-founders of the Memphis Redbirds and the foundation that is building AutoZone Park.

The company is considering giving the new organization the space at cost.

"They're great people, and even though they're based in Jackson, they want to be part of this community, and I want to give them some credit for that," Jernigan said.

The committee will apply for federal Economic Development Administration funds to support a master plan and public hearing process that will cost $250,000 or more, Lendermon said.

Copyright 2000 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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