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



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