Sunday, November 18, 2001

Aim of Reshaping Harbor is New Land, Not Man-Made Lake

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Wolf Lake would replace much of Memphis's Wolf River Harbor in the Riverfront Development Corp.'s vision for reshaping the waterfront.

Five grain or cement businesses, the Coast Guard, two marinas and Mud Island River Park would be displaced or relocated at an unknown cost.

But the lake is not the goal, planners say. Money is.

About 50 acres of new land, created by filling in a portion of the harbor to Mud Island River Park, would generate money by being leased to developers for public and private projects.

That income would let the RDC finance projects to reach its real goal: drawing people to the Mississippi River.

Studies of how other cities paid for waterfront projects, from Portland to New York and Cincinnati, showed that controlling land that could be developed was key to having money for parks, greenbelts and other public spaces, said RDC chairman John Stokes.

"We don't think we can accomplish what we're trying to do without the land bridge," Stokes said. "We're trying to give Memphis and this region access to the real river ... but if somebody can give us a better idea, I want to hear it."

The nonprofit RDC, borne from Mayor Willie Herenton's riverfront task force, calls its vision a 30-year or even 50-year plan.

However, boaters and environmentalists are alarmed that years could pass while officials do nothing to upgrade the harbor's water quality.

And beyond the estimated $75 million construction cost of the land bridge, the RDC could face paying cement makers Lone Star Industries and Lafarge Corp., Bunge North America and Cargill Inc. grain terminals, molasses shipper Westway Terminal Co. and the Coast Guard to move off the harbor's east shore.

The land bridge would take seven years to build north from Adams to Poplar. After another three years, it would be stable enough to build on.

Poplar, Jefferson and Adams would continue across the new land toward the Mississippi River. A pedestrian bridge would connect to Mud Island from Union Avenue.

Water south of the land bridge would remain a harbor for tour boats with a marina for private boats.

Water north of it would become a 150-acre lake that might require new pumping technology to regulate depth.

In 1999, the RDC took on the task of managing and developing Memphis's 12-mile waterfront, from the north end of Mud Island to the three bridges south of downtown.
Its massive masterplan would work in phases. The RDC board hopes to take a plan to the City Council for review early next year.

"The purpose of people on the board ... is to create a world-class, wonderful, dynamite riverfront for the city and region and state here in Memphis, Tenn.," Stokes said.

In addition to the land bridge, the masterplan proposes a landing at the foot of Beale Street for large riverboats; preservation of the historic cobblestones; and redevelopment of Mud Island River Park and the blufftop blocks on the west side of Front Street. Consultants are still computing cost estimates.

While the RDC begins "doing projects that work whether there's a land bridge or not," issues of timing and real costs of the land bridge will be further explored, said Benny Lendermon, RDC president.

The city's original riverport, with its historic cobblestone landing, was partially enclosed over time by the river's creation of Mud Island and was shut off at its north end after World War II by the Corps of Engineers.

Development of McKellar Lake Harbor and Presidents Island industrial area south of downtown supplanted the old harbor in the 1950s.

Wolf River Harbor today accounts for less than 10 percent of the river tonnage in Memphis, which is the second largest port on the lower Mississippi, behind St. Louis.

Of 16.61 million tons handled here in 1999 (the latest year for which figures are available), 1.21 million tons came out of the downtown harbor, mostly in grains, cement and soybeans.

The rest moved through McKellar Lake, in the West Memphis Harbor or at Fullen Dock and Warehouse at the mouth of the Wolf River north of downtown.

Phillipe de Laperouse, director of business development for Bunge North America Inc., said the lake plan "would put us out of business at that location."

Farmers from Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi haul their harvest to the Bunge, Cargill and Westway terminals on North Second. Barges are loaded overnight to carry the soybeans, corn, soft red winter wheat and other products to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

"We're leasing from the city, so we're not in a position to say what we would do if we found ourselves forced out," said de Laperouse.

The Coast Guard cutter would require a new Memphis port, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Lopez, commanding officer of the Lower Mississippi Group. Its crew and the staff in command of them and five other cutters that maintain navigation aids from Cairo, Ill., to Baton Rouge, La., are housed beside the Auction Avenue bridge on land owned by the federal government.

Lopez's superior officer has made clear that if the land bridge is built, "we have to be physically relocated," Lopez said, so the Coast Guard would "explore with the (RDC) here the financial issues to do that."

RDC has had "very little" conversation with harbor businesses and Coast Guard officials because the plan has not been formally adopted and the land bridge construction could be years away, Lendermon said.

"Long-term we think there're better locations for that activity," Lendermon said.
The area is being rezoned in the Uptown Redevelopment Plan for North Memphis because planners for it and the RDC "came to the conclusion that you would never redevelop that area with industrial users remaining," Lendermon said.

"If the community as a whole wants industry to remain in the harbor long term, over the next 30 years, then our efforts to do anything in that area, including Uptown - we ought to stop," Lendermon said.

City officials have talked for more than two years about how to address the stormwater runoff and water quality problems, said public works director Jerry Collins.

It's littered with Styrofoam, plastic and metal each time rain washes street litter through the massive stormwater system that drains below the city and into the harbor.

"We certainly have continual battles to try to raise the consciousness of people so they will not litter," Collins said. The city also has tried to increase street-cleanings.

City engineers have studied automated, self-cleaning bar screen systems for the huge drain pipes that are part of the pumping system to keep the city from flooding.
The harbor would require larger, more expensive screens due to the pumping system. If it is replaced in the transition to a stillwater lake regulated by gravity, less expensive screens could be used. While officials wait to know the RDC's plans, Collins said, funding for the screens is in city budgets "four or five years down the way."

Boaters and environmentalists worry that the uncertainty of the lake plan will delay the screens too much.

"I would like to see a fallback position where we take care of the harbor as it is,'' said kayaker Joe Royer, president of Outdoors Inc. and a member of the Tennessee Environmental Council. "I don't want to wait 30 years for the 'big plan' to take care of our water."

Don Richardson, local chairman of the Sierra Club, said the chemical content of sediment in the harbor also should be examined and considered as the lake is studied.

And if a lake is created, Richardson said, the upper harbor area should remain undeveloped where red fox and cranes can congregate.

"On what other riverfront in America can you see an animal associated with wilderness doing their thing?" Richardson asked. "Open space and land can be extremely valuable ... without having some kind of cell tower or building on it."

Under the Riverfront Development Corp.'s masterplan, the lower riverport for the Coast Guard Group and its cutter the Kankakee would have to relocate. Joshua Feeler cleans the Kankakee's radar device.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

River towns reconnect with waterfront potential

Christian Science Monitor
By Craig Savoye

MEMPHIS, TENN. - For decades, this city on the banks of the Mississippi, like an estranged child, grew apart from Old Man River.

Even in prosperous times, smokestack industries and their effluent made the riverfront and the waterway itself unattractive places to visit. Then, in the 1950s and '60s, factories started fading, further dispiriting riverfront neighborhoods. A highway completed the segregation of land and water.

But at the dawn of a new century, this nearly 200-year-old city is trying to reconnect to its riverfront, abetted by a public-private partnership that will evolve a sweeping plan of grand civic spaces and commercial development grounded in aesthetics and environmentalism.

"The interest in this is huge," says Benny Lendermon, who heads an independent agency overseeing riverfront redevelopment. "We've done a lot of meetings on this - and I've done public meetings all my life - and we have yet to have a room with enough seats. People show up because they truly love the river."

From California to New England, cities are re-engaging with their rivers. Last month, Pittsburgh's Riverlife Task Force unveiled a sweeping plan for Three Rivers Park, a makeover of 10 miles of riverfront along the banks of the city's three intersecting waterways. Cincinnati's $1 billion riverfront redevelopment effort is starting to gather steam: A second municipal stadium is being completed, and work may soon begin on a National Underground Railroad museum, a 52-acre park, and highway and parking reconfiguration.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are also transforming their riverfronts. So is Sacramento. Hartford and Louisville are beginning Phase 2 of their efforts. And the phenomenon is not limited to large cities. Omaha and Peoria are redeveloping their riverfronts. Augusta, Maine, tore down a dam several years ago and is redeveloping along the banks of its rediscovered river.

"It's a booming trend," says Betsy Otto, director of the Community Rivers Program at American Rivers in Washington. "In many of these cities, the reason for their founding is their location on the river. By reconnecting to what makes them unique, they are reviving themselves and their identity."

The riverfront redevelopment has been driven by a number of intersecting trends. The final demise of industry along riverfronts has freed up land, the Clean Water Act has helped revive polluted rivers and made them once again attractive to recreation, and a booming economy throughout the '90s fed civic dreams of reinvention.

Now, however, the nation's economy is reeling, and cities are trying to trim budgets. The new economic realities may slow redevelopment efforts, though it's unlikely that those already under way would be scuttled midstream. But cities still in the planning stages, such as Kansas City, may find themselves taking a hard look at new expenditures.

Here in Memphis, the "final" riverfront redevelopment plan is expected to go public after the New Year. The project will include a wide land bridge out to nearby Mud Island, new residential units, commercial space, marinas, acres of parks, and a landing for tourist paddle-wheel boats.

While design specifics of riverfront rebirth vary by city, several guiding principles of the Memphis plan come close to being universal. One is that water's edge belongs to the public. In Memphis, the goal is to have all five miles of river's edge in the redevelopment area under public control.

Having streets flow down to meet the river is another popular consideration. In Memphis, not a single downtown boulevard currently extends to the water; they dead-end either into a building or parking garage.

In general, riverfront redevelopment plans nationwide benefit from - and perhaps would not exist without - a transformation in thinking about aesthetics over the past two decades, according to experts. Once viewed as an expensive luxury, aesthetics are now seen as a critical design component that drives economic development.

"There was a time when people thought you had to pack every square inch with concrete and steel to get the most gross leasable square footage," says Jack Rouse, who owns a design firm in Cincinnati and also chairs that city's redevelopment advisory agency. "That turned out not to be a very good model. It's the parks and amenities and fountains and walkways that really do drive economic development and underlying real-estate values."

The same holds true for environmental considerations, some experts say. "People want to get down and see the river and see natural habitat - in addition to having walkways and festivals and restaurants and everything else," says Ms. Otto.

Riverfront redevelopment is also seen as a partial antidote to suburban sprawl. Memphis now enjoys one of the highest rates of urban repopulation in the US - with new residents snatching up renovated apartments and loft space as soon as it comes on the market. Riverfront redevelopment is expected to fuel continued demand and further anchor the downtown area.

One of the keys to riverfront rebirth is often the establishment of a quasi-private nonprofit agency that's shielded from politics and bureaucratic entanglement. That is the model in Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Memphis.

In Memphis, it is hoped that $300 million in public spending over a decade or more will be matched by $600 million in funding from developers. "At the end of the day, it's all about getting development into the hands of an organization that runs in a true public-private partnership mode, as opposed to development being at the whim of politicians and elections," says Mr. Rouse.

Despite current financial woes, and a lack of success in certain cities that had attempted redevelopment, such as Toledo, optimism runs deep in many river cities.

"My level of confidence could not possibly be higher than it is," says John Stokes, chairman of the Memphis redevelopment agency. "The right people are involved in this thing, the design is a good one, and the people of Memphis are behind it. Now is the time."

Friday, November 09, 2001

Mud Island property purchase finalized; Developer buys Mud Island property

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Sue Pease

Local developer Kevin Hyneman finalized the purchase of 21 acres on Mud Island, bringing plans to build on the vacant land closer to reality and continuing to raise questions about the property, which lies in the heart of the Downtown riverfront.

According to a special warranty deed filed in the Shelby County Registers Office, Kevin Hyneman Cos. bought the land from Echelon Residential LLC for $2.5 million Oct. 26.

A related trust deed also was filed in the registers office, with a lien on the real estate for $2.6 million.

While Hyneman, an independent developer, now owns the land, the property sits among the Downtown riverfront area, between the Mississippi and Wolf rivers. It would fall within the boundaries of a publicly initiated master plan, which might affect the way the property is developed.

At this point, Hyneman said he is still uncertain of what he will build on the property.

Hopefully, well be doing something the city will be proud of, he said.

Before the land purchase was finalized, Hyneman said he had discussions with the Riverfront Development Corp. Both groups considered a joint venture, but a decision wasnt agreed upon.

We went to the RDC for a proposal for a joint venture, and I think there is still an opportunity there, but I had contractual obligations so I had to close (on the property).

Of the 21 acres, about 14 usable acres are suitable for development, he said. It begins on the south side of Auction Street near the intersection of Island Drive.

Hyneman said discussions between both parties were positive. Regardless of whether a joint venture is realized, it would be developed with RDC input.

He said he is discussing a plan for the area with Atlanta-based Post Properties, in case plans dont materialize with the RDC.

In February 2000, the RDC was formed, backed by Mayor Willie Herenton, and given the task of redeveloping 12 miles along the Downtown riverfront.

The RDC, a public-private partnership, is creating a master plan for the waterfront with the help of consultants.

The board hopes Hynemans project will fit in with their plans.

Benny Lendermon, RDC president, said although the board had many discussions with Hyneman, a specific proposal hadnt materialized, but plans on both sides werent at different ends of the spectrum.

We don't think our goals, in both cases, are that different, he said.

Lendermon said types of uses the RDC would like to see would be similar to what is on the north side of the Auction Street Bridge.

Urban residential development, similar to Harbor Town, which increases in density closer to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, would be optimal in RDCs opinion, he said.

Mary Baker, Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development deputy director, said the area is currently zoned R-MM, multifamily, which allows 30 units per acre at a maximum height of 125 feet.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Down By the Riverside

The Riverfront Development Corporation prepares to sell its vision for Mud Island's future. Will Memphis buy it?

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then a process that could reshape downtown Memphis for the next 50 years begins next month when the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) starts selling its vision for a dramatically different riverfront.

Starting from public hearings and a mom-and-apple-pie vision statement of a "world-class riverfront" that "binds us together as a community," the RDC and its consultants have come up with a package of short-term (think 2002-2003) and long-term improvements (not soon, but probably well short of the RDC's ruffle-no-feathers 50-year horizon).

The final draft of the master plan will be approved within two months. But the rendering on these pages is generally state-of-the-art, although it shows buildings where there will not be buildings and omits a pedestrian bridge from the foot of Union Avenue to Mud Island. Prominent features of the plan include:
  • A massive land bridge connecting Mud Island to downtown and dividing the present slackwater harbor into a smaller harbor and a narrow 150-acre lake.
  • Extensive residential and commercial development on Mud Island River Park.
  • Preserving part of the park (mainly the southern end and river's edge) as public park.
  • Keeping the model of the Mississippi River in the park but getting rid of the amphitheater and possibly the monorail, while expanding the museum but putting it in a new building.
  • Saving prime space on the land bridge for a corporate headquarters in case some company wants to relocate from the suburbs or another city in the future.
  • A circular outdoor plaza and cruise-boat dock at the foot of Beale Street and the northern end of Tom Lee Park.
  • Relocation of all marinas and small-boat tie-ups to the southern end of the slackwater harbor next to the cobblestones, which would be shored up with a seawall.
  • Development of the public promenade known as the Overton Blocks which includes the fire station, post office, Cossitt Library, and parking garages.
The driving principle behind all of this: Make it pay. "There has to be something to pay for the infrastructure," says Benny Lendermon, president of the RDC. "We're trying to create three times as much private investment as public dollars. That gives enough payback."

Lendermon and Kristi Jernigan, vice chairman of the RDC, will start selling the plan in earnest next month. Among other things, this will test how well the tortoise-and-hare RDC partnership works, now that it has usurped the powers of the Memphis Park Commission in all riverfront matters. Lendermon comes from the public sector, where he served in city government for some two decades, viewing no less than 13 riverfront plans that came and went, by his count. He knows better than anyone that major parts of the plan need political and corporate support and funding, plus the blessing of regulators, preservationists, and the courts. Kristi and Dean Jernigan were the driving forces behind AutoZone Park, which went from concept to completion in three years and was praised in a feature article last week in The New York Times.

The picture that ran with the article was a reminder that downtown Memphis still has a ways to go. It showed AutoZone Park with the 30-story Sterick Building in the background. Few of the Times readers probably realized that the Sterick Building has been empty for years.

One reason the RDC plan will have more impact than its predecessors is that it builds on some work already funded and in progress. The low-hanging fruit includes the sidewalk next to Riverside Drive between Tom Lee Park and Jefferson Davis Park which has been under construction all summer. Eventually it will extend all the way to Mud Island, running along the west side of The Pyramid. Improvements are also underway to stabilize the cobblestones. The RDC also took away the admission charge to the grounds of Mud Island River Park this summer and plans to use Mud Island for more events, including this year's Blues Ball, previously held at The Peabody, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, and Central Station.

Other changes that are likely within a year or two include placing medians in Riverside Drive and lowering the speed limit, scheduling more activities at Tom Lee Park, and improving stairway connections from the bluffs to Tom Lee Park as well as the docking facility and plaza at the foot of Beale Street where it meets the river.

The more ambitious parts of the plan are the massive land bridge, the lake, the Overton Blocks, and the Mud Island makeover. Politics, a lack of public funding or private investment, regulatory or engineering problems, or failure to reach agreement with the Overton heirs could stall any or all of these indefinitely. But the opening of AutoZone Park and Peabody Place and the relocation of the NBA Grizzlies have created a feeling that all things are possible, at least in the minds of RDC officials.

"Now there is an implementer," says Lendermon.

The RDC, for example, is actively contacting and negotiating with the Overton heirs through the Baker Donelson Bearman and Caldwell law firm. Lendermon says that, contrary to newspaper reports, the RDC has "a productive working relationship" with brothers Kevin and Rusty Hyneman, who own a key piece of land on Mud Island between the two bridges. There are relatively few industries on the harbor compared to other places that RDC members visited, including Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and New York -- all cities that managed to start or complete waterfront redevelopments.

"The real issue now is defining costs and testing this with developers," says Jernigan.

For now the RDC is only looking for their expertise, not commitments. But Lendermon and Jernigan think there could be substantial progress on the land bridge and Overton Blocks in five to seven years. Those two projects alone would create prime sites for a major corporate headquarters -- something downtown hasn't landed since AutoZone moved to Front Street 10 years ago.

Here's a detailed look at specific parts of the riverfront plan, with comments by Lendermon and Jernigan.

Tom Lee Park

Memphis In May stays. So does the Beale Street Music Fest. "We'd like to think we could improve the layout and vegetation to accommodate more non-Memphis In May uses," says Lendermon. The park will get more seating, places for vendors, and connections to the stairways on the bluff.

"Next year we would like to look at programming Tom Lee Park more," says Jernigan. "Kind of like what Battery Park in New York does with their Hudson River summer festival and activities from bike rental to in-line skating to morning tai-chi workouts."

Vance and Confederate Parks need improvements too, and one possibility, Jernigan says, is "a total upgrade of all the greenspaces that are here now that are going to stay long-term."

Riverside Drive

Think slower. The goal is to accommodate the same volume of traffic at a lower speed. The RDC will soon take bids to build a 10-foot planted median as well as lighted pedestrian crossings at Beale and the stairways on the bluff and a change in pavement to encourage slower speeds at the juncture of Interstate 55 and Riverside Drive. The RDC is also working with the city of Memphis to accelerate the work schedule on an interchange at Crump Boulevard and I-55 and a connection between Riverside Drive and Second and Third Streets near the south end of Riverside Drive so that those streets can take more traffic. The width of the roadway will be widened by covering up a drainage ditch on one side.

Beale Street Landing

This circular pavilion will serve as a docking facility for large steamboats, a dropoff place for shuttle buses, and a concession stand. It will be the terminus of Beale Street, Tom Lee Park, and the Cobblestone Walkway and will have some sort of tall monument or tower to draw attention to itself. Planners think the tip of Mud Island has the potential to be something on the order of the coming together of great rivers in Pittsburgh. Since the harbor is not exactly a river at all, much less a great one, this seems a stretch, but this is a key location in the overall plan. A near-term improvement.

The Cobblestones

In a word, difficult. Between dealing with historic preservation interests, Memphis In May, lawsuits from injured boat passengers, and regular tour-boat traffic, the cobblestones have proven "more of a challenge than we anticipated," Lendermon says. Some of the "less historic" cobblestones have been removed to accommodate a retaining wall to hold the rest of them in place. Low spots will be filled in, but people will still be allowed to walk on the cobblestones, although there will also be walkways above them for those who prefer not to risk a tumble.

Long-awaited Ron Terry Plaza at the foot of Union is still alive, but the RDC is trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the new walkway under construction. A planned pedestrian bridge from the foot of Union to Mud Island further complicates matters. "The worst thing would be to build Ron Terry Plaza and five years from now go in there and tear part of it out," says Lendermon. Once seen as a near-term improvement, the cobblestones could be a work in progress for years if the land bridge happens.

Mud Island Park

Twenty years ago its buildings were so "now." Which could be why they now look so "then."

Two decades of public apathy are enough in the minds of the RDC. Major changes in the long term, minor ones in the near term. Admission to the grounds is free this summer, and Lendermon says attendance was up 50 percent in July. The amphitheater is rarely booked, despite a sold-out rap concert last weekend and a beer festival this weekend. Pat Tigrett's Blues Ball is moving to Mud Island, the scene of her bridge-lighting party in 1987. Over the next two years, the RDC would like to move more events that attract a few hundred to a few thousand people to Mud Island and leave mega-events at Tom Lee Park.

The museum and amphitheater stay open for the next year or two, but long term the amphitheater most likely goes, say Lendermon and Jernigan. The river model stays, possibly as the centerpiece of a future hotel, but the Gulf of Mexico part shrinks. "It definitely will not be a swimming pool," says Lendermon. A new seawall braces the southern tip and harbor, letting people get down to a proposed new walkway closer to the water. Coupled with the land bridge, Mud Island River Park between the amphitheater and the museum becomes a mixed-use development, long term. The south end and the western edge along the river remain a public park.

The Overton Blocks

This enticing piece of the puzzle is hamstrung by a historic covenant prohibiting private development. The RDC envisions some private development facing the river, a la the AutoZone headquarters, mixed with a lot of public space and parks. The post office stays, maybe as a new home for the Wonders series. Buildings would be subject to height restrictions. A lawsuit is likely, even welcomed.

"A court has to legally decree something and put its stamp of approval on it," says Lendermon. "There is no way we can enter into a private-party contract with the Overton heirs without the judicial system being involved."

Another approach would be to argue that the RDC is by definition a public purpose and use condemnation proceedings.

"We're going to have to work with the city and their political will, so it's going to have to be a joint effort," says Jernigan.

Despite all the obstacles, the RDC is optimistic because the potential is so great.

"Even the Overton heirs are for it," says Lendermon. "The fact that there is an entity focused on the riverfront I think gives the heirs some confidence that something is going to happen and that it is going to be in accordance with a plan that is going to be executed."

The Land Bridge

Lendermon estimates it would take two years to get the permits and design it once there is agreement to go forward with this riverfront centerpiece. Construction would take two more years, following the method used to expand Tom Lee Park.

"Five years would be quick," he says. "We think it is more like 10, realistically, before you have that site ready. We will be talking a lot to the development community about this one."

There are concerns that the project, in addition to being hugely expensive, could be so big that nothing happens and momentum is lost, as happened at Battery Park in New York. Or it could simply shift businesses away from other parts of downtown, with no net gain.

Ideally, the land bridge would fill up with housing, commercial sites, a hotel, and office buildings, with a public plaza rounding off the harbor on the south side. Development costs would be offset by lot sales and leases.

The Lake

A 150-acre lake is created north of the land bridge. It becomes a prime site for residential development instead of the industrial users now on its eastern bank. The RDC estimates it will take two or three years to move the industries, and three to five more to finish the lake. The existing marina would move to the cobblestones.
"The lake would be a great neighborhood generator for Uptown," says Jernigan.

(Uptown is the residential development northwest of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.)

One possibility is connecting the lake with the harbor via a San Antonio-style river walk cutting through the land bridge.

Saturday, June 30, 2001

IRS Form 990: 2000-2001

Here is the RDC's IRS Form 990 for the fical year ended June 30, 2001 [PDF, 696 KB].

Sunday, April 08, 2001

Mud Island Opening 2001 Season Saturday; Future murky, But for Now 'More Friendly'

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Mud Island River Park opens Saturday for its 20th season - and an uncertain future.

The unique and much-maligned $65 million facility will be operated by the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. this year, under direction of former city public works director Benny Lendermon.

RDC leaders and their consultants are crafting plans that could radically transform or even demolish Mud Island park in the next two to three years, Lendermon said.

But this Saturday, the park reopens with a spring festival of bunnies, live music, egg hunts and rubber ducky races.

And visitors will again find the Mississippi River Museum; the tree-lined, five-block scale-model River Walk; four pedal boats on the scale-model Gulf of Mexico; the World War II Memphis Belle under its fabric dome; three gift and souvenir shops; and three places to eat.

"We're going to be more friendly, more people-oriented . . . showcase things better," Lendermon said of the upcoming season.

"We can assume in the future things will be changing and reconfiguring, but in the meantime, we have a huge number of assets that can be a great experience for tourists and residents."

Mud Island attendance fell 5 percent last season, from 152,328 to 145,322, after scorching summer temperatures and fewer amphitheater concerts.

RDC officials hope special holiday events aimed at families will boost use of the park this season.

Two privately operated businesses - an art and souvenir shop and the River Terrace Restaurant - remain. Other gift shop spaces that had been under private contract will be used by the park staff, one as the second gift shop operated by staff and one as a meeting or picnicking room for school or senior tour groups.

Entertainment Foods, concessionaire for the park, operates the River Center Deli and the Gulfport Cafe and caters special events in Harbor Landing or other parts of the park.

The Memphis Belle Memorial Association's volunteers and board members are repairing and cleaning the vintage bomber and the pavilion area and restocking the gift trailer, said association vice president Jim Harris.

Volunteer Belle docents will be scheduled on weekends to conduct tours, joining the park's paid interpreters who answer questions about river life and lore.
Mud Island has been consistently controversial for its construction cost, admission policies and failure to draw visitors.

The park's 52 acres, stretching between the core of downtown and the Mississippi River, are prime property in the eyes of the RDC board and the consultants hired to devise a master plan for redevelopment of the Memphis waterfront.

RDC chairman John Stokes has spoken forcefully about the need to make admission to the park free.

RDC vice chairman Kristi Jernigan has said the park's facilities are boring and outdated.

The latest option offered by planning consultants would create an encircled harbor area similar to Baltimore's. A land bridge would link the foot of Court Avenue to Mud Island park on the north while a footbridge would link Beale Street on the south.

The facility could remain a public park and possibly become home to the Memphis in May International Festival. Or it could serve a mixture of uses or be entirely developed with only a strip of parkland on the Mississippi River side, consultants have said.

During a tour of the park last week, Lendermon said RDC will manage the park under the city's budget and policies until July 1, when a more comprehensive contract is expected to give the nonprofit agency management and development control of all public property along the waterfront.

The park has 12 to 14 full-time employees and a pool of 50 to 80 seasonal workers.

Lendermon and onsite manager Trey Giuntini are pushing to make the park look better, including its banks along the Wolf River Harbor and the Mississippi River. State transportation workers will clear debris, undergrowth and some trees from the Mississippi River side to keep the view open, Lendermon said.

DOT will do that work in exchange for state use of land beneath the Interstate 40 bridge while seismic improvements are made to the span.

Consultants have floated possibilities such as preserving the scale model of the Mississippi River while relocating the park's Mississippi River Museum. They envision a landmark-quality park on the property's southern tip.

Saturday through May 25: 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except Monday.
May 26-Sept. 3: 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week. Reduced hours and a six-day week return on Sept. 4.
Admission: $8 for adults 18 to 59. $6 for adults 60 and older and youngsters 5 to 17. Children 4 and under get in free. Shelby County residents qualify for half-price admission.

Season passes: $45 for family, $25 for individuals available at the park's Front Street admission booth or at 576-7241. A new $10 walking pass is being developed that would allow access strictly for strolling or jogging in the park.

- Deborah M. Clubb: 529-2351
By Jim Weber
(Color) Alisa Bradley spiffs up the freshwater aquarium in the Mississippi River Museum to help prepare for Mud Island's spring opening this Saturday.
Copyright (c) 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Monday, March 12, 2001

A Not So Crazy Plan

Memphis Flyer [Link to original]
by John Branston

Is the Riverfront Development Foundation (RDC) just tossing out oddball ideas and blowing $750,000 or so in consulting fees?

That's what some downtown veterans were saying after the first round of public hearings in January where a slew of proposals came out. Wary of alarming anyone, the commission's consultants have themselves been models of go-slow diplomacy.

"This session was specifically meant to provoke people," says Brian Shea, who is leading the planning team. "It's not that we're personally pushing any of these crazy notions."

Crazy or not, ideas include housing on Tom Lee Park, a museum and/or dam spanning the Wolf River, commercial and residential development of Mud Island River Park, taking traffic off of Riverside Drive or rerouting it, and making Memphis in May a street festival instead of a Tom Lee Park festival.

The RDC won't do all of it, of course, but it may well do more rather than less and do it sooner rather than later. For one thing, it's been blessed by Mayor Willie Herenton and the Memphis City Council with the powers of the Memphis Park Commission, at least on the riverfront. Competition from Tunica casinos and fast-track suburban development lend a sense of urgency to the effort. And the RDC combines the 24-year government savvy of former Public Works director Benny Lendermon with the energy and confidence of people like AutoZone Park patron Kristi Jernigan and Morgan Keegan vice president John Stokes. None of the riverfront ideas is any "crazier" than building a $72-million downtown baseball stadium in two years without public financing.

What is most likely to change? Here's a look at the big pieces.

o Mud Island River Park: For whatever reason - the name, the limited season, the admission charge, the lack of excitement - the overriding fact is that not many people go there.

"It is a given that Mud Island River Park ought to go through a major transformation," says Lendermon.

Look for a private developer to get involved, or at least something that blurs the lines between public and private. Developer Henry Turley and architect Frank Ricks have toyed with plans for an executive conference center with a nine-hole golf course, ferris wheel, water taxi service, and residential development.

"Private space can also be public space," Turley notes. "Look at the lobby of The Peabody."

Roy Harrover, the architect of the $62 million park, would like to see it stay pretty much the way it is. He acknowledges, however, that the river museum is all but forgotten, the signature River Terrace restaurant has struggled to stay open, and the overall park is "not really what it was in-tended to be," which was a free, open-spaces park such as Overton Park or Audubon Park.....

"I think any developer would love to get his hands on Mud Island," says Harrover. "But I think it is public property and should be retained as such."

In January the RDC took over management of the park for six months. The agreement is a forerunner to long-term changes in this attractive white elephant.

o The Overton Blocks: Also known as The Promenade, the west side of Front Street between Union and Poplar features a fire station, parking garages, a library that often serves as a day shelter for the homeless, a gargantuan post office, Confederate Park, and the entrance to Mud Island River Park. Public use is dictated by the dedication of city founder John Overton.

This issue sharply divides planners and the Old Guard. Developer Robert Snowden warns that current residents and tenants on Front Street "are going to raise holy hell if you block their view of the river." And Harrover, who has seen several ambitious master plans for downtown over the last 40 years wind up on the shelf, says the Overton Blocks are probably untouchable.

"The two parking garages can probably be cleaned up but I seriously doubt that the federal government is going to give up the Post Office," Harrover says.

Is that sufficient reason to accept such a motley assortment of public uses?

"As it stands now, the Overton heirs get nothing, the city gets nothing, and the public gets nothing," says Turley, who would like to see the property pieced out for development proposals if an agreement can be reached with the heirs of the founding families.

Bottom line: a potential legal quagmire, but money talks.

o Riverside Drive: Was there ever an urban planning consultant who didn't demonize the automobile and praise the virtues of trolleys, trains, and buses? Never mind that we like our cars, we like driving them, and - except in big cities - just about anyone who can afford one prefers it to public transportation.

The RDC's planning team talks about knocking down expressway ramps to Riverside Drive, putting more traffic on Second and Third Streets, and turning the trolley from a "tourist toy" into a real transportation system. Others want to reduce traffic on Riverside Drive from four lanes to two or somehow slow drivers to a pedestrian-friendly 35 miles an hour or so.

"The problem with the riverfront is too many barriers and not enough attractions," says Turley. "Right now Riverside Drive functions pretty much as an expressway."

For every Memphian lucky enough to have a river view at home or work there are thousands more who enjoy the river through the windshield of their cars. Riverside Drive is our little river fix, the most scenic drive in Memphis, with a show that changes daily. It's also a vital and convenient access to The Pyramid and Peabody Place.

"Diverting traffic from Riverside Drive is an awful proposal which needs to be pro-tested," says Peabody Place developer (and Turley's partner) Jack Belz. "It will undoubtedly cause a traffic disaster because Second and Third streets are already limited in width and traffic will increase enormously when we open our retail and entertainment complex."

A possible compromise: lower speed limits, and construct a boulevard or traffic islands.

o Tom Lee Park: It was expanded by several acres 10 years ago, courtesy of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Then the city choked and built a passive park starkly devoid of shade, fun, and imagination. Memphis in May claims it for two months and turns the grass brown or worse for at least one more before the heat gets serious. In recent years, the parking lot has become a favorite weekend cruising site for cars and motorcycles, to the dismay of some Blufftop residents.

"We're totally convinced Tom Lee can't stay the way it is," says Lendermon. "If it re-mains a park then we have to go in there and add amenities and appropriate vegetation. Maybe we tried a little too hard to accommodate Memphis in May. For the other 11 months of the year we have to end up with something that is of more benefit to the citizens of Memphis."

Planner Catherine Damon says developing Tom Lee residentially could provide money to do other things, but realistically "you can't take a park without giving a park somewhere else." In a way, however, the city has done just that. Greenbelt Park on the north end of Mud Island across from Harbor Town has a nearly two-mile sidewalk and acres of vacant land. Sometimes it floods in the spring, but more often it's a place where you can actually walk right down to the cottonwood trees and throw a rock into the river.

o Wolf River Harbor. Options include leaving it alone, closing it off at the foot of Beale Street, or closing it off closer to Harbor Town to create a lake. There is a grand gulf between proponents and opponents and laymen and experts on this one.

Some people who have seriously studied the proposal say it makes little sense. Landscape architect Ritchie Smith, who designed the Bluffwalk, says a dam at the entrance to the Wolf River would have to be so high that it would spoil the view of the river looking north.

Harrover calls the idea of a lake "absurd in any of its forms." The two marinas inside the harbor (which use floating docks because of the 40-foot rise and fall of the river) need river access either at the mouth of the harbor or via a new channel cut at the north end, and, in his opinion, that pretty much rules out a slack water lake.

Belz, however, likes the idea of an enclosure from Beale Street to Mud Island.

"The amount of water impounded would be about 40 acres," he says. "I think that would give us a stillwater lake comparable to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. It would create a tremendous amount more usage of Mud Island and allow that island to literally be an extension of our main part of downtown."

He scoffs at suggestions that it can't be done.

"Those revetments on the west side of the river were built by the Corps of Engineers, not by God," he says. "That's the same kind of thing that could come straight out here and create the closure we're talking about. You have to open another access to the Wolf River Harbor to serve industrial companies and the marinas. The dirt that comes out of that could be well used in raising the level of the island."

o Cost factors: The RDC wants business leases to support the construction of public infrastructure.

"We're not going to the taxpayers to say we want $100 million to transform our riverfront and then have to increase taxes," Lendermon says. "So basically the three opportunities to generate private dollars are parts of the public property on Mud Island, the Overton Blocks, or Tom Lee Park."

The next round of public hearings in February will focus more on feasibility, cost, and level of public support. For now, anything's still possible.

"If you ask each person on our executive committee where they think this is going to end up," Lendermon says, "you probably wouldn't get the same answer twice."

[This story originally appeared in the February issue of Memphis magazine.]

Copyright 1996-2004 Contemporary Media, Inc.

Thursday, January 18, 2001

Guest Editorial: Considering All Options Will Produce Best Riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Dean Jernigan

Dean Jernigan is co-founder of the Memphis Redbirds and chairman and chief executive officer of Storage USA.

FOUR years ago, when my wife, Kristi, and I began thinking about bringing a higher level of baseball to this region, we considered many options. We weighed the option of purchasing the former Memphis Chicks against soliciting Major League Baseball for a triple-A expansion franchise.

We considered renovating Tim McCarver Stadium vs. building a new ballpark in east Shelby County vs. building a state-of-the-art ballpark in the core of downtown Memphis. We considered whether to follow traditional roles of team ownership or to give ownership of this amenity to the citizens of the Mid-South.

A tremendous amount of public discussion surrounded each element of these options. The Commercial Appeal published articles and editorials. Every talk radio host seemed to have a different opinion about every option but one: The one clear consensus was that the new ballpark should be built in east Shelby County - it didn't really matter where, as long as it was far away from downtown.

Still, Kristi and I insisted on giving careful consideration to all the options. Last season, more than 900,000 people enjoyed baseball in AutoZone Park, and many of them were re-introduced to downtown Memphis. I think most were pleased.

Similarly, we must consider all options in the riverfront master plan. There is a very important reason for hiring planners from diverse regions who possess varying experiences with waterfronts: They bring a fresh and informed perspective to elements that those of us who are closest to them might not otherwise see.

World-class planners make great efforts to learn and understand the nuances of a new place and the culture of its people before they begin the planning process. Cooper-Robertson & Partners has met with more than 200 people from our city and county to do just this for the Memphis riverfront.

A world-class riverfront will have a significant cost structure. The best way to secure the required finances is through development opportunities. The planners have been charged with creating a plan that is economically feasible. Therefore, they must identify city land that can be developed and generate a revenue stream.

The Overton Heirs property is one prominent area of our city that our founders had the foresight to set aside for public use. This land probably cannot be developed for private commercial use.

The city has full control of this promenade, which unfortunately includes many visual and physical barriers to the riverfront. By eliminating some parking garages and other poorly designed structures, we can enhance and create a great civic green space, while removing barriers to the riverfront. This space could become our Central Park.

Tom Lee Park is a wonderful green space on Riverside Drive, but it is grossly underused throughout the year, except during the Memphis in May festival. It is important to study the concept of moving Tom Lee Park into the core of our central business district, onto the Overton Heirs property along the bluff and Front Street.

This green space could benefit all of downtown, and could be used 12 months out of the year. I don't know what the best use might be for the land opposite Riverside Drive that is the present site of Tom Lee Park, but I strongly doubt it would need to be green space if we are successful in moving Tom Lee Park onto the Overton Heirs property.

We need not worry now about that ultimate use. Instead, we should pursue with vigor such things as the development of Mud Island, the creation of a magnificent lake at the foot of our bluffs, and a beautiful new green space in the middle of our downtown named Tom Lee Park. The new Tom Lee Park could become a great home for Memphis in May, allowing it to have an economic impact on all of downtown.

Our master planners are extremely competent and are presenting a number of options for our collective consideration. We do ourselves and our city a tremendous disservice by deciding against one or another of these options prematurely.

We must be big thinkers, and we must venture outside of our comfort zones. Let us commit to having open minds in considering all possibilities.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Friday, January 05, 2001

Riverfront Planners Get Message: Hands Off Tom Lee Park

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Riverfront planners left Memphis Thursday to begin revising proposals for developing the Wolf and Mississippi river banks, but Memphians had made it clear they firmly reject one idea: housing or anything else on Tom Lee Park.

Other alternatives, from damming part of the Wolf River Harbor for a lake to clearing and redeveloping the historic promenade property, will be evaluated and discussed in coming weeks with Memphians and a cadre of consultants, expert in areas from finance to traffic systems, said planning team leader Brian Shea, a New York architect.

Shea, of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, heads the team hired last summer to craft a master plan for redeveloping Memphis's waterfront - from the north end of Mud Island southward to the Harahan, Frisco and Memphis & Arkansas bridges. The nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. selected the team, which will be paid $700,000 with city funds.

Shea presented alternatives at three public hearings Wednesday and Thursday and asked Memphis to react. He gave three possible versions of a harbor lake, three routes for a relocated Riverside Drive, three locations for an expanded river museum and three ways to use land in Tom Lee Park, Mud Island River Park, the promenade and the cobblestones.

He asked participants Thursday "to dream about what you'd like your riverfront to be 30 years from now."

A lake in part of the current harbor was supported by several in Thursday's sessions.

The biggest lake proposal, which would be created by filling the area between Mud Island and Tom Lee Park, drew little support.

The smallest lake proposal would dam the water at the Auction Avenue bridge and create recreation for neighborhoods on Mud Island and in Greenlaw, which would not help lure development in the core of downtown, said team member Candace Damon.

Shea and Damon asked participants whether Tom Lee, Mud Island or the promenade blocks between Court and Auction should be developed or used as park land.

Damon had suggested that low-rise residential development could be successful in Tom Lee Park and provide revenue for other public projects.

Shea had suggested that the promenade blocks, dedicated to the city for public use by its founders in 1828 and referred to by planners as the Overton blocks, could become Memphis's Central Park or be a mixture of green space and development.

Veteran Memphis developer Bob Snowden, an heir of the founding families, urged the planners to identify facilities that should be retained and prioritize needs.

"We don't need another park," Snowden said. "We need to enhance what we have."

He asked if development on the promenade would be high-rise. Midrise, Shea replied.

Snowden objected to anything as high as 10 stories. "People on Front Street have rights, too."

Planners made a note to not block views with future development.
Memphis resident Willie Martin warned that "all Memphians have ownership of Tom Lee. For you to make drastic changes for something they feel they own, you're going to make a mistake and people are not going to have an open mind."

Shea said the team's ideas were aimed at prompting the community "to start thinking about these facilities in new ways, in many different ways, in inventive ways."

RDC president Benny Lendermon said the team will return next month, probably for a series of similar public meetings at different times and in different locations, possibly the Agricenter.

Consultants hope to finish work on the plan by the end of April and present completed documents in June.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Riverfront Development holds workshops; Throws around ideas big and small

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston and Chris Przybyszewski

Urged to think big and avoid practical details for now, Memphians sounded off about plans to redevelop the riverfront, Mud Island, Front Street, and Tom Lee Park. Listening were members of the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), a public-private partnership looking at ways to improve the riverfront.

Key players of the RDC include Kristi and Dean Jernigan, patrons of AutoZone Park, and Benny Lendermon, former director of public works for Memphis and a designer of Tom Lee Park. At this week's series of meetings, commission board members and politicians stayed in the background while consultants presented broad themes and encouraged small groups of Memphians to respond.

"This session was specifically meant to provoke people," said consultant Brian Shea. "It's not that we're personally pushing any of these crazy notions." Shea is director of the lead planning team of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, a consulting firm based in New York City. He went on to say that the goal of these discussions was to determine, “what are the most important battles to fight,” and which aspects of the riverfront should be left until after major renovations are complete.

This could be difficult considering the myriad of special interest groups, whose concerns stretch from the historical to the environmental to the residential. However, Randy Morton, a member of the consultant team, warns that the current plans will not have a specific thematic approach, such as concentratingon on every historical marker on the river. “We can’t make everything on the riverfront special or it would all be normal,” he said.

Ideas tossed around included: developing housing in Tom Lee Park to raise money for other riverfront projects; a museum spanning the Wolf River and connecting downtown to Mud Island; commercial and residential development of Mud Island; turning the Wolf River harbor into a lake blocked by a dam; taking traffic off of Riverside Drive or rerouting it even closer to the Mississippi River; and making Memphis in May a street festival spanning Beale Street to Main Street instead of a Tom Lee Park festival.

Here's some of what they said:

Shea said one of the consultants' starting principles is that "it is difficult to enjoy and access the riverfront because of barriers." These include Riverside Drive, the cobblestones, and the hands-off development policy toward the west side of Front Street.

Planners suggest taking traffic off Riverside Drive and putting it on Second and Third Streets and turning the trolley from a "tourist toy" into a real transit system.

Mud Island has the potential for a "point park" at its southern tip where the Wolf River harbor and Mississippi River converge. Shea cited Pittsburgh as a city with such a point park.

Developer Robert Snowden urged planners to not get carried away with plans that ignore Memphians' disinclination to walk. He also discounted the need for any more public parks. "We don't need another park, we need to enhance what we have," he said. And Snowden warned that current residents and tenants on Front Street "are going to raise holy hell if you block their view of the river."

Candace Damon, an economic feasibility consultant, said "downtown desperately needs new office development." Planners see Front Street as the most likely site for such development if Memphis can overcome restrictions in the Overton promenade agreement with the heirs of the city founders.

Shea said that as a visitor he found the existing museum on Mud Island inadequate because "for one thing, you never see the river." But others defended the museum. "The concept of having that kind of Mississippi River museum must be maintained," said Susan Jones. She also urged planners to consider running tour boats to destinations such as Chucalissa or Shelby Forest.

Options for the Wolf River include leaving it alone, closing it off at the foot of Beale Street, or closing it off closer to Harbor Town to create a smaller lake that would not fluctuate with the rise and fall of the Mississippi River. A show of hands in one group found the most support for the smaller lake.

Such a lake, however, would close off the existing Wolf River marina from access to the Mississippi, potentially alienating boat-owners. One possible solution is to build a lock at the proposed lake’s mouth, which — though costly — would provide a better access road to Mud Island, and a dam for the Wolf River. The opposing argument is to create a land bridge at the site, providing development space that could pay for the cost of construction as well as serving as a dam.

Parking downtown was another major concern of one of the focus groups. Morton said that the problem is not so much in quantity as in organization. “Downtown [Memphis] has 20,000 parking spaces, more than the current developmental need,” he said. However, he noted that people are not able to find parking when they need it. The problem, Morton said, is that most of the parking in Memphis is not shared, but is used for a single purpose. As an example, Morton noted that the Pyramid boasts 6,000 spaces which are not used except during Pyramid events. By opening up such spaces to the public, parking problems could be lessened.

Tom Lee Park shapes up as one of the most controversial elements in the planners' inventory. Damon said developing it residentially could provide money to do other things, but realistically "you can't take a park without giving a park somewhere else." Others suggested such development would detract from the view of the river from the Bluff Walk.

The RDC will continue these discussions with the public for the next three months as part of its year-long study of the riverfront. Memphians can continue to contribute to the discussion via online access at the RDC’s website at

Copyright 2001 The Memphis Flyer

Thursday, January 04, 2001

"Big" Ideas Move Riverside Dr., Put Houses in Tom Lee

Commercial Appeal
By Deborah M. Clubb

Tom Lee Park could sprout houses, Riverside Drive could move to the river's edge, Wolf River Harbor could become a lake and bluff-top "Overton blocks" could become Memphis's Central Park in development options offered Wednesday by riverfront consultants.

These and other "big moves" were laid out during two public hearings hosted by the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. A third public hearing on development alternatives begins at 8 a.m. today in the Plaza Club on the second floor of the Toyota Center beside AutoZone Park.

The Riverfront Development Corp. hired a team led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York to analyze and plan redevelopment of 12 miles of waterfront, from the Wolf River to the Harahan, Frisco and Memphis & Arkansas bridges.

Reaction and comment from the public meetings and other sessions will let planners refine the options, said team leader Brian Shea of Cooper, Robertson. The proposals also must be filtered through finance, marketing, engineering and historic considerations.

A Wolf River Harbor lake concept, proposed in 1996 by Mayor Willie Herenton and shot down by citizens in riverfront workshops in February 1999, reappeared in three versions.

Shea drew a small lake north from a dam near the Auction Avenue bridge, north from Poplar with a "land bridge" between Poplar and Court connecting Mud Island to downtown or with infill connecting Mud Island to the city near Beale Street, making the whole harbor into a lake.

He suggested a new museum dedicated to river history and culture could occupy the land bridge, or such a facility could sit at the foot of Beale Street to pull the historic district's entertainment zone to the river's edge.

The promenade property, dedicated to the city for public use by founders in 1828 and referred to by planners as the Overton blocks, could be developed with public and private uses, be a mixture of green space and development or be purely parkland from Union to Auction.

Tom Lee Park could remain a park or could become residential development with Riverside Drive moved nearer the water and a public promenade constructed along the river's edge.

Likewise, Mud Island River Park could be all park with new access from Poplar Avenue, or it could be a mixture of uses or entirely developed with only a linear park on the Mississippi River side, Shea said.

The cobblestone landing could be preserved as is, be reduced to the section from Union to Beale or be more radically reduced to a portion near the "land bridge" river museum and lake.

Memphis in May International Festival could move from Tom Lee Park to Mud Island or into a new park in the Overton blocks.

Kristi Jernigan, RDC vice chairman, was a sole supporter of the "big lake" in one of three discussion groups that followed the first public presentation Wednesday.

Its controlled water level would permit restaurant and other retail development on both banks, she said.

But most of the two dozen other participants in Jernigan's group spoke in favor of a partial lake, to preserve a protected harbor and the natural rise and fall of the river level.

"The real river is more compelling than an artificial lake," said landscape architect Lissa Thompson.

Expert users of the river also warned that the "big lake" plan was flawed because it would push large riverboats into a dock on the Mississippi with its powerful current.

And, they said, any lake plan that ended commercial river traffic in the Wolf also would put about $250,000 in dredging costs on city taxpayers.

Tom Lee Park was beloved, participants said, for the excellent river vista it provides.

It's not working as a park, said Candace Damon, the planning team's finance and marketing expert, but would be "very, very desirable" for residential and neighborhood retail uses.

Memphis in May executive director Jim Holt told the group the success of MIM's music and barbecue festivals is linked to the location on the river.

But Jernigan suggested that if the festival events were in a new park on the Overton property, nearer to downtown restaurants and businesses, its economic impact would increase.

Past legal interpretations have said that control of the promenade area, now about 80 acres west of Front Street from Union to Jackson, could revert to the founders' heirs if other development is attempted without their concurrence.

At an RDC board meeting earlier Wednesday, Jernigan said lawyers with Baker Donelson had researched issues related to the promenade land and the Overton heirs.

"They're ready to give us options and ready to deal with whatever comes out of that (master plan)."

While continuing to shape the master plan, Shea and his team also have been brought into two long-planned projects that the RDC took over from city officials earlier this year.

At their insistence, designers are taking a new look at plans for the Ron Terry Plaza and cobblestone walkway, even though the project is under construction to link Jefferson Davis and Tom Lee parks. The planned 8-foot wide walkway is too small, consultants have said.

A construction contract for improvements to Riverside Drive also has been delayed until spring.

Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal

Wednesday, January 03, 2001

RDC Board Meetings - 2001

Here are the RDC Board of Directors meeting minutes for the entire year 2001, scanned into a single PDF file.

Click here to download the PDF file [1.2 MB]

RDC Executive Committee - 2001

Here are the RDC Executive Committee minutes for the entire year 2001, scanned into a single PDF file.

Click here to download the PDF file [2.5 MB]

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