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

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