Monday, November 29, 2004

Riverfront Projects Spark More Downtown Interest

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andy Meek

Developer Kevin Hynemans recent purchase of 8.7 acres of Mud Island property is further proof, if any was needed, that the 1-square-mile strip of land is still a strong magnet for new residential development. And besides Hynemans new Mud Island project, other nearby developments are using their proximity to the Mississippi River to spark continued interest in the area.

More new homes. Hyneman bought the property from the Riverfront Development Corp., which oversees the use of public space on Mud Island, and his plans call for 106 single-family, detached homes priced between $160,000 and $250,000. He plans to break ground on the homes after Christmas, with the first homes available for sale around summer 2005.

Hyneman said there is already a waiting list for the homes, echoing a previous project he developed on Mud Island that saw 80 homes sold in one day. A reservation list had been drawn up, and buyers camped out on the island to be able to pick the lots they wanted, he said.

Fueling more growth. Hyneman, who has developed several projects on Mud Island, believes strong demand is both a result of and further fuel for the general resurgence of Downtown.

Downtowns on fire, he said. I think its supply and demand for Mud Island people see theres a sense of urgency because theres no other property on the island to buy.

Benny Lendermon, president of the RDC, said the group has plans for a walking trail along Wolf River Harbor, a project related to Hynemans recent purchase.

The group also is moving forward with plans for the Beale Street Landing project, which Lendermon said will be a public gathering place and the signature development at the foot of Beale Street. He estimates ground will be broken in the spring and initial construction will begin soon after along the rivers edge.

Well be very, very disappointed if it doesnt, he said.

The $27 million project at the foot of Beale Street will likely include a plaza, a terminal building, a small restaurant and a series of small parks perched at the rivers edge. The RDC also is continuing with some minor park improvements.

Healthy residential market. On Mud Island, where several residential communities in addition to Hynemans are under way, healthy residential growth is visible.

Several residential communities have taken root north of Harbor Town, Mud Islands first residential community. And according to a recent Downtown market study commissioned by the Center City Commission, the current population of Mud Island part of the high growth area in Downtowns Central Business Improvement District is estimated at 4,262.

Hynemans latest project is part of an overall plan for 186 new homes on the island. Hyneman expects to sell most of them between now and the end of 2005.

Weve built over 500 houses down there, and this is just another phase of what weve been building down there for the past five or six years, he said. Weve got another 80 lots that are currently being developed, and those will be released sometime in the next couple of months.

Property history. The property was originally part of an effort by the RDC to acquire public land along the river. Lendermon said the land Hyneman bought was property the city had acquired from an asphalt plant after it moved. The city transferred the land to the RDC this year to help the group acquire public land and better access to the river.

Originally, we were going to use it as part of an equity transaction in that development to the south of Mud Island, and we were going to actually utilize this piece of property to help facilitate the transfer of other properties to allow parkland to be acquired along the waters edge, Lendermon said. So we were retaining this piece of property for the city, and then at some point that wasnt going forward. We had it, we had no use for it, but we still wanted to use it for something to our benefit. Kevin owned all the properties surrounding this piece of property, and it was sort of landlocked. He also owned a whole lot of the water frontage along the harbor we were interested in acquiring.

Advantages. Hyneman, who bought the 8.7 acres from the RDC for $841,000, also agreed to transfer 18 acres of waterfront property he owned along the Wolf River Harbor to the RDC, which will use the land for part of a walking trail. Lendermon said the city supported the sale of the 8.7 acres for several reasons.

The tax benefits from those single-family homes are somewhat significant, and it allows the whole chunk of property to develop and put property on the tax rolls in a way that both us and the city felt was appropriate, he said. So it appeared to be a win-win for everybody.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mud Island sale tracks a path to the future

Commercial Appeal
by Tom Charlier

In selling off one of the last large pieces of land left on the north end of Mud Island, the Riverfront Development Corp. cut a deal to secure more public access to the waterfront.

RDC, the nonprofit overseeing redevelopment of the Memphis riverfront, received six parcels totaling 18 acres along the Wolf River Harbor in addition to the $840,000-plus price that developer Kevin Hyneman paid for 8.7 adjacent acres.

RDC president Benny Lendermon said the donated acreage will accommodate part of a walking trail planned along the harbor.

"We hope to have public access all along the harbor, especially as the harbor gets better and better," Lendermon said.

Hyneman, a partner with Jeffrey Bronze in several projects on the island, will use the purchased land as part of a 15-acre development featuring 106 single-family homes. The Riverpoint planned development, which Hyneman describes as a continuation of his previous projects, was approved by the Land Use Control Board on Thursday.

The 8.7 acres in the transaction are less than a half-mile south of the causeway connecting the northern end of Mud Island to Downtown.

The land had been owned by an asphalt company, with the city obtaining it when the firm moved. The city transferred the property to the RDC this year. The sales price was based on the appraised value of the land, Lendermon said.

Hyneman agreed that RDC and the public benefited from the deal. "We think they came out on top, but that's OK," he said.

RDC officials were glad to see the land used for homes instead of apartments. "There's nothing wrong with apartments," Lendermon said. "But there's a multitude of apartments down at that northern end."

Hyneman, who has developed some 500 homes on Mud Island, said the residences in the new project probably will be priced from $160,000 to $250,000.

"The market is very strong down on the island," he said.
In addition to Riverpoint, he and Bronze are working on plans for a $75 million mixed-used development on the island just south of the Auction Street bridge and encompassing the site of a calamitous mudslide two years ago.

The project will feature condominium units and homes, but the 4 acres affected by the mudslide will be set aside for some amenity - perhaps a marina or park, Hyneman said.

Copyright (c) 2004 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Riverfront planners watching high court eminent domain case

Commercial Appeal
by Tom Charlier

A Connecticut legal battle that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court could help determine whether Memphis uses eminent domain to seize the downtown acreage it covets for an expansive riverfront redevelopment.

The high court late last month agreed to hear a case arising from a waterfront development project in New London, Conn., that bears similarities to the one envisioned in a 50-year, $292 million plan of improvements along the Mississippi River in Memphis.

Proponents and critics of the plan say they'll be watching the court's ruling in the New London case because it's likely to determine when and how governments may seize private property for economic development projects.

"I think it will be very telling," said John Gary, vice president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that has opposed portions of the plan set forth by the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit group guiding the city's efforts to remake its waterfront.

While stressing that he'd prefer to use other means to obtain property, RDC president Benny Lendermon said eminent domain is "an option that we've always considered."

The New London case, he said, "may have some bearing on it, one way or another."

The Connecticut dispute began when officials announced plans to raze a working-class neighborhood to make way for a hotel, health club and offices along the Thames River. As in the Memphis proposal, a major goal of the development is to attract people to the waterfront.

However, several homeowners sued, calling the plan an unjustified taking of their property. The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a ruling earlier this year, sided with the city's claims that the promise of additional tax revenue justified the condemnation of the waterfront property.

The New London case is the latest of several focusing on eminent domain. It follows a Michigan Supreme Court ruling this year that overturned a two-decade-old decision allowing Detroit to raze an ethnic neighborhood to accommodate an auto plant.

With more and more cities turning to redevelopment projects to boost their sagging budgets, the Connecticut case has ramifications nationwide, officials say.

Municipal leaders argue that cities should be able to use eminent domain to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods.

"If the court takes away this tool that has 50 years of precedence, where will cities find the revenues to do the things they are legislatively charged to do?" said David Parkhurst, principal legislative counsel for the National League of Cities.

But property rights groups contend that in employing condemnation, cities often have strayed from their constitutional charge to transfer the property for public use. In thousands of cases, the private land has been taken for the benefit of private developers and businesses, said Bert Gall, a staff attorney for the Institute of Justice in Washington, which is representing the New London homeowners.

"Public use is not condominiums. It's not offices, it's not retail," Gall said.

In Memphis, the plan pursued by the RDC would revamp a five-mile stretch of the riverfront. It includes mixed-used commercial development, including high-rise towers, in the historic promenade area along Front Street, construction of a lake and a 50-acre land bridge to Mud Island and redevelopment of current industrial sites.

In a recent report assessing the RDC plan, the Urban Land Institute raised the prospect that eminent domain might be needed.

"Given the critical amounts of land needed for riverfront development, this tool may become important to the RDC," the institute's report said.

Still, RDC officials say they'll try to avoid condemnation. To obtain the promenade area, they plan to negotiate with the heirs to the Memphis founders who set it aside for public use.

"I'd rather not even have to consider it (eminent domain)," said John W. Stokes, chairman of the RDC board.

Lendermon said he remains confident the promenade area can be acquired without eminent domain. He said a condemnation case there would be "very convoluted" because the owners - the founders' heirs - number in the hundreds and don't have direct use of the land because of an easement held by the city.

"You're condemning these rights that are somewhat nebulous," Lendermon said.

Other areas where the city might have to condemn land for the riverfront project include the industries along the Wolf River harbor.

RDC officials say the court's ruling in the New London case, which is expected as early as next summer, will provide some needed guidelines on the use of eminent domain.

"I think the pendulum has swung away from condemnations that used to go through pretty easily," Stokes said.

Copyright 2004 by The Commercial Appeal

Friday, September 24, 2004

A Riverfront

Memphis Magazine

Confused about the debate over our riverfront? You're not alone. Maybe we can help sort things out.

Has Mother Nature taken sides in the debate over the Memphis riverfront promenade?

It looked that way after a Memorial Day storm seemingly took dead aim at the downtown bluff and knocked down several trees in Confederate Park across from the Morgan Keegan Tower. It was the second time in 10 months that a storm had littered the park with toppled trees, suggesting, perhaps, that if the heirs of the city founders can't decide what to do then the airs of the west wind will simply destroy the promenade piece by piece.

The promenade is the centerpiece of the riverfront, the west side of the blocks between Union and Poplar. The pro-development Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) has picked the low-hanging fruit by putting a median in Riverside Drive, building a sidewalk above the cobblestones and stairwells on the bluff, landscaping riverfront parks, and holding a design competition for a boat landing at the foot of Tom Lee Park.

But what about downtown's front yard, which now includes a fire station, library, and parking garages? That's where the RDC and a group called Friends for Our Riverfront are far apart. Here's a look at some of the issues that divide them.
What was the founders' vision and why does it matter?

Memphis was founded in 1819, a date which splits the difference between the appointment of commissioners for the Chickasaw Treaty in 1818 and the opening of a land office on the bluff in 1820. The "proprietors" of the land were John Overton, John McLemore, and Marcus Winchester, later the first mayor. Charles Crawford, professor of history at the University of Memphis, says they were "hardheaded, realistic businessmen" with unusual foresight. They dedicated a web of squares, alleys, streets, and the promenade to public use while keeping the rights to operate a ferry at the waterfront.

By 1828, doubts had already arisen about the proprietors' intentions.

"The people of Memphis were opposed to the proprietors and did everything they could to hinder and hamper them," wrote J.M. Keating in his 1888 History of the City of Memphis and Shelby County .

So the proprietors decided to restate their vision and file it in the record books, which can still be seen in the deed book in the Shelby County Archives. This is what it says:

"The proprietors say that it was their original intention, is now, and forever will be, that the promenade should be public ground for such use only as the word imports, to which heretofore, by their acts, for that purpose, it was conceived all right was relinquished for themselves, their heirs, etc."

Are the heirs united?

No. Some of them are leaders and supporters of Friends for Our Riverfront. Others are willing to support parts of the RDC plan with a major qualification. Hamilton Gayden Jr., a judge in Nashville and an Overton heir, helped organize a survey of "165 Overton first-in-line heirs," 140 of whom answered the survey. According to Gayden, 133 Overton heirs favor development of the promenade for private use "provided the development ensures adequate green space and protects the public's access to and views of the river, and provided the revenues from private uses are shared in an equitable fashion between the city and the heirs."

Gayden's group says the McLemore descendants favor the RDC proposal, but that appears to be hearsay evidence at this point. As for the Winchester heirs, suffice it to say that founders James and William Winchester each had nine children, one of whom was Marcus Winchester, who also had nine children. Do the math.

Finally, even if a majority of the heirs could be found and surveyed, their sentiments might not matter.

"So what?!" states a Friends handout. "The descendants have no right to change the conditions of the initial grant of this land."

What powers does the RDC have?

The RDC was created in 2000 as a not-for-profit, public/private partnership. Under contract with the city of Memphis, it is charged with promoting, planning, and coordinating whatever enhances the attractiveness, accessibility, and economic value of the waterfront. It took over all of the downtown riverfront parks from the Memphis Park Commission. Memphis City Council members sometimes call it the Retired Directors Club because its staff includes former city division directors Benny Lendermon and John Conroy.

In 2002, the RDC completed an 18-month master planning process, which culminated in the Memphis Riverfront Master Plan (which can be viewed online at The plan cannot be implemented without the approval of the Memphis City Council at a number of stages, including public funding if and when it comes to that.

"Finding a way to pay for improvements is essential," says Lendermon. "The RDC plans call for mixed-use developments on 40 percent of the promenade land, which will generate money needed to build the walkways, bury parking, and add trees. Without those revenues, this plan would likely end up where most plans are, collecting dust on the shelf."

What does Friends for Our Riverfront want?

To see the four blocks of the promenade from Union to Adams returned to a more or less continuous park and greenspace with new walkways and without the library, fire station, and parking garages. Those buildings go away, and their replacement cost is not part of the $7 million estimate Friends puts on demolition, new landscaping, and pedestrian bridges. (The group's Web site is

What happened to the lake and land bridge?

The most obvious new feature in the RDC Master Plan is a proposed 38-acre, five-square-block area of new land connecting the city to Mud Island. It would create two new bodies of water -- a smaller downtown commercial harbor and a new lake -- and provide land for new development. The RDC says it could take 10 to 20 years or more for all elements of the plan to be implemented. Lendermon, a veteran of many years at City Hall, and the board of the RDC have elected to fight one battle at a time.

Jack Tucker, an architect and downtown pioneer with an office on Front Street, says one of the RDC consultants told him that the land bridge was mandated by the RDC and did not come from the planners. Downtown developer Henry Turley says it is so massive and expensive that he fears it could cause more doable parts of the plan to be scuttled. The Urban Land Institute, a group of consultants hired by the RDC, seems conflicted about the land bridge in its 2003 report.

"Do not let the land bridge be a barrier to progress and action in other areas," the report says. It lists five "challenges" posed by this "expensive way to create a new development opportunity" including redirecting investment away from other parts of downtown. "Despite these challenges the panel does not believe that the land bridge should not be built," the report says.

Nothing like the old double-negative endorsement.

What about parking?

Friends says there are alternatives to Front Street parking lots such as trolley links to parking lots at the north and south ends of downtown. But the RDC and Center City Commission say that any promenade parking that is demolished must be replaced with new parking facilities, possibly underground.

"Whether the RDC plan is implemented or not, we need the estimated 1,000 parking spaces that are in the two garages on Front and Monroe and Front and Jefferson," said Jeff Sanford, executive director of the Center City Commission. "There is already demand for more public parking than exists."

Where did those 400-foot office towers come from?

The RDC says office towers up to 400 feet tall have always been part of its plans that were presented in three public hearings. At the same time, however, Lendermon says there is only a slight chance of such towers being built.

Where do the mayor and City Council stand?

Mayor Herenton is pro-RDC. In May, the City Council voted 10-3 to let the RDC plan move forward but modified it by knocking the office buildings down to a maximum height of 150 feet. The presentation and public comment on the plan came at the end of a seven-hour meeting and left some people on both sides feeling snubbed by City Council Chairman Joe Brown. Brown's North Memphis constituency includes many poor and working-class Memphians who are more concerned about crime and schools than the RDC plan. But Brown voted with the majority.
Both sides could overplay their hand, or they could wind up simply mortally wounding each other. Jack Sammons, who represents affluent East Memphians, said his "nay" was a cautionary one to let the RDC know that he will also be raising lots of questions down the road. Carol Chumney and E.C. Jones were the other "no" votes. The architect of the 150-foot compromise was Council-man Tom Marshall, but he has an independent streak as well.

Who's winning?

It would seem that the RDC won the first round by virtue of being on the long end of a 10-3 vote, which kept the plan alive without authorizing any public appropriations or construction contracts. With many more battles ahead, however, an early win may not mean much. On its Web site, Friends vows to "stop the RDC's land grab." And Bruce Kramer, an attorney who represents Friends, had this reply to one plan supporter:

"Since you are glad the RDC won round one, I wonder if you are interested in buying or leasing the Brooklyn Bridge?"

Is it going to court?

Probably so, in the opinion of the Urban Land Institute and others. If it does, the court battle could be long and expensive -- and a long time coming. A decision could be appealed. The dispute over running Inter-state 40 through Overton Park went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, then it was nearly 20 more years before new houses were built in the old expressway corridor.

Digging Deeper. Chumney does her own budget searching.

Memphis Flyer
By Bianca Phillips

This week, the City Council approved a resolution requiring the city finance office to submit quarterly budget reviews. Those reviews, which will include budget trends for each city division, spending reports, and year-to-date revisions, have been put in place to predict and minimize any budget shortfalls. The vote comes two weeks after city administrators reported that overtime costs and costs related to the July 2003 windstorm combined for a $30 million shortfall in the 2004 budget.

During last Thursday's budget committee meeting, City Council members listened to finance director Charles Williamson's contingency plans designed to offset this year's budget shortfall and future projected revenue shortages. But one council member -- Carol Chumney -- was more concerned about the causes of the budget shortfall.

"I was shocked and amazed at [Mayor Herenton's] announcement and what he said about council members being asleep on the job," said Chumney. "For them to come in and say that about $20 million was taken from the reserve fund to make up for this year's shortfall, that blew my mind." In a Commercial Appeal article, Herenton was quoted as saying that council members should have been aware of the city's fiscal situation.

Following reports by Williamson and his staff and information presented by the U of M's Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Chumney presented her own report, one that analyzed budget data back to April 2003. Her contention was that city leaders, namely Herenton and then finance director Joseph Lee, were aware of the city's revenue problems long before the council was notified last week. "We need to know why the city came up with numbers much rosier than the Sparks numbers," said Chumney. "I think we need some accountability, some answers."

The city's plan includes hiring freezes, cost decreases, and phasing out temporary workers and would produce about $32 million in savings. Chumney said the shortfall is closer to $36 million. Herenton has said that an increase in city property taxes may be necessary. Chumney proposes additional budget cuts, including college incentives and tuition reimbursements for employees, food expenses, legal and court costs, Riverfront Development funds, and a hold on nonessential new computer purchases. Those items currently account for $13 million of the budget. "Before you advocate property or payroll taxes, you have to make a reasonable budget and make cuts," Chumney said. "Only after doing that do you go to the people and ask for a tax increase."

Budget reports from Sparks had not been made available to council members. Chumney said that if the council had been provided with ongoing revenue reports from Sparks, it would have made more informed decisions before approving the budget for fiscal year 2005. The council approved the budget based on the city's April forecast data. "Of course, [the council] didn't ask for the Sparks reports because we didn't even know they existed," said Chumney. "Earlier this year it was said that I was too aggressive and was asking too many questions. Now, it's like we're not being aggressive enough or asking enough questions. You can't have it both ways."

Copyright 2004, The Memphis Flyer. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Letter: RDC should put a chunk of Tom Lee Park up for sale

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

If the Riverfront Development Corporation is hell-bent on selling public land for private development, perhaps it should consider selling off part of Tom Lee Park.

RDC's refusal to plant additional shade trees, install picnic benches or gazebos or shelters results in an open expanse of land on which to build condos and office buildings, with plenty of space remaining for Memphis in May festivities.

RDC could easily exercise its power of eminent domain because Tom Lee Park doesn't have the easement restrictions the City of Memphis must overcome to promote private development of high-rises on the public promenade.

Tom Lee Park would likely "lease" to private developers for enough money to relocate the fire station and two parking garages from the public promenade. And devel oping a small part of Tom Lee Park might be what the RDC needs to bring "critical mass" to the riverfront.

Bill Tillner

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Memphis brawls on the Promenade - Revitalization quest splits city

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Drew Jubera

Memphis --- There are hundreds of them, maybe a thousand. Descended from this river town's 19th-century founders, they're all over the world, living all kinds of lives, from judge to jailbird. Two have been mayor. They're Democrats, Republicans, white and, in one branch, black. They've made and lost fortunes, married (sometimes each other) and multiplied.

But after 180 years and five or six generations, the heirs of this city's three founders are now front and center in a high-profile dust-up over a downtown development on a bluff above the Mississippi River.

It's a dispute full of blue blood, new blood and bad blood, destined for a courtroom but not necessarily a resolution. It centers on four precious but declining blocks called the Promenade that Memphis' original proprietors gave as public space in the 1820s --- but to which the heirs still hold title, allowing them to block plans contrary to the founders' intent.

Now this rebounding city wants to let private developers refashion what has become a bleak stretch of moldering civic buildings and "No Trespassing" signs into a mixed-use playground of condominiums, boutiques and restaurants where patrons can look over a wine list while looking out at the Big Muddy.

That vision has split not only the heirs, but many of the city's movers and shakers, from business moguls to land barons to celebrities like actress Cybill Shepherd and basketball legend Jerry West.

Supporters of commercial development claim it will kick-start a long-dormant area. Opponents, including preservationists and environmentalists, view the plan as a land grab that violates the founders' aim. They want the city to develop a park instead.

"It's a passionate issue. It's a where-do-you-stand-on-Memphis issue," said John Branston, columnist for Memphis magazine. "There are a lot of hard feelings. If they go after a legal solution, there's no way it will be resolved. Solomon couldn't decide this."

'Interesting headache'

Nobody knows how many heirs there are to John Overton, James Winchester and John McLemore (who bought his stake from a cash-strapped future president, Andrew Jackson). While their surnames appear on park and street signs, nobody seems certain what the heirs' rights are, who speaks for them or whether one set has more say-so than another.

"Nobody will really know until it's brought to court and goes through the legal process," said Newton Allen, a Memphis lawyer who represented heirs in a 1965 state Supreme Court decision that upheld their title rights and stopped the city from giving part of the Promenade to a hotel chain.

"It's going to be a headache," he added, "but an interesting headache."

Here's what is known: When the founders laid out Memphis, they set aside prime river bluff property as open air for what was then a malarial sweatbox. When they gave the new city an easement to the land, the founders insisted, in a document filed with the Shelby County registrar's office in 1828, that the property forever be "public ground for such use only as the word [promenade] imports."

More expansive than it is now, the land was whittled away as the city and its geography changed: The river receded, an island formed off its bank, new industries sprouted. Heirs allowed some changes and fought others.

By the 1960s, with Memphis in decline, the Promenade was an incoherent jumble of public buildings. A quaint park with a river view did survive, though few seem to notice it anymore.

The Promenade has since been largely ignored. As downtown Memphis bounced back in the '90s, development drifted elsewhere: a rejuvenated Beale Street; a mall attached to the Peabody Hotel; new housing along the more southern bluffs.

"The privilege of using that property for the public has been squandered," said Napoleon Overton, an heir and stock analyst whose office overlooks the Promenade. "Everybody agrees on that."

In 2000, the city ceded riverfront planning to a nonprofit, quasi-governmental agency, and last year the Riverfront Development Corp. unveiled its Promenade project. The corporation, whose board of power brokers run the gamut from old influence to new money, hailed it as a vibrant answer to a bluff known as Memphis' "front yard." The board's star power included West, president of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies, and Shepherd, a Memphis native who lives there part time. (West supports the plan; Shepherd was originally in favor, but now opposes it.)

The City Council OK'd it. Even the heirs appeared to be on board. Hamilton Gayden, a Nashville circuit judge, unearthed 160 fellow Overtons. A survey he mailed asked them to choose between two Promenade options: an accord that allowed private development if there was sufficient green space and revenue-sharing with the heirs; or leaving the property as it is.

A large majority favored development and sharing in profits.

"We ought not be obstructionist," Gayden said. "Nobody's expecting any money --- there's not enough money to cover that many heirs and make it worth it."

Other heirs, mostly Memphians, say they weren't contacted or didn't respond to the survey, and were outraged by what they viewed as a blood betrayal. A meeting between the groups was a disaster.

"They're a good group of people, but I'm starting to wonder about some of the gene pool," said Virginia Overton McLean, president of a grass-roots group opposing bluff development in favor of an enhanced park.

"We try to be civil to each other, but the whole thing just incenses me," she added. "It's just so abhorrent to what I believe should be done."

Condemnation possible

The next step likely is in court. Benny Lendermon, Riverfront Development Corp. president, said the city's options include condemning the land and collaring it by eminent domain. The land has not been assessed, but its value could run into the tens of millions, a portion of which would go to the heirs.

"It's a way to get before a judge to rule on what the heirs' rights really are," Lendermon said. "I don't think anyone with the city is concerned about resolving it. It's just deciding which is the best way to pursue it. It could take as much as two years."

Most heirs are silent on the issue; many hadn't considered the Promenade in years, if ever, before this ruckus.

"I wanted not to be involved, because when people hear the word 'heir' it has an old-timey, negative connotation," said Lisa Overton Snowden, who opposes the development. "People thought we were going to benefit personally, and that's the last thing I wanted people to think."

But both sides feel the weight of their ancestry.

"It's bizarre," said Ruth Warner, heir and historian at Travelers Rest, the Nashville home of founder John Overton. "It's putting a burden on your descendants to say something should be restricted like that. I would like to honor his wishes, but I also have to think of the needs of a modern city. How could he possibly have envisioned what Memphis would be like today?"

Yet heirs who oppose the commercial development insist the founders' vision was both enlightened and timeless.

"This is not like a son all of a sudden thinking his father didn't have any sense," said McLean. "These were astounding people way back when who had this broader view of what could be good.

"I feel a responsibility to them," she added. "You couldn't pay me enough to go away."

© 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, July 01, 2004

New eyes on Memphis

Memphis Heritage Keystone

July/August 2004

The Keystone recently interviewed Mike Cromer, a contributor to The Keystone and an enthusiastic new Memphian. A retired business development executive who has lived in Park City, UT and attended the Sundance Institute for filmaking, Mike is now spending his time producing documentary videos.

Q. You moved to Memphis last August [2003]. What motivated you to come here?

I was actually moving from California back to Washington DC where I grew up. I stopped in to visit an old friend and she convinced me to stay a while. It didn’t take much convincing.

Q. You have previously lived in Boston, Ottawa (Canada), Park City, and San Diego. How do you like Memphis? How does it compare?

I love it. Memphis is a perfect size, has loads of culture, history, and a unique flair…and of course very nice people. I had visited here a number of times over the years and watched the city "grow up." I feel it’s right on the cusp of something big and special. My experience of Memphis compares to Ottawa, which is also friendly, historic, and cultural, and similar in size.

Q. Why did you decide to live downtown?

I like snug and cozy walking cities, where you can do and see so much without getting in a car. I like the mix of old and new, and especially how Memphis has put a new life into many of its old structures and institutions. But I also enjoy riding the boulevards and character-rich neighborhoods in midtown and elsewhere.

Q. You’ve started working on a documentary about the Riverfront project. What got you interested in this?

I’d come here hoping to find an interesting subject to film. But at first, my interest in the Riverfront was simply as a new Memphian. I’d heard about a meeting last fall at the ballpark to discuss big plans affecting the Riverfront. Naturally I wanted to know what it was all about, so I went.

Q. Your reaction?

Frankly, disappointment. The way the plan was presented was unclear and confusing -- I didn’t get it. There was a lot of talk about other cities that didn’t really compare with Memphis; it didn’t particularly interest me. I got a sense of a long, paved walkway with shops and restaurants. But I’d just been filming the waterfront and it was mostly green and cobblestones. There was no help for me on the RDC’s Web site, either. My feeling was that somebody could do a better job of presenting the plan.

Q. So you decided to do a documentary to explain it?

Not at that point. In the winter, I heard that a group of Memphians were unhappy with this plan. I went to the initial meeting of Friends for Our Riverfront and heard many people discuss problems with it, each from a different perspective. At that point, my own perspective changed. If I did a documentary, it could be more than just informational with great visuals. It could be issues-oriented, and help people make an important decision about the City’s future. I also saw a potential for drama, and human interest, a sort of David versus Goliath story.

Q. What do you think are the major issues?

I’d prefer to say “questions”, and there are four or five of them. Aesthetics, history, economics (or feasibility), and public process. Environment would be the fifth, but my preference is to include it under feasibility. Legality is also a question, but one to ultimately be decided in the courts. The first two, aesthetics and history, are very subjective. Each person has a personal opinion about whether the plan looks good and fits their image of the waterfront and personal lifestyle. Similarly, and legal questions aside, each person may have a personal opinion of how important history should be in the outcome. For many people, one or both of these two questions are their hot buttons. They are certainly engaging and interesting topics for a documentary, and I will include them. But my special focus will probably be on the other two, economics and public process. They are my own hot buttons.

Q. Talk about economics.

I think it is astonishing that so little is really known, publicly at least, about the economics and feasibility of the project. This is huge plan and the costs, whoever pays them, are very significant. You hear the words "growth" and "progress", but these are assertions, not facts. Where are the details? What are the measures of success, and the risks of failure? As a software executive, I cringed when someone tried to sell me a product “vision” without addressing those questions. We called it "slide-ware"! I don’t mean to insult Memphians, but I wonder if they are asleep. I should think they would care more about a matter that potentially affects their pocketbooks.

Q. Why are you concerned about public process?

How big decisions are made, and the extent to which the public is directly involved in the process, is important in a democracy. The specifics vary from locality to locality, but the goal is always the same. In this case, there are at least two aspects that tie into national trends. One is the creative and expanding use of quasi-public entities to manage aspects of our life that would ordinarily be in the government’s domain. This is not a new idea, but it is being applied in new ways across the country, and some question if they are good, proper, or even successful. The second, closely related issue is the expanding and often creative use of eminent domain, which is the government’s limited right to seize private property for a clear public purpose. In many recent cases around the country, the “public” purpose hasn’t been so clear, while private interests have often benefited immensely.

Q. Do you think that’s happening here?

I think it’s definitely worth exploring the subject and presenting it for Memphians, and perhaps others, to understand, using the Riverfront project as a case study.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

IRS Form 990: 2003-2004

Here is the RDC's IRS Form 990 for the fical year ended June 30, 2004 [PDF, 907 KB].

Monday, June 07, 2004

Memphis riverfront in tug of war; Wanted for park, redevelopment

Associated Press

MEMPHIS, TENN. - In 1819, the founders of Memphis had run off the Chickasaw Indians and were getting down to drawing a design for their city.

They envisioned a town with a long, green park as its front door gracing a high bluff over the Mississippi River. The Promenade, as they called it, was to offer a commanding view of the river and would forever remain "public ground."

But not much of that park is still a park, and the view is far from commanding.

Now the view of the river from the Promenade is blocked by two run-down city parking garages, a firehouse, an old library and a former federal courthouse.

The city's plan for gussying up the riverfront would clear out the old buildings and open four central blocks of the Promenade for developers to put offices, condos, shops and restaurants.

That plan has created two determined camps: a citizens group that wants the Promenade returned to open green space and the Riverfront Development Corp., which wants a splashy commercial waterfront like other cities have built.

Likely in the mix, too, will be hundreds of heirs of the Memphis founders who argue they can claim the land if private developers move in.

"It was meant to be reserved for the use of the people, not for private business," said Charles Crawford, a University of Memphis history professor.

Though the land on which Memphis sits was then occupied by the Chickasaw, North Carolina claimed it in the late 1700s and a speculator named John Rice bought a 5,000-acre chunk.

The founders of the city, John Overton, James Winchester and John McLemore, got the land from Rice's estate after he was killed by Indians. By the 1820s, Memphis had fewer than 100 residents, but it was a center of trade for livestock, cotton, timber and other goods.

The Memphis founders were land developers, but they took the unusual step of setting aside several sites for public parks. The Promenade drew the attention of private business early on.

"People were using it to park their wagons. They would camp there, and if they brought something in to sell, they would pile it up on the riverfront," Crawford said.

In 1828, the founders drew up a written explanation that their easement for the site meant it was to be public land.

Benny Lendermon, president of the current-day Riverfront Development Corp., said the site has since become an eyesore and the only way to transform it is with private money.

"It's been talked about for years, but it's not ever going to happen. It will just keep sitting there like it is," Lendermon said.

His nonprofit corporation is under contract with the city to manage and redevelop the 5-mile-long riverfront.

Memphis, like other cities, has pushed in recent years to make its riverfront more attractive to tourists and local residents alike.

Over the past two decades, the city has made major strides cleaning up downtown -- a revitalized Beale Street entertainment district, the new Peabody Place mall, a new minor-league ballpark and the NBA Grizzlies' FedExForum opening later this year.

The face-lift has convinced more people to move downtown and has sparked commercial development. The Riverfront Development Corp. has plans for more improvements.

Lendermon said clearing out the old buildings plus laying out a park could cost $50 million. Members of the citizens group, Friends of Our Riverfront, predict it would cost considerably less, however, perhaps as little as $7 million.

The development corporation has the city council's OK to move ahead with its plans, but Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, said her group's fight is far from over.

"The land they're talking about is public land. It belongs to the citizens of Memphis," said McLean, an heir of founder John Overton. "We think it should remain open space for everybody to use."

The Riverfront Development Corp. now must begin talking to the founders' heirs, a diverse group that still owns the land, even though the city has an easement to use it.

Lendermon has said there must be a court decision on how the land can be used, and that might take up to two years to settle.

The Riverfront Development Corp. hopes to find private developers to build two towers up to 150 feet tall for offices and condominiums. The development also would include shops, restaurants and other such businesses.

The riverfront already has more than 250 acres of parks but little else to draw people to the river, Lendermon said.

"If you want to have a view of the river and have dinner at a small bistro or some nicer place, there's no place to go," he said.

Copyright 2004, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Editorial: An Opportunity on Front Street

Commercial Appeal

MANY MORE hurdles remain to be crossed, but the Memphis City Council has established the most viable course for eventual transformation of the promenade on Front Street into an attractive downtown amenity.

The council's approval of a redevelopment concept for the four-block blufftop tract from Union to Adams - using private funds for public improvements - came after four hours of debate.

The vote was a recognition of the reality that private investment is probably the only practical way to revitalize that stretch of the waterfront.

Now cluttered with buildings that block access to river views, the 12-acre promenade, if the Riverfront Development Corp. plan continues to advance, could be cleared for the most part to make way for broad sidewalks, walkways to the river and new buildings with the kinds of ground-floor businesses that would draw people to the riverfront for shopping, dining and socializing.

The council's decision is hardly the last word on the fate of the promenade. City government has an easement to use the property for the public's benefit, but the situation is complicated: It is owned by heirs of the city's founders, a large and diverse group with widely varied opinions on the matter.

Beyond the legal challenge lies the selling job. Investors must be persuaded to put millions of dollars into building projects that will have to conform to the objectives of the RDC plan, with restrictions on such factors as building heights, appearance and usage.

As soon as City Council minutes are approved, the RDC will attempt to start talks with the heirs of the Memphis founders who set aside the area for public use, persuading skeptical members of the group, it is hoped, that commercial investment is the most viable option for restoring the promenade to its intended use.

As difficult as those tasks may be, at least the area now has a chance to recover from decades of neglect. The promenade could become the cornerstone of a world-class riverfront in which future generations of Memphians can take pride.

Unfortunately, City Council's decision to launch the promenade redevelopment plan was marred by Chairman Joe Brown's delay - without explanation - of a public hearing on the issue.

More than 200 people showed up for a 3:30 p.m. public hearing, only to be forced to wait for more than three hours while the council ambled through its agenda. And then opponents of the redevelopment plan were given only 20 minutes to make their case.

If the chairman's intent was to spare those with unrelated council business from having to sit through the public hearing, that should have been clearly explained to the audience.

Forcing people to wait for hours to state their positions on controversial issues is an unfortunate tactic used occasionally by City Council chairmen in what the public perceives as an effort to wear down opponents of proposals favored by council majorities.

Instead of discouraging people from participating in the process, the council should use every opportunity to show that the public's views are being taken seriously.

This matter was handled in a way that reinforced the notion that the promenade plan was being shoved down the throats of an unwilling and skeptical public. Not a very good way to win people over to your point of view.

Copyright 2004 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Thursday, May 20, 2004

TV: Riverfront Belongs to Public And Heirs

Channel 3 News
By Stephanie Scurlock

It's the city's most prized piece of land: the riverfront promenade. It overlooks the Mississippi River and is considered prime property by developers. City council members are hearing arguments about how it should be developed and how much green space should be left. But in the end, it's not totally their decision. It's a decision the relatives of three founding fathers will help make.

Virginia McLean is from the Overton family. She leads the grass roots group Friends For Our Riverfront. She wants improvements to the riverfront, like the removal of unsightly parking garages and vacant buildings. But she doesn't believe apartments and businesses belong there.

McLean and other descendents of John Overton, John McLemore and James Winchester are heirs to the riverfront property. In 1828, the three founding fathers of the city of Memphis set aside a portion of their land, called the Promenade, to give to the city. The one stipulation is it can only used as public land. Descendants are in a dispute on what constitutes public land.

Descendants like Happy Snowden Jones back the Riverfront Development Corporation's proposal. She says it's for the good of the city, not her bank account. She says there are far too many heirs to gain anything substantial financially. Jones prefers a mix of residential and activities on the riverfront. She doesn't believe, as McLean does, that a park alone will attract people downtown.

If the descendents can't reach common ground about what constitutes public use, they'll have to let someone else, like a judge, make the decision.

Copyright 2004, WREG Channel 3 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

Approval of land's heirs next step in riverfront redevelopment plan

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

After winning a key vote of approval from the Memphis City Council, Riverfront Development Corp. officials prepared Wednesday for what could be the most difficult step in their quest to transform the downtown promenade.

The RDC must begin a dialog with the heirs of John Overton and the other Memphis founders who set aside the four-block area west of Front for public use.

The discussions, involving diverse factions of heirs, would delve into their viewpoints on the property and possible terms under which they might accept development, RDC officials said.

Whatever the response, the talks likely will lead to a court decision stipulating how the land can be used, RDC president Benny Lendermon said.

"No matter what happens, . . there has to be some judgmental decree that allows something to happen on the property," he said.

The legal decree is needed because the heirs own the land, while the city has an easement. The RDC said it might be two years before the matter is settled.

The council's approval of the RDC's promenade land-use plan Tuesday opens the way for discussions with the heirs.

The plan entails $50 million worth of improvements and calls for a blend of public areas and commercial development. Amid strong opposition from citizens' groups, the council placed a 150-foot height limit on buildings, down from the 400-foot maximum in the RDC plan.

Once the council's action becomes official with the approval of the meeting minutes next month, RDC officials will meet with the city's legal staff to determine how to approach the heirs, Lendermon said.

The RDC has been contacted by a number of people claiming either to represent heirs or be heirs themselves, he added.

Noting the various factions involved, Lendermon said the RDC might conduct mass meetings with the heirs.

Opponents of the promenade plan, who include some of the heirs, accuse the RDC of communicating mostly with those descendants who support development on the acreage. That group includes several out-of-town Overton heirs, such as Davidson County Circuit Judge Hamilton Gayden.

"They do not represent us," said Virginia McLean, an Overton heir who is president of Friends for Our Riverfront, which fiercely opposes the RDC plan and instead favors development elsewhere downtown.

In addition to Overton heirs, the descendants of founders John C. McLemore and James Winchester also have rights to the promenade land and must be part of negotiations, McLean said.

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

TV: Council approves riverfront development plan

Action News 5
By Darrell Phillips

Memphis City Council members voted overwhelmingly in favor of an issue so controversial it filled council chambers. But -- as it turns out -- all the debate couldn't derail the plan.

Despite an unprecedented showing of opposition Memphis City Councilmembers chose something new over something familiar, supporting a plan to let private developers build on public land. To turn the Memphis river bluff into a place planners describe as a thriving social promenade.

"I don't think anyone wants to go there in its current state," said Kevin Kane of the Memphis CVB. "We gotta change and we gotta do it now."

It wasn't easy. Hundreds filled the room. They brought signs. They wore ribbons. They were angry.

"An inadequate consideration for the historic fabric of downtown and the uniqueness of the bluffs," said Rebecca Conrad in opposition.

Both sides put up their dukes and came in swinging.

"I'm saying to myself, my god, doesn't anybody have any vision for what this city could look like?" asked Grizzlies Boss Jerry West.

Opponents argued the new plan isn't what city ancestors wanted. Fears of high rises dotting riverfront landscape brought council members to compromise, offering an amendment to limit new buildings to 150 feet. 12 stories high.

Still opponents said it was impossible that the plan wouldn't cost taxpayers, despite planner's promises.

"I've asked Mr. Lendermon. I've asked Ms. Jernigan. I've asked another board member if we could see the financial feasibility study. I've been told by three different board members that there is not one," said Bayard Snowden.

In the end, it wasn't much of a contest for the Council. And now City planners face even higher hurdles. Both sides acknowledged this will likely end up in a courtroom next. A judge will have to determine whether the city even has the legal right to move forward. It could take months. It could even take years.

Copyright 2004, WMC Channel 5 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

TV: Revamping the riverfront

Action News 5
By Darrell Phillips

"I've been around a long time and I've heard the adage no public money's going to be required many times and it never seems to happen," says Memphis City Councilmember Jack Sammons.

Sammons is one of three who voted against the massive plan to revamp the riverfront.

Planners say it will pay for itself. "Private money generated to pay for public improvements," says riverfront planner Benny Lendermon. HeƊsays Companies will pay the City to lease the property. Costs are absorbed by the developers and not the taxpayers.

Sammons doesn't buy it.

"I think we need to be straight with our customers," he says. "Customers are the taxpayers. We need to look 'em in the eye and say ultimately this is going to cost you some money."

Others worry how that money might add up.

"The finances don't work," said an opponent Tuesday night.

Councilmember Carol Chumney said, "We hear that no money's going in but yet we're looking at approving eight million dollars in bonds this year for the Riverfront Development Corporation."

Memphis developer Jack Belz weighed in in writing. His letter to the Council warns, "it is misleading to imply that there will be no cost to the community..."

He writes that moving big business to the promenade will hurt businesses in areas already developed.

"We will in fact be sacrificing the area east of Front for a new town west of Front," writes Belz.

The downtown fire station will have to go too. That will cost someone.

"It'll cost 20 million dollars to move that fire station," says Sammons. "That's the headquarters of the Memphis Fire Department. Not something you can just put in a little building somewhere."

And what about infrastructure costs, sewers, drainage, landscaping, lighting?

Benny Lendermon tells me it's all part of the plan. That private development will cover those costs. But he's clear, nothing will happen without lengthy discussions. He also says it is possible that the downtown fire station will be a problem taxpayers might have to pay for.

Copyright 2004, WMC Channel 5 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

Council Backs Plan for Frontage - Battling Blight Trumps Worries

Commercial Appeal
by Blake Fontenay

Memphis City Council members didn't love everything they heard about a plan to develop four blocks of prime downtown riverfront.

But after more than four hours of debate Tuesday night the majority concluded that approving the proposal was better than the alternative.

By a 10-3 vote the council endorsed a plan to blend public walkways and open spaces with commercial development along the four blocks west of Front Street.

Council members admitted to having concerns about the type of private development that would be put on the site.

But they worried even more that nothing would happen on that property if the plan were squelched.

Representatives from the Riverfront Development Corp.(RDC), a nonprofit group that spent 18 months developing the plan, told council members that private investment was the key to revitalizing the blighted and underutilized stretch of waterfront.

John Stokes, the RDC's chairman, said that without a private-public partnership "we're going to be right where we are today many years from now. Nothing will change. Nothing will happen."

That argument seemed to sway council members, along with assurances they would still have power to approve or reject specific development projects when they're brought forward.

Council members conditioned their support on heights of any commercial buildings being capped at 12 stories or 150 feet.

"I think it's a great step forward,'' Councilman Rickey Peete said. "We're not going to allow the RDC or anyone else to denigrate what we have here in our riverfront. . . I think it's important to move forward and not be stuck in the mud."

Benny Lendermon, the RDC's president, said the plan calls for the lower levels of any new commercial buildings to be open to the public, possibly as sidewalk cafes, restaurants or shops.

The development would occur on 12 acres now occupied by Confederate Park, two parking garages, a fire station, the old Custom House and Post Office and Cossitt Library.

Some of the buildings, such as the post office, might be renovated and put to other uses under the plan.

Nothing is likely right away, though.

A judge will first have to decide if the city can use the property for commercial purposes.

The courts have ruled that the heirs of the city's founders own the land, although city government has an easement to use the property for the public's benefit.

Bruce Kramer, an attorney representing Friends for Our Riverfront, predicted the planned commercial uses wouldn't pass muster in a courtroom.

"The RDC proposal, in our opinion, does not constitute public use,'' Kramer said.

More than 200 people showed up for a public hearing that preceded the council's vote.

Council chairman Joe Brown dismayed many in the audience when he decided to hold the public hearing at the end of the council's agenda, forcing citizens to wait more than three hours before the riverfront discussion began.

After Brown allowed 20 minutes for the RDC to introduce the plan he gave 20 minutes to opponents, then another 20 minutes to supporters.

Several of the speakers who identified themselves as the plan's supporters also had ties to the RDC, in effect giving them another chance to make their case.

Opponents, some wearing green ribbons or carrying protest signs, complained that the plan could clear the way for high-rise apartments or condominiums that would block the riverfront view from the east side of Front Street.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, expressed skepticism about Lendermon's claim that the $50 million development could be financed entirely with private money.

"They tell us we don't need to worry about the details,'' McLean said. "That's simply not true.''

Council members Carol Chumney, E. C. Jones and Jack Sammons voted against the plan.

Copyright 2004 The Commercial Appeal

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

City Council Public Session to debate and approve the Promenade Land Use Plan (audio)

At the links below, in MP3 audio format, are recordings of the entire debate in City Council public session with respect to "item 30" on the agenda the afternoon of May 18, 2004. "Item 30" was a resolution approving the RDC's Promenade Land Use Plan.

The plan was controversial, to say the least. The large public Council chamber was packed. Because Item 30 came at the end of the Council's other business, debate began late in the afternoon, after a break, and ran into the evening.

Council Chairman Joe Brown began by saying he that would allow both sides -- the RDC and the plan opponents -- 15 minutes each to present their cases. What he in fact did was allow the RDC 15 minutes to present and argue for the plan, the opponents 15 minurtes to argue against, and then the RDC and its supporters another 15 minutes to argue for.

Following that, the City Council members themselves made speeches. Meanwhile, a motion was made to delay a vote on the plan for another two weeks to allow the Council more time to study it. That motion was defeated and the Promenade Plan was finally approved (Chumney, Jones, and Sammons voting against).

The entire debate runs three hours and eight minutes. It is divided into seven parts below, corresponding to the tapes used.Click to listen or download:

Letter: Support of RDC proposal not in best interest of city

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

The Commercial Appeal has again come out against what is good for the city. Instead of supporting what is good, it is supporting what the Riverfront Development Corp.'s monied interests want.

You first opposed, before coming around to support, the Bluffwalk, which is a great addition to our city. Now you support the RDC plan to "sell off" our public riverfront land (promenade) to provide income for the RDC.

Leasing the promenade for a 40-, a 30- and a 15-story tower is contrary to the 1828 deed that gave the land to the citizens of Memphis for public use. The founders of our city had a far better vision of our city than you have. Shame on you.

Bergen Merrill

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

Letter: Promenade development would deny preservation

Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

It is very apparent that the writers of a May 15 letter to the editor and your May 16 editorial ("Turning the city's face to the river") have both missed the point of the Public Promenade being placed on the list of Tennessee's 10 most endangered historic sites.

The promenade's nomination and its selection to this very important listing are based on the fact that the blufftop area along the west side of Front Street called the Public Promenade was given to the citizens of Memphis as a public open area to be used and visited by all. This listing by the Tennessee Preservation Trust serves to make clear the fact that for over the last 50-plus years Memphis has not been a good steward of the promenade and now is the time to correct the years of inappropriate development, not to add to it.

If the newest development plan by the Riverfront Development Corp. is approved by the City Council as early as today there will simply be no more public bluff/promenade. It will become a squared-off concrete structure with no appearance of the natural green bluff that once stood as a historical part of Memphis history.

June W. West

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

Visions battle on River bluff

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

On a four-block strip of the Memphis bluff long coveted for its high ground, no one can find much common ground these days.

The downtown promenade area is the focus of starkly contrasting visions and dreams that likely will frame a fractious debate before the City Council this week.

The council has slated a public hearing for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to receive comments on a Riverfront Development Corp. land-use plan that provides for mixed-use commercial development as a means of attract ing people and generating revenues on the promenade.

The RDC plan has mobilized critics who believe the private development and possible high-rise buildings envisioned in it would violate a public treasure. They favor expanded parkland and open space in the area.

Some council members say they're torn over the issue.

"I really don't like the RDC plan, and I don't like the plan the opposing group has come up with, either," said Carol Chumney, who'd like to see the promenade included in a more comprehensive downtown plan.

The issue remains far from resolution. Even if the council approves the proposal, RDC still would have to launch legal action to gain control of the acreage, as well as conduct more detailed planning and search for developers.

"This process is not nearly as far along as the public discussion would suggest it is," said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The promenade encompasses acreage west of Front Street that was set aside for public use by Memphis's founders. Court rulings have held that the property is owned by heirs of the founders, with the city having an easement.

The four-block area is home to parking garages, a deteriorating library, a fire station, Confederate Park and the old Custom House and Post Office.

About the only matter on which there is widespread agreement is the current state of the promenade, which the RDC plan calls an "inactive barrier between the city and its river."

"I think everyone agrees that the current state of our promenade is unacceptable," said John Gary, vice president of the group Friends for Our Riverfront, which opposes the RDC's plans.

The agreement ends where planning for the promenade begins.

RDC's proposal, drawn up by the New York firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners after a series of public meetings last year, would put the parking garages underground and remove most of the other structures. The Custom House and Post Office could be refurbished for other uses, such as the University of Memphis law school.

The RDC proposal includes a two-level promenade, or walk way, along the bluff edge and pedestrian bridges across east-west streets.

Commercial development, which would be needed to fund the $50 million cost of improvements, would be sought at specified locations. They likely include sidewalk cafes and apartment buildings towering as high as 400 feet, with the lobbies of the structures open to the public.

Mindful of the criticism over the prospect of high-rises, Lendermon said whatever kind of development occurs will be market-driven.

"We are totally, totally convinced that without some kind of mixed-use development on the promenade, it's going to sit just like it is for another 50 years," he said.

"The issue isn't how tall the buildings are. It's that you have that kind of activity at that place."
The Friends group and other critics, however, say the RDC plan violates the founders' intent for the promenade and gives developers too much control of a public asset.

Gary says that in setting aside the land, founders in effect placed a conservation easement on the promenade.

"We're not against buildings on the property," he said. "Public uses for the property are acceptable."

The vision favored by the Friends group is based on a plan for the promenade first drafted in the 1980s. It features mostly park space, sidewalks where buildings now stand and pedestrian bridges.

Gary said the group's plan is cheap and can be accomplished without the legal battle facing the RDC proposal.

"It could basically be done for what the city would pay in legal fees," he said.

In recent weeks, the RDC plan has drawn criticism from groups other than Friends.

The Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects adopted a resolution favoring "largely unobstructed, open civic space" on the promenade.

Downtown developers Jack Belz, Ron Belz and John Dudas also sent the council a letter opposing high-rise structures on the promenade and questioning other aspects of the RDC plan.
But Lendermon said critics typically make more noise than supporters. He said "a huge number" of developers and other citizens support the RDC plan.

"The problem is having these people step forward," Lendermon said.

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Editorial: Turning the City's Face to the River

The Commercial Appeal
Editorial, Page B4

THE MEMPHIS City Council has many factors to consider in its decision on the fate of the Riverfront Development Corp.'s plan for redevelopment of Front Street's Public Promenade, which could come as early as Tuesday.

The Tennessee Preservation Trust's designation of the four-block-long blufftop strip as one of Tennessee's "most endangered public treasures" should not be one of those factors.

The promenade was a treasure once. Now it's primarily a collection of parking garages and public buildings that wall off access to spectacular river views. Access is forbidden in at least one spot with a "no trespassing sign."

What we still call the "promenade," the west side of Front Street from Union to Adams, is nothing like the area that city founders John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson set aside for permanent public enjoyment in 1819.

Redevelopment aimed at creating full public access to the promenade would fulfill the original intention of the founders. It would create an inviting atmosphere that would help bring Memphians back to the river. It would give tourists a panoramic view that would make them want to visit Memphis again.

Legitimate concern has been expressed about building heights and other factors. Those are matters that would still be resolved through the consideration of individual site plans. Many more questions would have to be answered before a detailed picture of the redeveloped promenade plan would come into focus.
Specific details of the RDC plan, which would be financed by commercial development of parts of the promenade, in other words, are still negotiable.

The suggestion here is that Memphis should not miss out on a golden opportunity offered by the RDC to create something special in this special place on the bluff.

The concept of tightly controlled commercial development - with an emphasis on broad sidewalks suitable for a promenade, outdoor cafes, perhaps even a sidewalk musician or two - remains the most practical way to make the promenade accessible again.

Existing parking garages would be replaced by underground parking. Residential, office, hotel and retail space would rise overhead. New access to riverfront views would be created, and the existing Confederate Park would be preserved.

Needless to say, a spacious park would be preferable. But local government finances are extremely tight and likely to remain that way for some time because of the heavy demands of public education, public safety, health care and other necessary services.

The RDC's redevelopment plan offers a way to create an exciting new amenity in downtown Memphis without going to local taxpayers for the funds to build it. It would give a boost to downtown revitalization, enhancing its commercial and residential offerings.

The promenade area has been subjected to decades of neglect. Passing on this opportunity to put a redevelopment plan into play would doom the Memphis riverfront to a perpetuation of that fate, possibly for many more decades to come.

Not every idea that planners at the RDC have come up with meets a need as perfectly as the promenade plan, but this one - at least in concept - offers some hope that at this critical point the city would turn its face to the Mississippi River again.

The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the plan for Tuesday, and a decision could come soon after. If there are problems with the specifics, they can be resolved.

But the momentum for making the promenade an attractive, accessible amenity that everyone can enjoy should not come screeching to an indefinite halt.

Copyright 2004 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Letters: RDC not listening to public input

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

I was one of approximately 70 people who attended the Promenade walk conducted by the planner for Cooper-Robertson. That walk was the only public meeting the RDC held in which the public was actually asked for input.

If you review the summary of the walk's input on the RDC Web site, it's clear the RDC disregarded the public comment it received about its plan and tried to avoid any negative input on its presentation.

The RDC plan was presented at the third public meeting, and the audience was asked: ''What do you like about this plan?" Participants weren't informed of the Founders' vision until this final meeting, when the attorney who had filed the case to block hotel development, leading to the 1965 Supreme Court case, disclosed that the land was held as an easement for public use.

The RDC claims its plan increases public space by 60 percent. While it calculates the space added by wider sidewalks, it fails to calculate all of the ''public space" space created by existing sidewalks and other areas. There is no minimum amount of walking space dedicated to the public in its proposal. It labels ''public areas" as green in its plan, when they won't contain grass, but rather add to the concrete and brick that already dominate downtown.

Thankfully, citizens have the right to have another vision. The City Council should have the wisdom to pursue the original alternative.

Sue A. Williams

Why do I feel I am not part of the "public" as described by our city's leaders? I am a Memphian. My family lives within the city limits. I love downtown. My family plays, worships and entertains there. So why we are denied access to the sidewalks and egress that my tax dollars built for ''public use"?

Is it Henry Turley who did not want my family to access public use areas because it would disturb him for one month out of 12? Was it Kevin Kane who did not want my family to use the public sidewalks in front of his home? Did Mayor Willie Herenton order the closing of the stairs to Tom Lee Park?

Surely it was not the participants in Memphis in May. They would not have asked to walk to the far ends of the park to gain access. They bring visitors, income and a positive image to a city that desperately needs anything positive. Who locked these gates?

Is this what we are to expect if the city gives away the land that has been set aside for "public use" for 185 years? How far will we have to walk to get a view of the river then?

Memphis has done a fabulous job renewing downtown without losing sight of the history and feel of a Southern river city. Please do not spoil the efforts that have gone into these improvements. Do not try to pass off the renovation of the bluffs as a "public" service.

William McBride

Don't ruin the best bluff view in Memphis with bank and office buildings and condo penthouses for the few elite who can afford them. The Founders meant the Promenade to be green space, ample and open to the people, forever. The RDC should sit down with concerned citizen groups and find out what the people want on their land.

Humans who live and work in cities need large green spaces, not little strips at the edges of concrete walks. Maybe even a space as large as three Confederate Parks stitched together, in the heart of downtown, where they can see it from their offices and apartments and get to it easily for a bite of lunch. When you have only 30 minutes, you don't have time to go to Tom Lee Park or Mud Island, but you can be on the Promenade in an instant.

Through legal machinations, the RDC would have Memphians pay for this land even though it already belongs to them. The RDC plan is up for approval by the City Council, although no ecological or environmental study has been done to determine the impact the plan might have on the Wolf River or the Chickasaw Bluffs.
The fate of this land has been decided, in 1828 by the Founders, in 1867 and 1965 by the highest court in Tennessee. The Promenade belongs to the people of Memphis, not to the highest bidder.

Mimi Harris Waite

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN

Friday, May 14, 2004

Public promenade vote looms amid growing dissension

Memphis Business Journal
By Amos Maki

The plan for transforming a four-block area Downtown known as the public promenade is in a crucial phase. A public hearing before the City Council is scheduled for May 18.

Critics and supporters of the $50 million redevelopment plan that would be paid for by private development are gearing up for what could be a bitter fight.

"We feel like we are presenting the appropriate plan for the city of Memphis and hope our elected officials will endorse it," says RDC president Benny Lendermon. "It is providing access to a property that is inaccessible now and it's providing an experience that doesn't exist in

Memphis that exists in cities all over the world on their waterfronts."

Some local developers instrumental in the rebirth of Downtown are as far apart on the plan as the banks of the Mississippi River at Memphis.

In a memo obtained by Memphis Business Journal that was sent April 26 to Lendermon, Belz Enterprises chairman and CEO Jack Belz, along with company vice presidents Ron Belz and John Dudas, express deep concern about the plan.

"Our community has only one front door and that is Downtown," the memo says. "Our Downtown only has one riverfront.

"The public promenade set aside by our founding fathers is the only publicly owned property on our city's high bluff that will ever exist. We must not let short term pressures override the long term best interest of our community."

Private developments, including three proposed new buildings, would pay for projects like a two-level promenade and the relocation of parking garages underground. The buildings would be mixed-use, with restaurants and shops lining the bottom floors. Ground leases would keep the property under the control of the city. The plan also calls for pedestrian bridges that would stretch across Monroe and Court and for improvements to sidewalks on the promenade. Grand staircases would provide access to the upper level of the pedestrian walkways.

The property now contains the old Cossitt Library, a fire station, the old Custom House and Confederate Park. The land is virtually inaccessible to most of the public and offers prime views of the river.

But there is some skepticism about the projected height of two of the three buildings proposed in the promenade plan. The plan says the property would be able to sustain a 300-foot residential tower where the fire station and an All-Right parking garage now sit and a 400-foot office tower north of Confederate Park, between Jefferson and Adams. Those are maximum heights the buildings could reach.

The Belz memo also states that it is "misleading" for the RDC to imply there will be no cost to the public for the plan and that private developers would be able to foot the bill for the $50 million price tag.

"A $50 million bond issue would require approximately $4 million per year of revenue to amortize the debt service on the bond issue," the memo states. "It is unlikely that private interests could justify paying $4 million per year in land costs for the limited amount of property available on the promenade."

The memo says the plan does not protect taxpayers and could harm restorative efforts under way in the rest of Downtown.

"In other words, this action could retard the revitalization of the currently developed portions of Downtown and turn over a large portion of the public space overlooking the waterfront to private interests in order to raise a relatively small amount of funds for these improvements," it states. "The financing assumptions need re-evaluation before the city adopts a plan based on this thesis."

Belz Enterprises owns Peabody Place, the 2 million-plus-square-foot retail and entertainment center near Beale Street, and the company has been a primary influence in revitalizing Downtown.

In his reply, Lendermon says an alternate plan calling for the promenade to be turned into a park proposed by a group called Friends For Our Riverfront "generates no revenue and the RDC Plan generates significant revenues that reduce the burden on the taxpayer." Plus, the removal of what is currently there, "no matter what you put back is very costly -- $50 million." The memo goes on to say "the cost of putting a park on the site, public open space around mixed used developments as we suggest, or even converting it to a soybean field are all in the $50 million cost range due to the previously mentioned cost of removing existing infrastructure."

FFOR officials claim their plan will cost only $7 million.

Other important members of the development community, while not endorsing the RDC promenade plan outright, have been far less critical and generally supportive.

"I think we have an opportunity, and in fact an obligation, to get right on it and improve that area," says Henry Turley, principal of Henry Turley Co. "I would be embarrassed if I finished my career and the riverfront looks as shabby as it does now, with parking garages and abandoned libraries and neglected parks. So, I'm for doing things and not leaving things alone. I, by the way, own as much property as anyone on the east side of Front Street. "

Turley previously has expressed some reservations about the heights of the buildings, saying he doesn't believe the economy is dynamic enough to support them. But other concerns voiced by critics, particularly about blocked views, were acceptable to Turley.

"If I had to give up 20 degrees of my view by way of a new and taller building that gives vitality and a more continuous link to the river, I would gladly give it up," he says.

Jay Buckley, vice president and asset manager for Parkway Properties, the company that owns Morgan Keegan Tower and the Falls Building on Front Street, says his company favors the plan, although the proposed office tower would restrict some views of the river.

"We value the views we have as much as anybody on Front Street and we know that it means a lot to our customers," he says. "But it would be a fairly small price to pay to lose a sliver of a river view and gain what is likely to result from the promenade development."

City Councilman and RDC board member Rickey Peete will vote in favor of the redevelopment, saying the plan is viable and that it could do great things for the city.

"I think it can be profitable and improve public access to the promenade," he says. "And it will give the city an opportunity to improve its skyline."

Peete says he understands that some people have concerns about the plan.

"We try to do what is best for the city and sometimes you can't make everybody happy," he says. "I just think this is the best thing for the city of Memphis."

City councilman Carol Chumney says that if she had to vote up or down on the plan Tuesday, she would vote no.

"I can't vote for it the way it is," she says. "There are parts of the plan I can support and there are parts that I cannot support."

Chumney would like to see some cooperation between the RDC and FFOR. She says the council could delay action on the plan and ask the two sides to work out a compromise.

"It is too important an issue to say you've got to do this or forget it," Chumney says. "Whatever happens on the riverfront, we are all going to have to live with it for the next 50 years."

Jeff Sanford, president of the Center City Commission, says it is difficult to judge exactly how the proposed promenade developments would affect redevelopment in other parts of Downtown. Sanford is an ex-officio member of the RDC board.

"Redevelopment of Downtown is far too complex to conclude categorically that development in one area will hinder development in another area," he says. "In some sense, redeveloping the riverfront into an attractive, bustling area could actually enhance our ability to attract redevelopment in other areas of Downtown."

Sanford says the market, not the RDC or FFOR, will determine what gets built Downtown.

Some members of the CCC's affiliated boards met with officials from the RDC and FFOR May 6 to review each plan. The FFOR presentation seemed to hit a snag when members of the group were unable to say how they could fund their plan or how they would replace parking spaces that would be lost. Commissioners, however, asked tough questions of each group and seemed to favor a middle ground.

But Rick Masson, RDC board member and former longtime member of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's administration, was emphatic in his opinion that it is now or never for the promenade area.

"I honestly don't feel anything will be done" if the RDC plan is not approved by the council, Masson says. "It is going to stay the same way. I guarantee you."

Masson says a park would be an "impediment instead of an enticement" to getting people Downtown and he says that "in terms of making the river part of our lives, there is nothing" in the FFOR plan. Plus, he says, there is plenty of park space Downtown now.

According to the CCC, there are at least 300 acres of parkland in Downtown Memphis.
John Stokes, RDC board chairman, agrees with Masson and says this is do or die time for the promenade.

"I think if they don't adopt some form or fashion of our plan, I am firmly convinced it will sit dormant," he says. "That has been the history of the property for 50 years."

Lendermon says he knew there would be some opposition to the plan, citing previous debates over bringing the Grizzlies to town and building a new arena, the bluffwalk and the location for AutoZone Park.

"We always anticipated opposition," he says. "We knew there would be a lot of debate over this very important piece of property."

Plus, legal challenges will delay any work for at least two years. If the council approves the plan, the city must move to take control of the land.

The property was donated by the city's founding fathers for use as a public promenade. The heirs of the founders hold title to the land and they are somewhat divided on the proposal, although a large majority of the Overton heirs support the RDC proposal. The city would have to take control of the land, possibly through eminent domain.

In his memo to the Belzes and Dudas, Lendermon sums up his thoughts on the promenade's future.

"The truth is that absent a private vehicle to fund a significant portion of these costs," he says, "the existing condition of these promenade blocks will remain just as they have over the last 50 years."

© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Promenade makes state list, called endangered; supporters applaud

The Commercial Appeal
By Richard Locker

Memphis's riverfront Public Promenade made the Top 10 list of Tennessee's "most endangered public treasures" issued Monday by the Tennessee Preservation Trust because of plans to lease it for private development.

The green space stretching atop the downtown bluff was laid out as permanent public space in the original plan for Memphis by the city's founders, including future president Andrew Jackson. But the City Council is considering a plan by the Riverfront Development Corp. to lease part of the Promenade for private development, including high-rise office towers.

The plan has prompted an outcry from preservationists and others. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing May 18 and will likely vote afterward.

The inclusion on the Trust's "Ten in Tennessee" list offers the space no legal protection but does call statewide attention to the issue. TPT is a statewide nonprofit historic preservation education and advocacy group and is the state partner of the prestigious National Trust for Historic Preservation. The annual list is compiled by a committee of historians and preservationists, from nominations submitted by the public.

"This year's list addresses a wide range of places that help give our state its unique identity," TPT Executive Director Patrick McIntyre said during a ceremony in the state Capitol's Old Supreme Court Chamber. "We have found that lack of awareness is the single biggest hindrance to the preservation of historic places, and the list serves as a means to generate awareness of the most critically threatened."

The Promenade is the only Memphis site on this year's list. Two other sites in West Tennessee are included: the Alex Haley House in Henning, and the Sons and Daughters of Charity Hall in Bolivar.

The 2004 list is the third issued by the Trust. Memphis sites on previous lists are the Chisca Hotel in the South Main Historic District, in 2002, and Chucalissa Indian Village and Melrose School, both in 2001.

The Riverfront Development Corp. is a nonprofit organization that contracts with the city to manage public properties along the riverfront. Asked to comment on the Promenade's inclusion on the list, RDC President Benny Lendermon said, "I wish everyone would come and see it today. I don't think anybody wants it to stay the way it is.

"There's a fire station, a falling-down library and two parking garages on it, that block the view and prevent public access. It's a wall of inactivity between the riverfront and downtown Memphis," he said.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends For Our Riverfront, which opposes the RDC's plan, said she "is thrilled" with the Promenade's inclusion on the list and hopes it helps save it. "I think people in Memphis feel passionately about our river. That land's been our parkland for 185 years, and basically this RDC plan is going to plop down 400-, 300- and 150-foot high-rises on it."

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Letters: ULI's Vision Excludes Many in Memphis 'Family'

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

In his April 25 Viewpoint guest column, "'Family room' could bring city together," Wayne Ratkovich fails to extend the invitation to everyone in this city's family. In his endorsement of the Riverfront Development Corp.'s plans for the promenade, Ratkovich cites the Urban Land Institute's vision for a civic "family room" that would include high-dollar restaurant and retail establishments that many economically marginalized Memphians would never be able to visit.

It is understandable that Ratkovich, an outsider, might not be familiar with the whole Memphis family. He may not have had time to visit the failing schools or lunch with the homeless population at one of our soup kitchens.

Chances are he does not understand the broken government systems that funnel huge sums of city and county money into economic development projects that cater to those with substantial means, leaving large tracts of chronic poverty thriving in need.

It is understandable that Ratkovich may have missed the immense needs here, but it is inexcusable that our governments and quasi-governmental entities would make the same mistake time and again. Surely they see the many social issues looming over our collective heads.

We are seeing the failure of economic stimulus to correct our broken neighborhoods and schools. Maybe our city's stewards will redirect the plans for a "family room" on the riverfront, and focus our resources on correcting the issues that cripple our educational and social systems. Maybe they will create a longer-term plan for economic growth by ensuring that all citizens have access to the education and services needed to exploit economic opportunities.

J. Marc Cunningham

Memphis's founders saw a different vision

The headline on an April 25 Viewpoint guest column praising the RDC's scheme for the riverfront, "Vision of founders will come to life," is misleading, at best.

John Overton, one of Memphis's founders, clearly defined their vision of the promenade: "between the front lots (east of Front Street) 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."

Note the phrases "ample vacant space" and "all of which." Obviously, the intention is a walkway through an open space park.

Since then, this "ample vacant space" has picked up a customs house/post office, a library, a fire station and two parking garages - all of which, even though they were needed public uses, wronged both the citizens of Memphis and the Overton heirs.

Now the RDC proposes that the library, the fire station, and both parking garages be replaced with a wall of medium- and high-rise buildings along Front Street, with "promenade" walkway balconies on the west. This is not public use, and again deprives Memphians of the park and promenade the founders envisioned.

It's a shame that we are considering leasing to developers the use of this property, which is a birthright of all Memphians.

Roy Harrover

I live in downtown Memphis. I am passionate about it.

When called to vote on the RDC's plan, the City Council must balance what is good for the few against what is good for the many.

Friends for Our Riverfront is lobbying to retain the area as a public park and promenade. The RDC would like to erect a couple of high-rise buildings, of 23 to 30 stories each, and lease them to private developers.

Does the RDC plan mean that when driving west on Union Avenue we will be in a shadow cast by a 400-foot wall lining the bluff and blocking our sunlight and view? How much will the project cost and who will pay for it?

It's nice to have someone looking out for us. How fortunate we are to have citizens who pay attention to issues that will forever affect all of us and generations to come. Thank you, FfOR.
Relying on our politicians and corporate leaders to keep us informed is neither wise nor tradition here. What height precedents will the City Council be setting if it decides in favor of the RDC? What will that mean to future developments on our river?

If you favor the RDC's plan, you are in the company of some very powerful politicians and prominent people. If you favor the FfOR plan, now is the time to get involved.

Leigh L. Davis

I don't have Grizzlies tickets, political influence nor the money to make significant campaign contributions. I do have, however, one vote and a sincere concern for the future of our riverfront.

I ask the City Council to carefully scrutinize the RDC's proposal to allow the development of 300- to 400-foot high-rise towers on public property.

Bill Tillner

Local architects offered consulting help, AIA says

In response to your April 28 article "Architects urge open space on riverfront," I want to go on record to say that RDC president Benny Lendermon's statement that officials "worked a great deal" with the Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects in the planning process is false.

True, we have asked the RDC to consider consulting with AIA Memphis in the planning process and to use us as a resource, but to date this has not happened.

Our AIA chapter adopted a resolution asking the RDC and the City Council to "explore a broader range of alternatives" than the RDC's plan.

I want to reiterate that the resolution, which was formed after presentations from both the RDC and Friends for Our Riverfront, was challenged before being supported by our board and then sent out to the membership for their vote. Eighty-two percent of our polled membership agreed with the resolution.

I also believe that we went out of our way to communicate our position to the RDC before making the resolution public.

I have since been made aware that we are not alone in our position and have the support of a stronger majority than those who originally responded to the poll, as well as the support of many outside our organization. I resent Lendermon's comments.

Rebecca Conrad
President, AIA Memphis

Stifling ideas for growth gets Memphis nowhere

The great cities of the world became great because they had bold ideas for growth. Tour the outer drive in Chicago, and I dare anyone not to be inspired.

If these cities had listened to the objections cited by the writer of your April 25 letter to the editor, "Honor city's heritage, not costly 'urban fantasy' ," they would still be floundering around in political folderol - as Memphis is.

Let us all be a little tolerant in viewing plans for growth for our city. As a Chicago transplant, I look forward to the future here.

Memphis will never be a great city if we continue to stifle ideas for growth.

Don Meyers

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