Sunday, January 25, 2004

Public promenades by river; Walkers urge sensitivity in developing riverfront

Commercial Appeal
By Sherri Drake

Some Memphis residents with an interest in downtown preservation are ready to battle city officials and developers to save a riverfront that, they say, belongs to the people of Memphis.

So when it started to rain Saturday, they got out their umbrellas and kept walking.

The League of Women Voters sponsored a public walk of the downtown promenade Saturday.

About two dozen people gathered to discuss what would happen if the Riverfront Development Corp. carries out a plan to turn a big chunk of the bluffs into residential and commercial property.

The part of the promenade up for development stretches from Union Avenue to Adams Avenue between Riverside Drive and Front Street.

John Overton and other founders of Memphis set the land aside in 1819 for public use.
"It's like they have no sensitivity for the space," said Virginia McLean, an Overton heir and president of Friends for Our Riverfront. "This is land that belongs to the people of Memphis for all time."

Representatives of RDC, the nonprofit established to manage riverfront projects, contend development is needed to draw more people downtown.

Those opposed to the plan fear that new 30-floor buildings, apartments and shops, will block the view of the riverfront and deplete the city's park space.

Sarah Flowers remembers taking her children to Ashburn Coppock Park, laying out a picnic spread and watching riverboats float by.

"I want to be able to bring my grandchildren, too," she said.

Some on Saturday suggested restoring old buildings downtown rather than building new ones. But restoring old buildings is often more costly.

RDC released drafts, prepared by a prestigious New York planning firm, that show a new promenade recessed into the bluff along with one above at the Front Street level. Pedestrian bridges would arch over Monroe and Court, and parking would be buried in the bluffs, beneath the new buildings.

Towers as high as 400, 300 and 150 feet are suggested on three of the blocks. Planners envision the first floors of the structures having public uses, and they'd prefer that developers lease, not own, space on the promenade.

June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, said not enough evaluation has gone into the plan.

RDC officials say that by replacing some current buildings with more suitably sized and designed structures, their project actually would increase - by more than 60 percent - the amount of open space in the promenade area. That would improve access to the riverfront and the views of it.

Saturday, many people said they agree that the riverfront could use some changes, but that they think Memphians don't have enough say in the plans.

"We are not against development, we are just against wrong development," West said.

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

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