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.

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