Friday, November 11, 2005

Too Many Credit Cards

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

A $27 million Beale Street riverboat landing and a $400 million train track from downtown to the airport are capital improvements. So are a walking trail and playground at the Bickford Community Center in North Memphis. Guess which one is most likely to be stopped by the city's spending freeze.

The city and county are trying to get their budgets in shape and keep their bond ratings from slipping. The news gets worse by the month. So the city administration and City Council have frozen spending on capital improvements.

Public facilities such as the Bickford Community Center and its customers will feel the chill. Located between Caldwell Elementary School and Uptown, Bickford has an indoor swimming pool, an after-school and Head Start program, and a senior citizens program. The playground consists of a single swing-set and a bare open field. A modest investment that would make a modest improvement in the everyday lives of young and old is on hold.

A spending freeze gives city officials some breathing room, but it won't stop big-ticket projects such as the boat landing and airport train, and it won't fix the budget or restore public confidence. The reason, to oversimplify a bit, is that the city of Memphis is married with children. There are a lot of credit cards out there.

Memphis and Shelby County are like a couple with joint checking accounts and individual accounts. They have rich uncles -- state and federal government -- that shower them with money they must use or lose. And they have children -- the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), to name a few -- with their own credit cards and some very nice allowances. Unless the parents take away the credit cards and allowances, the spending won't stop.

The Riverfront Development Corporation has groomed Riverside Drive, the bluff, and riverfront parks to an exemplary standard. But now that it has killed the land bridge and written off most of a $760,000 master plan, it should consider its own relevance. A self-imposed sunset clause might be a public service and a recognition that the agency, like the dot-com boom, was a product of an era of excess that is as yesterday as the catered breakfast served up at RDC board meetings.

What's left for an outfit with three former city division directors on its payroll at salaries plus bonuses that exceed what they were making as public servants? Its driving force and guiding light, Kristi Jernigan, is gone. The land bridge is gone, and several board members didn't even bother to show up for the vote that killed it. Mud Island River Park is ready for its annual seasonal shutdown after losing another million dollars or two this year. The University of Memphis can carry the ball for the proposed downtown law school. Lawyers and Friends For Our Riverfront and heirs of the city founders will determine the future of Front Street and the public promenade. The Pyramid has its own reuse committee.

The boat landing is supposed to make the river more accessible, but the river is already accessible from two boat ramps on Mud Island, and you can throw a rock in it from Tom Lee Park or Greenbelt Park.

The city has a contract with the RDC, which in turn signed contracts for the design, construction, and management of Beale Street Landing. With several million dollars already spent, it's not likely that the mayor and City Council will pull the plug on the Beale Street Landing and the RDC. Unless the board acts on it own, as it did on the land bridge, Memphians will have a $27 million tourist bauble.

MATA is another semi-autonomous agency, responsible for the costly and baffling extension of the Madison trolley line to Cleveland in Midtown. With the MPO, MATA is actively studying alternative routes to the airport. The lure of big construction contracts and "free money" in the form of state and federal funds is driving the project.

Once again, unless the board acts or the mayor and City Council specifically target this project, Memphians will wind up paying for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Beale project starts; $500,000 earmarked for landing

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

Despite grim Memphis budget forecasts and a recent moratorium on new capital projects, construction of the $27.3 million Beale Street Landing got under way this week as crews began widening the entrance to the Wolf River Harbor.

Using an initial appropriation of $500,000, the Riverfront Development Corp. is excavating and dredging parts of Mud Island and the harbor to make way for the riverboat landing planned for the foot of Beale.

The initial work, which should take only a few days, comes barely a week after the City Council and Mayor Willie Herenton's administration agreed to shelve new capital projects to allow for a review of spending.

The action was prompted by concerns over the city's current $25.8 million budget deficit, as well as its dwindling reserves and growing debt.

Still, RDC president Benny Lendermon said the project is proceeding with the blessings of both the council and the administration.

The council approved the $500,000 appropriation three weeks prior to the Nov. 1 decision to halt capital projects. After the moratorium, administration officials told RDC that it could proceed "full speed ahead" with the landing project, Lendermon said.

RDC, the nonprofit corporation established by the city to enhance the Mississippi River front, will follow whatever instructions come from City Hall, he added. "If the council decides tomorrow they want us to stop, then we'll stop," Lendermon said. "But that's not what we've been told."

The landing project features a floating dock for large excursion vessels and a series of landscaped islands built on terraces descending toward the Mississippi River. Completion is set for 2008.

RDC officials say the project is sorely needed because Memphis has no reliable and convenient landing for commercial vessels such as the Delta Queen. Without it, the city could lose all service within two or three years.

Federal and state grants will cover at least $10 million of the project's $27.3 million cost, with the city paying the rest.

But Carol Chumney, one of the two council members who voted against the $500,000 appropriation, said the project should not have been launched until the review of capital spending was completed.

"It's a waste of money if the council pulls the project," Chumney said.

The startup of the project also drew criticism from John Gary, vice president of the group Friends for Our Riverfront. He called the landing extravagantly expensive and unnecessary, particularly in light of the city's budget problems.

"If we had all the money in the world, maybe it would be OK to do something like this," Gary said.

The next phase of work, slated for early next year, involves driving a sheet-pile wall into the harbor and filling behind it to create a foundation. Lendermon said RDC will ask the council for more funds as they're needed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Editorial: Hyneman's gifts carry a price

Commercial Appeal

"DON'T YOU THINK he's just a nice guy?" Memphis City Council member Barbara Swearengen Holt replied when questioned about help she and other elected officials have received from developer Rusty Hyneman.

There's no question Hyneman has quite a giving streak in him, at least where certain people with the power to help him later are concerned.

As a six-week investigation by The Commercial Appeal revealed, Hyneman helped Holt get a luxury skybox seat to a Memphis Grizzlies preseason game.

Hyneman co-signed on a loan so City Council Chairman Edmund Ford could lease a $50,000 Cadillac. Hyneman also bought a $1,200 airline ticket for Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks and one of Hyneman's business partners gave Hooks an interest-free $16,000 loan.

And these are only some of the more recent examples of Hyneman's "generosity."

When Jim Rout was still county mayor, he got a free ride in Hyneman's private jet. Hyneman also helped City Councilman Rickey Peete buy a new house and rented County Commissioner Tom Moss a home when Moss needed to establish residency in his new district.

Like Holt, other elected officials who have been on the receiving end of Hyneman favors have described him as just a really good friend. The fact that his company regularly appears before the council and commission to request approval for land-use changes has nothing to do with anything, they claim.

That's just plain silly. Any elected official who believes Hyneman isn't looking for favorable treatment in return for his many acts of kindness is hopelessly naive. Those who clearly understand Hyneman's game and choose to play it anyway are corrupt.

Our community doesn't need elected officials who fit into either of those categories.

In the wake of the Tennessee Waltz undercover investigation, there has been a lot of attention on tightening the state's ethics laws.

It's clear that more work needs to be done at the local level as well. The council's ethics policy is advisory only, which means it's basically worthless.

However, council members might not know where to turn for objective legal advice on making improvements: After all, their attorney Allan Wade is also representing Hyneman in a divorce case.

Another disappointing aspect of the latest revelations about Hyneman is that the elected officials involved seem to be beyond shame.

Hooks, who was indicted in August on bribery and extortion charges, told a reporter that press coverage will only help him in his upcoming trial.

"The more y'all write, the better it gets, baby," he taunted a reporter trying to interview him about the loan he received from Hyneman business partner Henry Weaver. "And I'm going to need public opinion. ... Y'all ain't learned that yet."

Forget integrity for just a second. Don't these elected officials have any pride? Why would they even be willing to let someone think that they could be bought off with free air travel or other perks?

Sure, being an elected official probably gets lonely at times.

But those who need a friend should get a dog.

The messes would be easier to clean up.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hyneman a 'friend' indeed to officials

All say gifts, favors have no bearing on development votes

Commercial Appeal
By Marc Perrusquia and Michael Erskine
Link to original

He bought an airline ticket for County Commissioner Michael Hooks and helped City Council Chairman Edmund Ford lease a new $50,000 Cadillac.

When council member Barbara Swearengen Holt wanted to see a preseason Grizzlies game this fall, he helped her sit for free in a luxury skybox.

Multimillionaire developer Rusty Hyneman has provided these and other perks to local politicians while on a remarkable run winning approval for his often controversial land developments.

An investigation by The Commercial Appeal found:

Last year, Hyneman co-signed to lease a Cadillac sport utility vehicle worth more than $50,000 for Ford, who had bad credit and couldn't qualify for the car. Ford says he makes the monthly payments himself.

Hyneman paid $1,200 in April to get Hooks a plane ticket to New York, where the commissioner scouted out college opportunities for his teenage son.

Hyneman's business partner provided Hooks an interest-free $16,000 loan in 1999.
The favors, turned up in the newspaper's six-week investigation, only add to a lengthy list already public.

When he was county mayor, Jim Rout accepted a free trip on Hyneman's private jet. City Councilman Rickey Peete turned to Hyneman for help in buying a new house. Home builder-turned-commissioner Tom Moss rented a home from Hyneman when he needed to establish residency in a new district.

In addition, Hyneman, his family members and business associates have raised tens of thousands of dollars for council members and commissioners in campaign contributions since the 1990s.

Almost invariably, when politicians were asked about Hyneman, they described him as a friend, saying any favors he may have performed had no impact on their official actions.

"You don't think he's just a nice guy?" said Holt, 66, who says she is so close to the 41-year-old developer she calls him "my son."

In a council meeting in September, Holt, Ford and Peete fawned over Hyneman's fifth-grade daughter, who had won a championship riding one of her father's horses, presenting her with cuff links, a blouse, a medallion -- and the symbolic key to the city.

"It's outrageous (what) he can do," said attorney Dan Norwood, an advocate for ethics reform who also once led an unsuccessful fight to block a controversial Hyneman building project in Cordova.

"The local ethics law has absolutely no teeth in it."

Despite a statewide push for ethics reform following corruption indictments against at least 10 current and former public officials, the Memphis City Council still has few hard rules on accepting gifts, maintaining a code of ethics that is not mandatory but simply advisory.

"The next ethics battle needs to be right here," Norwood said.

Hyneman, who served a term in federal prison after a drug conviction in 1988, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Ford's Cadillac

When Edmund Ford drives to City Hall to chair the council's biweekly meetings, he shows up in a sporty 2004 Cadillac SRX.

Ford got the black sport utility vehicle -- worth more than $50,000 and loaded with custom features -- last year from Bud Davis Cadillac, signing a $918 monthly lease.

Ford, 50, a funeral director by trade, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1999. His credit was bad, and, he admits, he couldn't qualify by himself.

Records show Hyneman co-signed on the four-year lease.

The car is registered to the E.H. Ford Mortuary, but the title application was signed by Hyneman. Ford said he gets no help from Hyneman making the monthly lease payments.

"I don't need nobody to pay nothing for me. No. No, no, no, no. No sir," Ford said. "He's a friend of mine. ... I mean, he's just co-signing. I mean, what was the problem?"

Asked if Hyneman's co-signing equated to a gift with economic value, Ford said, "Well, I guess it would. ...

"You get people to co-sign with you on a lot of different things. If I didn't pay the note, they'd end up taking the vehicle, or whoever co-signed would be responsible, I guess. But other than that, no."

Former County Commissioner Joe Cooper, the car salesman who handled the Ford deal and who remains a close associate of Hyneman's, said he doubts the developer is paying for the car.

"I'm sure he isn't," Cooper said, but citing customer confidentiality, seemed to reconsider.

"Once the car leaves here, I don't know who pays for them."

Council minutes show that in the months after Ford's March 2004 acquisition of the Cadillac, he voted for two major developments involving Hyneman.

That May, the council unanimously approved Saint Andrew's Place, a 105-lot residential planned development near Houston Levee and Macon roads pitched by Hyneman's Rusco development firm.

In February, the council unanimously approved Fountain Brook, a 335-home development on 106 acres in Cordova. Office of Planning and Development records list Rusco Partnership as the applicant and equitable owner.

Ford said there was no connection between the car and any of his votes: "Nobody influences my vote. I'm going to vote what I think is right. You know, that's on anybody."

NYC bound

Last spring, when Hooks chaired the County Commission, the other major governing board that approves local developments in Memphis and Shelby County, Hyneman bought him an airline ticket.

Hyneman charged the ticket on his American Express card, records show.

Hyneman's account statement shows a $1,249 charge on April 22 to AirTran Airways for a round-trip ticket to New York.

The entry says simply, "Date of Departure: 4/23. Passenger Name: Hooks/Michael."

Asked about the charge, the commissioner's son, school board member Michael Hooks Jr., made it clear the charge wasn't made for him.

"Let me emphatically say that I did not go on a trip to New York," he told a reporter.

But his father did.

The departure date, April 23, was a Saturday, and records show Hooks was absent for the commission's meeting that Monday, April 25.

Tom Moss, who had to chair the meeting in Hooks's absence, recalled that Hooks was on a college trip with his youngest son, which included a visit to New York University and other northeastern schools.

"He had several scholarship offers, and I think it was posed as it had to do something with that," Moss said.

"... They started in New York and they might even have gone up to Connecticut from there. That is my best guess."

Hooks did not respond last week to requests for comment on the tickets, but told a reporter earlier this fall that a $16,000 loan he took in 1999 from Hyneman's business partner had no impact on his voting.

"It's my personal business. It's got nothing to do with government," he said in September.

Records show Hooks has voted for several Hyneman projects through the years, including a 2001 addition to the sprawling Cordova Ridge planned development.

More perks

Holt said she sat with Hyneman last month in a skybox at a Grizzlies preseason basketball game. Hyneman often sits there, yet Holt said she can't recall who owns the skybox or which game it involved.

"I enjoyed it," she said.

Holt told The Commercial Appeal last year that Hyneman had given her Grizzlies club seat tickets worth $140 a pop more than once during the 2003-04 season, but says she now has season tickets that she paid for herself.

"He is a friend," said Holt, who has often supported Hyneman projects, but said the tickets have no impact on her votes. "My integrity means more to me than a Grizzlies ticket."

Councilman Peete, who met Hyneman in prison while serving a term for extortion and who got help from the developer in 1997 in buying a $110,000 home, said he, too, considers Hyneman a friend.

"You can be friends with an individual and at the same time maintain an objective perspective, if in fact there's something they've got that has to come before the body," Peete said.

"And that's the way I try to approach everything."

-- Marc Perrusquia: 529-2545

- Michael Erskine: 529-5857

Reporter Ruma Banerji Kumar contributed to this story.

Copyright 2005, - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 04, 2005

House bill counters eminent domain ruling

Associated Press
Link to original

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Contending that the Supreme Court has undermined a pillar of American society -- the sanctity of the home -- the House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday to block the court-approved seizure of private property for use by developers.

The bill, passed 376-38, would withhold federal money from state and local governments that use powers of eminent domain to force businesses and homeowners to give up their property for commercial uses.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in June, recognized the power of local governments to seize property needed for private development projects that generate tax revenue. The decision drew criticism from private property, civil rights, farm and religious groups that said it was an abuse of the Fifth Amendment's "takings clause." That language provides for the taking of private property, with fair compensation, for public use.

The court's June decision, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, changed established constitutional principles by holding that "any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party."

The ruling in Kelo v. City of New London allowed the Connecticut city to exercise state eminent domain law to require several homeowners to cede their property for commercial use.

With this "infamous" decision, said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, "homes and small businesses across the country have been placed in grave jeopardy and threatened by the government wrecking ball."

The bill, said Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice, which represented the Kelo homeowners before the Supreme Court, "highlights the fact that this nation's eminent domain and urban renewal laws need serious and substantial changes."

But opponents argued that the federal government should not be interceding in what should be a local issue. "We should not change federal law every time members of Congress disagree with the judgment of a locality when it uses eminent domain for the purpose of economic development," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia.

The legislation is the latest, and most far-reaching, of several congressional responses to the court ruling. The House previously passed a measure to bar federal transportation money from going for improvements on land seized for private development. The Senate approved an amendment to a transportation spending bill applying similar restrictions. The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced companion legislation.

About half the states are also considering changes in their laws to prevent takings for private use.

The Bush administration, backing the House bill, said in a statement that "private property rights are the bedrock of the nation's economy and enjoy constitutionally protected status. They should also receive an appropriate level of protection by the federal government."

The House bill would cut off for two years all federal economic development funds to states and localities that use economic development as a rationale for property seizures. It also would bar the federal government from using eminent domain powers for economic development.

"By subjecting all projects to penalties, we are removing a loophole that localities can exploit by playing a 'shell game' with projects," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, a chief sponsor.

The House, by a voice vote, approved Gingrey's proposal to bar states or localities in pursuit of more tax money from exercising eminent domain over nonprofit or tax-exempt religious organizations. Churches, he said, "should not have to fear because God does not pay enough in taxes."

Eminent domain, the right of government to take property for public use, is typically used for projects that benefit an entire community, such as highways, airports or schools.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion in Kelo, said in an August speech that while he had concerns about the results, the ruling was legally correct because the high court has "always allowed local policy-makers wide latitude in determining how best to achieve legitimate public goals."

Several lawmakers who opposed the House bill said eminent domain has long been used by local governments for economic development projects such as the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and the cleaning up of Times Square in New York. The District of Columbia is expected to use eminent domain to secure land for a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Dam Shame

The dam was damned from the start. So how did it survive so long?

The Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

On Monday, the Riverfront Development Corporation unanimously voted to remove the land bridge or dam between downtown and Mud Island from its strategic and implementation plans. Not a single member expressed support for what can fairly be called a $100 million turkey, although the exact dollars are anyone's guess.

Members of the illustrious RDC board agreed that the dam was unnecessary, unfeasible, and so unpopular that it was a general hindrance to the RDC, the five-year-old nonprofit agency responsible for developing and maintaining the public riverfront.

Better late than never. But the history of the land bridge is an instructive lesson in public process in Memphis.

One of the first people to propose it was E.H. Crump, the political boss of Memphis, who made the suggestion to a newspaper reporter in 1953, 25 years before work began on Mud Island River Park. But the latest 38-acre brainstorm was the product of a group of consultants -- Cooper, Robertson & Partners -- who were hired in 2000 and paid $750,000 for a 50-year master plan whose relevance is suddenly nil.

Nice work if you can get it.

High-priced consultants don't materialize out of thin air. Mayor Willie Herenton hosted public forums on the riverfront in 1999 and supported the creation of the RDC, which supplanted the Memphis Park Commission, in 2000. A former city division director, Benny Lendermon, was hired to run it. The board was packed with influential downtowners and celebrities such as Cybill Shepherd and Jerry West.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners conducted a series of community meetings on the riverfront. After 18 months, they issued a Memphis Riverfront Master Plan. Its centerpiece, literally, was the land bridge or dam between Court Avenue and Poplar Avenue. Whence it came, no one really knows. Community forums, like reporters' interviews, are a small and subjective sampling of public opinion. It is usually a stretch to generalize from them, but consultants and reporters do it all the time.

My guess is that high-priced consulting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For $750,000, Cooper, Robertson & Partners couldn't very well stop with such common-sense recommendations as a better boat landing, well-manicured parks with additional activities, an improved Promenade, and a nicely lighted sidewalk from Tom Lee Park to The Pyramid. For a big price, there had to be a big deal.

The land bridge was always couched in uncertainty: It might not be built for several years, it might or might not have high-rise buildings on it, it might or might not screw up the Wolf River harbor, it might or might not be paid for by private development. But it was too big to ignore. It was right there in the models and renderings. Of course people were going to react to it, and react they did. A second group of consultants, the Urban Land Institute, which was paid $110,000, threw up a bunch of red flags in 2003 but stopped short of recommending that the land bridge not be built.

For a while, Lendermon and the RDC tried to downplay the land bridge by pushing back the timetable. But everything else in the master plan was contingent upon it in some way. The death blow probably came last month when Jack Belz, developer of Peabody Place and the Peabody hotel, ripped it in a speech to a civic group.

Once the dam was broken, the flood broke through. RDC board members led by Dan Turley, Angus McEachran, Rickey Peete, and Kevin Kane, said kill it and kill it good. "It's not going to go away if we are vague," McEachran said. Board member Jim Hunt noted that nearly half the board members were absent and that the decision would reverse years of planning. Heads nodded in agreement.

By my watch, the RDC "debate" lasted five minutes. The land bridge was a dead duck, and the RDC's new signature project is the $27.5 million Beale Street Landing, which has its own critics but looks like a relative bargain and will probably get built.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Editorial: A bridge better left uncrossed

Commercial Appeal

WE KNOW THIS MUCH about the Riverfront Development Corp.'s board members: They obviously can read the writing on the wall.

On Monday, the RDC board wisely voted to remove a controversial land bridge from a 50-year master plan for reshaping the Mississippi riverfront.

Assuming the Memphis City Council agrees with the RDC's decision, the $78 million project will be officially scuttled.

So what made the land bridge project so controversial? Well, for starters, there was the cost.

For a city government struggling with its finances, $78 million isn't chump change.

Then there were the engineering challenges of filling in a huge section of the Wolf River Harbor between Mud Island and the rest of Downtown.

Then there were environmental questions about whether it would really be such a good idea to create a slackwater lake out of what would be left of the harbor.

Not to mention the debate about whether Downtown really needed all of that extra land for new offices, condominiums or whatever.

All things considered, scrapping the land bridge was an easy choice. As board member Jeff Sanford put it, the land bridge had become a "lightning rod" for the RDC's critics.

RDC chairman Rick Masson said the land bridge was intended to be a long-range project, perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 years into the future, but "the perception of the public was that it was an immediate action item."

It's encouraging that the RDC listened to public feedback on that issue. The RDC would do well to keep working with citizens as it pursues other parts of the master plan, particularly the so-called Promenade project.

That portion of the plan calls for new commercial or residential development, possibly in high-rise towers, along four blocks west of Front Street between Adams and Union. There has been substantial opposition to the idea of putting high-rises in that location - and for good reason.

One of the RDC's stated goals is to open up the riverfront and make it more accessible to citizens.

Phase one of the Promenade would most likely involve removing two parking garages, a fire station and an old branch library from the site.

However, it doesn't make much sense to tear down those buildings for the purpose of improving access, only to replace them with even larger and more imposing buildings.

A better approach might be to encourage development of shops and restaurants in smaller buildings. That would create a magnet to draw people to the riverfront, while also leaving enough open space to improve accessibility.

At a minimum, more public discussions are needed on the Promenade and other key elements of the riverfront master plan.

RDC board members demonstrated this week that they can be responsive to community input. That type of attitude could serve them well in the future too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mud Island-Downtown land bridge is falling down

Riverfront planners want to refocus, deflect critics

Commercial Appeal
by Tom Charlier

Yielding to what they called political and economic realities, Riverfront Development Corp. officials Monday scuttled plans to build an ambitious, development-studded land bridge connecting Mud Island with Downtown Memphis.

If followed up by the City Council next month, the action could kill a project described as "the single most important defining element" in a 50-year, $300 million master plan for reshaping the waterfront along the Mississippi River.

The land bridge, planned for the area between Court and Poplar, was intended to leave Mud Island "seamlessly integrated" with Downtown. It would have created land for development and transformed much of what is now Wolf River Harbor into a lake.

The RDC board of directors cited several reasons for the vote, including the need to redevelop other areas of Downtown first and the financial challenges facing Memphis.

Board members also said that while the land bridge had not been slated for construction for at least 15 years, the frequent criticism of it was a distraction. RDC is busy trying to build the $27.3 million Beale Street Landing for riverboats and redevelop the Promenade acreage.

"We've got a lot on our plate," said board member Kevin Kane. "...We've got to focus on what we can control in the next five or 10 years."

Jeff Sanford was among several members who said groups were seizing on the land bridge proposal in their efforts to block any redevelopment along the riverfront.

"The land bridge has become a lightning rod," he said.

The board's action, which follows a study of the land bridge by a subcommittee, drops the proposal from the RDC strategic plan. It also asks the City Council to remove it from the riverfront master plan that was approved in 2002.

Board member Rickey Peete, a City Councilman, said the matter probably will be put on the agenda of the council's Nov. 1 meeting.

The RDC action comes as the Corps of Engineers is completing a study of issues involved with the land bridge. Corps project manager Greg Grugett said the study does not make recommendation as to whether the project should be built.

RDC had pegged the cost of the land bridge and related construction at $78 million, by far the most expensive item in its $292 million slate of outlined improvements. Although public capital funds would pay for the projects, RDC's master plan says a "significant portion" of the costs would be recouped through private development activity.

Critics, however, called the land bridge a costly boondoggle that would unloose major environmental and drainage problems and harm recreation.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group critical of RDC's proposals, said she was "thrilled" by the vote Monday, which she said indicates the board has begun listening to public opinion.

"The public has been saying all along that we don't want a fake lake down there. We want a green riverfront," she said.

McLean and group vice president John Gary said RDC officials now should re-evaluate other parts of the master plan, especially those dealing with the Promenade.

"I'm kind of skeptical as to whether the master plan is worth pursuing," Gary said.

Despite the vote, RDC members said the land bridge concept could be revived sometime in the future.

"Plans are basically a work in progress," Peete said.

But for now, "the political reality is that it (the land bridge) has got to go."

Remaking the riverfront

The board of directors of the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit group overseeing efforts to enhance Memphis's ties to the Mississippi River, voted Monday to drop plans for a land bridge between Downtown and Mud Island. The action is the latest in the group's five-year effort to revitalize the riverfront:

July 2000: RDC begins work on a master plan of improvements for a five-mile stretch of the riverfront.

January 2002: The RDC board approves a master plan developed by New York architects Cooper, Robertson & Partners. Its central feature was a 50-acre land bridge, which would transform most of the Wolf River Harbor into a lake. The plan also includes a riverboat facility known as Beale Street Landing and the redevelopment of the Promenade area of Downtown.

May 2002: The master plan is approved by City Council.

May 2004: Despite opposition from a citizens' group, the City Council approves RDC's land-use plan for the Promenade, which calls for mixed-use development on the area west of Front between Auction and Beale.

September 2005: State and federal regulators approve environmental permits for RDC's planned Beale Street Landing project, a $27.3 million facility featuring a floating dock and other amenities to accommodate commercial excursion vessels. Initial dredging for the project could begin this fall.

October 2005: RDC board, citing political and economic obstacles, votes to eliminate the land bridge from the RDC strategic plan and ask the City Council to strike it from the master plan.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Herenton says recent Supreme Court decision could help Memphis

WMCTV Action News 5
By Darrell Phillips
Link to original

The mayor's words may anger some, especially those who have been fighting to protect a four block swatch of riverfront property from redevelopment.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton was straightforward about an issue that is anything but cut and dry.

"I will admit a bias," said Herenton. "I do have a strong bias. I'm very supportive of the Supreme Court decision."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut case found that local governments can condemn private property for commercial use, as long as it benefits the public in some way.

Herenton agrees.

"Cities should not quite frankly be inhibited to grow the economy, to grow its infrastructure and its needs because of existing buildings and structures," he said.

The mayor's position may play into a heated battle over the future of the Memphis riverfront.

"I think it has a brighter future given this Supreme Court decision," he said.

Opponents like Virginia McLean with Friends of Our Riverfront are disappointed. She says Kelo doesn't apply because the riverfront is already public land.

"The Kelo decision is something that I think the country has really felt outrage about, and it's surprising to me that at this time an elected official would want to use eminent domain to take land away from the people of Memphis," she said.

Herenton hinted the debate won't stop at the water's edge.

"There are some other areas within the city of Memphis that we think should provide greater opportunities for growth and development and eminent domain may be the way to make this land available," said Herenton.

He wouldn't elaborate, but says Memphis should be a balance of greenspace and city living.

"The Supreme Court decision will allow cities to get an urban environment that I think will bring about an urban quality of life that a lot of people will enjoy," he said.

The mayor was quick to point out that any new use of eminent domain and the Supreme Court ruling has to be done cautiously and that city planners should be fair reasonable as they move forward.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Editorial: Try to negotiate riverfront plans

Commercial Appeal

THERE'S STILL TIME to refine plans for developing the Downtown riverfront in ways that could significantly reduce public opposition.

That was perhaps the most promising bit of information that came out of a two-hour debate Sunday afternoon between representatives from the Riverfront Development Corp. and the Friends for Our Riverfront citizens group.

Oh, it wouldn't be easy. On some issues, the gap between the groups' positions is as wide as the Mississippi River itself.

Yet near the end of Sunday's forum at the Central Library, both sides said they were willing to talk about potential areas of compromise. It would be in everyone's best interests for those discussions to take place.

The most likely source of common ground might be on the so-called Promenade project, a four-block area of Front Street between Union and Adams.

The RDC, a nonprofit organization created by city government to manage riverfront property, envisions a high-rise development of some sort -- condominiums, offices or whatever -- that would provide limited public access along outdoor promenade decks facing the river.

Friends for Our Riverfront would prefer to see the area converted into parkland.

Sunday's forum exposed some weaknesses in each of those approaches.

For example, a high-rise development, no matter whether it's residential or commercial, would require a lot of parking. The RDC's plans call for two existing parking garages within the four-block area to be rebuilt as underground structures.

That might take care of the current needs for parking spaces. But a high-rise development would logically seem to require much more parking than the area currently has. And given the property's proximity to the river, there are limits on how far underground it's practical to put a garage.

RDC officials didn't make a clear and compelling case for the demand for new residential or office space, either. They say market conditions will determine what's best for the site. But if RDC officials are focused strictly on some type of high-rise, they're likely to overlook other possibilities that could be more practical and acceptable to the public.

On the other hand, RDC officials raised some very valid concerns about the idea of converting those four blocks into parkland. Rick Masson, an RDC board member, noted that Confederate Park and the Mud Island River Park are seldom used by citizens. That being the case, simply adding more unimproved park space doesn't seem like a good solution.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends, countered that parks don't have to be just empty patches of grass. She cited Overton Park as an example with multiple civic uses.

McLean said Friends wouldn't be opposed to some development on the Promenade, such as restaurants, sidewalk cafes and the like. It seems like there's still an opportunity to redesign the Promenade, perhaps using the same basic design with less-intensive retail uses.

That might prevent a court fight over use of the land. And it could produce one of those "win-win" situations that would make everybody feel better about the finished product.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Crystal Ball: Five predictions for Memphis, based on recent headlines.

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

John Ford will beat the rap by wrapping himself in TennCare. The more the media, state investigators, plaintiff's attorneys, and rival politicians bore in on him, the greater Ford's chances of being acquitted on federal criminal charges of extortion. The investigations will blur in the public mind and look like piling on.

There is no connection between E-Cycle Management — the bogus company in the F.B.I. Tennessee Waltz sting — and United American HealthCare (UAHC) — the parent of TennCare provider UAHC Health Plan of Tennessee. But Ford has already said he was singled out for indictment by TennCare cutters. If there are criminal indictments stemming from an investigation by the TennCare inspector general's office, which was created by the General Assembly in 2004, or Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers, who put UAHC of Tennessee on administrative supervision in April, Ford will cry dirty politics. And his cry will resonate in Memphis, which has more TennCare recipients who stand to lose their coverage than any other part of the state.

Ford didn't invent the concept of the high-paid consultant, he just refined it as a legislator. This week the Government Accountability Office reported that 34 states used consultants paid on contingency fees to get more Medicaid and Medicare money.

If Ford is tried by a Memphis jury, he will walk.

-- The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain in Kelo v. New London will not help the Riverfront Development Corporation in its efforts to develop the downtown Promenade. In fact, it will hurt it by focusing attention on the land bridge, which is the most expensive and controversial part of the RDC plan.

You can read the entire opinion in less than 10 minutes at this Web site: It is nuanced, balanced, and bears little resemblance to the simplifications and mischaracterizations of it in media accounts. The New London Development Corporation is somewhat similar to the RDC. A small group of private-property owners whose properties were not blighted fought the development plan and lost. The case turned on whether the plan served "public purpose," which is not the same as "public use." See for yourself how economic development serves public purpose.

The RDC wants to take some public land for private use to help finance public improvements. The only way to get the land bridge through is by stealth. When the focus, for whatever reason, shifts to the cost, whether it is $100 million or $250 million, it's a dead duck. Boss Crump recommended a land bridge to Mud Island in a newspaper interview in 1953, the year before he died. The most powerful man in Memphis history couldn't make it happen, and neither will the RDC.

-- The Memphis Grizzlies will wear out their welcome if they don't boost their contributions to the city in a big way. There is no causal connection, but the fact is that public parks and boulevards and golf courses are suffering while the $250 million FedExForum sits idle, the NBA finals get lousy ratings, Grizzlies malcontents making $8 million a year whine and can't get fired up to win a playoff game, and publicists try to get us to care about the 19th pick in this week's draft. Pitiful. How ironic that "surplus" funds from the MLGW water division are helping to pay off the bonds for FedExForum while the city can't water the greens at the Links of Galloway golf course.

-- The Pyramid reuse recommendation — an indoor theme park and a shopping mall — won't happen. It's not that the ideas are bad. It's that they require public subsidies, giving away the building, or both. And this is not the time to be spending public money to promote tourism or economic impact. With the arena, baseball stadium, trolley, Mud Island, and The Pyramid in place and the highest property taxes in the state, the era of big public projects in Memphis is over.

-- Which brings us to this: The next mayor of Memphis will run and win on a program of a better Memphis for Memphians through revitalized neighborhood parks and public spaces. His or her model will be Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who has been singing this song for years.

"As schools lost their effectiveness as community anchors, the same thing happened to parks, libraries, and other public spaces," Daley has said. "People stopped using them and the city stopped taking care of them. Or maybe people stopped using them because the city stopped taking care of them. ... The nice thing is, if you improve the quality of life for people in your city, you will end up attracting new people and employers."

Nothing gets the public stirred up like uncut grass or unpicked-up garbage.

Domain ruling gives developers options

Memphis Business Journal [link]
By Rob Robertson and Amos Maki

Opinions are mixed regarding last week's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively expanded the use of eminent domain for private economic development.

In the case of Kelo vs. New London, Conn., the court held that New London could purchase and remove private homes and businesses to make way for a private riverfront development project because of the potential economic benefit the boost in tax revenues would create.

Kevin Walsh of Harris, Shelton, Hanover, Walsh PLLC, calls the court's decision "an unfortunate expansion of public use."

Walsh has an emphasis on eminent domain in his practice and has represented property owners in cases brought by governmental authorities to take private property.

"I found it disappointing that Judge Rehnquist was not able to muster a majority for purposes of protecting private property rights," Walsh says. "This decision essentially allows governmental entities to take property in the name of public use under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution solely for the purpose of generating additional tax revenue."

Still, there are additional levels of scrutiny to consider regarding the application of Tennessee state law, Walsh says. Tennessee has its own clause with regard to the right to take private property.

"I'm not sure it would be interpreted any differently, but you would have to consider not only the Tennessee Constitution but the enabling legislation or statute under which the power of eminent domain has been delegated," he says.

That would include any legislation that allows a government entity to seize private property, including boards like the Riverfront Development Corp., which gained approval from the City Council last year to transform a four-block area of Downtown known as the Promenade.

The $50 million redevelopment plan calls for using private developments, including three proposed new buildings, to 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.

Ultimately, the RDC seeks to revamp a 5-mile stretch of the Memphis waterfront over the next half century. The cost of that development has been estimated at about $300 million.

The property now contains the Cossitt Library, a fire station, the U.S. Post Office and Confederate Park. The land, except for Confederate Park, is virtually inaccessible to most of the public and offers prime views of the river.

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 have been divided on the proposal.

RDC president Benny Lendermon says the High Court's ruling gives the city attorney another tool in dealing with land acquisition for a plan that could produce a significant economic benefit for the city.

"It's incredibly important nationwide," says Lendermon. "Many large metropolitan areas are going through financial crises right now. This gives them more flexibility to pursue economic development when it is for the public good. We developed a plan for the best use of the property."

Barbara Kritchevsky, associate dean of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis, says the ruling would not directly change any restrictions under the Tennessee Constitution involving eminent domain.

"(The ruling) talks about what is permissible under the federal Constitution," says Kritchevsky. "It means if a state chooses to do what New London did it would not violate the federal Constitution. States could be more restrictive in their own interpretations of eminent domain."

Jim Arthur, an attorney at Armstrong Allen, says Tennessee's eminent domain clause is not more restrictive; it essentially mirrors that of the federal Constitution and has been construed by state courts in lockstep with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The New London case, therefore, may have a particular relevance if a similar situation were to occur here.

"It means if an E-Cycle could convince enough local officials to declare that a particular development project it proposed provides a 'public benefit,' however speculative, private property owners whose property stands in the way are afforded no protection by the Constitution," Arthur says, referring to the fake company the FBI used in its Tennessee Waltz sting operation that netted several local elected officials for allegedly taking bribes.

"According to the Kelo majority, I see nothing to stop the City of Memphis, or some agency to which it might delegate its power of eminent domain, from condemning every square foot of riverfront property in furtherance of some development plan it pronounces to be of 'public benefit'," Authur says.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that opposes the RDC's proposals, says that won't happen.

"The Public Promenade is protected by the Tennessee Supreme Court's prior decisions involving the property and the Tennessee Constitution," McLean wrote on the group's official Web site. "We believe that if the RDC attempts to condemn the Public Promenade, the Tennessee judiciary will reject the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning in Kelo."

Lendermon says the RDC would use eminent domain as a "last resort."

Another project where eminent domain could come into play is the city's push to redevelop the blighted, 138-acre section of the city south of the $250 million FedExForum. Current conditions in the area, bounded by Mulberry on the west, G.E. Patterson on the south, Danny Thomas on the east and Linden on the north, are bleak, with lots overgrown with weeds and covered in trash.

The Center City Commission, the agency charged with guiding development Downtown, has developed a plan for revitalizing the area that includes the possibility of using eminent domain for land asemblage that would spur development.

"Land assembly will be key in creating development in what is a long forgotten neighborhood of vacant land," says Jeff Sanford, CCC president. "I would hope that eminent domain wouldn't have to be used to assemble property, but in the end it may be an option."

Downtown developer Henry Turley says the Supreme Court ruling is a victory for cities looking to attract economic development opportunities.

"I think a city has to be able to assemble property for economic development within that city," says Turley, principal of Henry Turley Co. "Otherwise, that economic development occurs outside the city. So the city tends to languish while the surrounding areas tend to prosper, putting the city at a great disadvantage."

At the other end of the spectrum is retired attorney Hal Rounds, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Shelby County, who says the Kelo case is fraught with dangers to everyone who intends to work, invest and build something.

"We have gone from being property owners to conditional custodians at the pleasure of our government," Rounds says.

He believes the matter is not settled, in part because as Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent, the entire body of cases cited by the majority rests not on Constitutional law but on other precedents.

Should the next similar case go back to the 5th Amendment it could overturn more than a century of decisions. In the meantime, Rounds believes the Kelo case, while potentially unlawful, strengthens the hand of the city.

The problem with the decision, as Arthur sees it, is that it lowers the standard for governmental exercise of its power of eminent domain to an all but meaningless level.

"The 5th Amendment originally contemplated government taking private property for its own use, for forts, roads or other necessities for the common good, or for use by others who might incidentally reap a benefit to serve the public," Arthur says.

"Now, government can take your property simply because it determines that someone else can use your property more profitably and generate more tax revenue than you have."

CONTACT staff writer Rob Robertson at 259-1726 or Contact staff writer Amos Maki at 259-1764 or Staff writer Scott Shepard also contributed to this story.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

IRS Form 990: 2004-2005

Here is the RDC's IRS Form 990 for the fical year ended June 30, 2005 [PDF, 999 KB].

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Editorial: More questions about riverfront

Commercial Appeal

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last week might make it easier for the City of Memphis to move forward with its plans for redeveloping the riverfront.

The nation's highest court ruled that cities may use "eminent domain" power to take property from private landowners for the sake of creating new development. Acquiring land through eminent domain might be necessary to complete at least two major projects the city has in the pipeline, the Downtown promenade and the Mud Island land bridge.

But just because the city could use that power doesn't mean that it should.

The legal issues notwithstanding, there are still other questions city officials should address before they move forward with those projects.

The promenade project calls for new commercial and residential development, possibly in high-rise towers, along four blocks west of Front Street between Adams and Union.

The land bridge project would involve damming the Wolf River Harbor to create more developable property connecting Mud Island to the rest of Downtown.

Cost should be a major consideration in both cases.

Those two projects account for much of the total expense of a riverfront redevelopment plan that's expected to cost about $300 million. Given the city's recent budget troubles, it's fair to ask how high they should rank on a priority list for spending public dollars.

Benny Lendermon, president of the city's Riverfront Development Corp., has suggested that some or all of the costs might be recovered through leases charged to private tenants who would use the redeveloped property.

The issue there is how much would tenants be willing to pay and over what period of time? City officials should be very cautious about going into long-term debt to support private businesses that might not stick around until the debt is completely repaid.

There's also a question about how much more space Downtown needs for new offices or retail businesses. With the wrong mix of businesses in the areas targeted for redevelopment, the city's plans could wind up doing more harm to economically fragile areas like Main Street.

Friends For Our Riverfront, a citizens group that has been monitoring the city's plans, also has raised some valid environmental questions about the land bridge project.

John Gary, the group's vice president, believes converting Wolf River Harbor into a lake could create underwater pressure and seepage that would erode Mud Island, possibly causing property damage to the homes there.

Also, Gary said a lake with no outlet into the Mississippi River would trap stormwater pollutants and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

As for the promenade project, Virginia McLean, president of Friends For Our Riverfront, doesn't believe last week's Supreme Court decision would apply to property the city needs there. McLean said the state Supreme Court has already laid down the ground rules for developing that land in previous decisions. That may be a matter for the courts to decide.

What's clear, though, is that the city has a long way to go in terms of justifying key components of its riverfront plan.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Riverfront up for grabs? Supreme Court ruling may allow Memphis to take land for project

The Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

A U.S. Supreme Court decision backing the use of eminent domain for a riverfront project in Connecticut opens up new options for Memphis as it pursues a similar initiative along the Mississippi River, officials said Thursday.

By a 5-4 vote, the court held Thursday that New London, Conn., could seize homes and businesses for a private development project because of the potential boost in tax revenues and jobs that could result.

The decision was viewed as expanding the limits on eminent domain. Municipal leaders said it would help financially stricken cities generate revenue, while critics called it an affront to the rights of property owners, who could be uprooted to accommodate wealthy developers.

The New London case had been followed closely by the Riverfront Development Corp., which plans some $300 million worth of projects to revamp a 5-mile stretch of the Memphis waterfront over the next 50 years.

The decision means RDC could resort to eminent domain to take a four-block section of the Downtown promenade, where a mixed-use development is planned.

"It definitely gives the city more tools in its tool box for dealing with the legal issues surrounding that piece of property," said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The promenade is land west of Front set aside by Memphis founders for public use. Although the city has a permanent easement, the land is owned by heirs to John Overton and other founders.

The nonprofit RDC, established to manage riverfront projects, wants to raze structures such as parking garages and a library to make way for public areas and residential and commercial development, possibly including high-rises.

But the promenade plan, which was approved by the City Council in 2004, has elicited opposition from a group that includes some of the heirs. They oppose commercial use of the land.

Lendermon said the city attorney's office is reviewing options concerning the promenade. No decision has been made as to whether eminent domain will be used, he said.

But the group opposing the RDC's proposal said the agency's failure to negotiate with the heirs so far suggests it already has decided to pursue eminent domain.

"It's been our assumption that they've been waiting for this case to give them a green light to take this land away from the citizens of Memphis and lease it to private developers," said John Gary, vice president of Friends For Our Riverfront.

Gary expressed disappointment at the decision, which he said allows cities to seize a "public gem" like the promenade and "dispose of it any way they choose."

But Lendermon said the decision provides a boost for Memphis and other cities.

"It's critically important for cities, for their ability to control economic development opportunities, especially in these days when financial crises are the norm," he said.

Eminent domain's past

The Supreme Court's opinion goes further than before in allowing the government to invoke its "eminent domain" and to seize private property from unwilling sellers.

The Constitution says government may take private property "for public use" if it pays the owners "just compensation." Originally, public use meant the land was used for roads, canals or military bases. In the 19th Century, railroads were permitted to take private lands because they served the public.

In the mid-20th Century, the court said cities could condemn homes and stores in "blighted" areas for redevelopment. That 1954 decision helped trigger various urban renewal projects across the nation.

In Thursday's decision, the court went a step further and said officials need not claim they are condemning blighted properties or clearing slums.

-- Los Angeles Times

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Supreme Court ruling may affect Downtown development

Memphis Business Journal

A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down Thursday on the taking of private property for redevelopment will likely reverberate throughout Downtown Memphis.

The case before the High Court involved a settled residential neighborhood in New London, Conn., which the city wants to condemn to make way for an office complex. Homeowners have fought the city over the principle of private property; they've argued that condemnation laws are intended for blighted areas in need of renewal, and for public projects.

New London's argument for bulldozing the middle class neighborhood is that office space would generate lots more in taxes, plus jobs, and that's good for the entire community.

The Supreme Court agreed, saying that local leaders know what's best.

In Memphis the first immediate implication is a proposal to redevelop a huge swath of the bluffs facing the Mississippi River; tearing down public and private buildings and creating a grand promenade park.

The plan was developed by the Riverfront Development Corp., and approved by the Memphis City Council. The Supreme Court ruling now gives the city attorney another tool in dealing with those opposed to the promenade, says Benny Lendermon.

"It's incredibly important nationwide," says Lendermon, president of the RDC. "Many large metropolitan areas are going through financial crises right now. This gives them more flexibility to pursue economic development. We developed a plan for the best use of the property."

Others do not agree.

Friends For Our Riverfront, a group of concerned residents and heirs to the promenade land, has opposed the RDC's plans to use private development, such as tall office towers, to pay for public improvements to the promenade.

FFOR members have long suspected that the RDC would use eminent domain to acquire the land if the heirs could not reach a consensus.

"Why pay when you can just take it?" says John Gary of FFOR.

In 2003, the RDC hired the law firm of Shaw-Pittman, which specializes in legal disputes over development rites and eminent domain, to design the legal strategy for acquiring the promenade land.

Beyond the riverfront, the High Court ruling also has implications south of Downtown, in an area peppered with old industrial buildings, some dating to the Civil War.

The neighborhood has numerous small businesses, such as welding shops and metal fabricators, but the renaissance of Downtown is knocking. The area is slowly being taken over for condo developments: renovations when possible and new construction when not.

Many property owners have resented pressure to sell. A common complaint is that when an owner doesn't sell they get harassed by building and safety inspectors. The Supreme Court may have made the process easier for developers.

© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Riverfront Plans Promise Debate, Change

RDC prepares for summer start on Beale Street Landing

Daily News
by Andy Meek

Looking out a conference room window on the ninth floor of the Falls Building, Benny Lendermon enjoys an unobstructed panorama of Downtown’s riverfront.

Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp., has a clear view of the post office building below on Front Street,which could see a new tenant soon if the University of Memphis law school abandons its current dilapidated building and moves Downtown. Below and to the right is Confederate Park, whose war memorials and Civil War cannons make it a shaded oasis of history.

Sweeping plans. Beyond that, Lendermon takes in the sight of Riverside Drive - and the Mississippi itself - a view that as sweeping as the vision of the RDC, which has held jurisdiction over the riverfront since 2000.

And even though the Memphis City Council, in a seven-hour marathon session, approved a budget plan last week that includes a 27-cent property tax hike, eliminates $1.6 million in grants to nonprofits and keeps the historic Mallory-Neely House and Magevney House closed, the RDC is still on schedule to begin construction this summer on Beale Street Landing, a $27.5 million boat landing and plaza designated for the site where Beale Street meets Tom Lee Park and the Cobblestone Landing. The city is chipping in about $20 million in the project.

Promenade development. At the moment, Lendermon said the city attorney’s office is putting together the legal support that will allow work to begin on remaking the four-acre Front Street Promenade - the subject of a long-running debate between the RDC and an opposing group, Friends for Our Riverfront.

That debate will get another airing when representatives of both groups sound off in a public forum at the Central Library July 10. The RDC wants to replace some parking garages and buildings along the promenade with apartments, offices, restaurants, and other commercial uses.

Opposition. But FfOR believes the plan goes against the wishes of the founders of the city of Memphis. They refer to a bequest by John Overton, John McLemore and other proprietors of the land on which Memphis was founded that said the Promenade was always intended for public use.

“And as I see it, this is really a developer’sdream,” said FfOR president Virginia McLean of the RDC plan. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out where the public gets anything out of this.

“They’ve said they’ll build a sidewalk- they’recalling it a grand esplanade - along the edge of the public promenade, but the whole thing’s ours. Why should we settle for some high rises with a sidewalk along the side?”

McLean said FfOR has invited Joseph Riley Jr., mayor of Charleston, S. C., to speak in Memphis this fall at Bridges Inc. about his own city’s handling of riverfront issues. Riley, founder of the Mayor’s Institute of City Design, will discuss his urban design plan that created Waterfront Park in Charleston, give the city permanent public access to its waterfront.

“And basically, what he did is what we’re saying ought to be done in Memphis - not sold off in some short-term development scheme,” said McLean, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia.

Remaking the riverfront. In his office, Lendermon has several models and renderings of the riverfront project - a well as a bird’s eye view of the real thing - that he calls on to explain the RDC’s vision. Lendermon, a former director of the city’s Public Works division, presides over the group whose board includes prominent Memphians Jerry West, Kristi Jernigan, and Angus McEachran.

Over the next two years, Lendermon said the group will give most of its attention to the Beale Street Landing and Promenade projects.

“And the whole issue on the Promenade is this was the city of Memphis in the 1800s,” Lendermon said, referring to a map of the city. “At that point, Riverside Drive didn’t exist.

The bluff behind the post office would dive into the river. And what’s occurred since then is, one, we built Riverside Drive and we’ve moved the city out to the river.

“Our disagreement with some people on the Promenade is, some people still hang on to the concept that (city founders) in the 1800s thought this ought to be a park outside our window,” Lendermon said, gesturing below. “And all we’re saying is, in the 1800s it should have been a park. But things have changed.”

Other projects. Beale Street Landing and the Promenade aren’t the only jobs on the RDC’s plate. Lendermon said the group took bids last week for a project that would connect Ashburn-Coppock Park and Tom Lee Park with Martyrs Park. Construction will begin in about a month.

He said the group also wants to bring more concerts to Mud Island, work more closely with area developers and further assist the U of M Law School in its possible Downtown move.

The RDC commissioned a master plan for the riverfront that has been endorsed by the City Council - and part of which opponents such as McLean have never stopped fighting.

“We believe that private development is great, but private development belongs on private land,” she said. “And what the RDC plan currently proposes is taking the only remaining public land on the Memphis riverbluff and turning it over to commercial developers. Right now, we’re really just trying to let the public know what’s going on concerning the riverfront, because I know that most people don’t know.”

Sunday, June 12, 2005

RDC chief uses fishing tactics to land a Big River Catch

Commercial Appeal
By Blake Fontenay

Like most good fishermen, Benny Lendermon understands the importance of being patient. It doesn't do any good to get angry or frustrated when the fish aren't biting.

So it's no surprise that Lendermon, an avid fisherman and president of the Riverfront Development Corp., isn't showing any outward signs of panic about the future of the city's $292 million riverfront development plan.

Never mind that recent budget troubles have some Memphis City Council members questioning the wisdom of spending big bucks on the Mississippi riverfront when other parts of the community are in greater need.

Never mind that a pending U.S. Supreme Court case could severely limit the city's rights to acquire land for private development projects along the river.

And never mind that a determined citizens group called Friends for Our Riverfront has been raising all manner of questions about the master plan the RDC completed in January 2002.

Lendermon says he's still confident that the plan will remain on course, even if some aspects of it won't be developed for many years.

Lendermon's critics might counter that he's fishing with the wrong kind of bait. Some contend the RDC plan calls for too much intensive development, particularly private development, in an area best left open for parkland.

Money questions have been on the minds of City Council members for months. In an attempt to replenish the city's reserve fund and reassure Wall Street bond analysts, they've been looking for ways to cut costs.

For some, the riverfront initiatives are an obvious target.

"It's a huge amount of money at a time when we're having trouble keeping the grass cut," said Councilman Jack Sammons.

The council recently decided not to set aside about $6.2 million for the Beale Street Landing, a planned riverboat docking area and civic plaza, in the budget year that begins July 1.

That hardly derailed the project, though. Because the council already had approved about $21.4 million in previous budget years, Lendermon said he plans to use those unspent funds to begin construction on the Beale Street Landing this summer.

Lendermon isn't overly concerned about the projected costs of the riverfront promenade or the land bridge, two of the other big-ticket items in the RDC master plan.

He said public dollars invested in those projects could be recovered over time through land leases with private developers.

"We support the premise of having projects that can stand by themselves and not be supported on the backs of taxpayers,'' said Lendermon.

While that sounds great, it could take years or even decades for the city to recover its investment in projects with high up-front costs. For example, the promenade project calls for a high-rise office tower along four blocks of Front Street between Union and Adams avenues. Lendermon estimates that relocating a fire station, two parking garages and an old branch library from the site might cost anywhere between $30 million and $50 million - an expense that developers probably would be unwilling to pay up front.

And after six years of waiting for a return on the city's $29 million investment in the Memphis Networx telecommunications venture, council members might not be eager to rush into another long-term deal with private partners.

Another issue that could affect the RDC's plan is a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., a group of homeowners are questioning their city's right to use so-called "eminent domain" powers. The Connecticut city plans to turn the property owners' land over to private developers, who want to tear down the homes and build a hotel, health club and offices.

The overriding question before the court is whether cities legally can take over private property in areas that aren't considered blighted for the "public good" of creating new economic development.

A ruling in the New London case is expected this month - and if the city loses, it won't bode well for similar projects in other cities.

Lendermon said Memphis might not need to use eminent domain to acquire land for the promenade project, but that remains a possibility.

That property is owned by heirs of the city's founding families, although the city has an easement allowing for public uses of the land. The heirs have been divided, with some supporting and some opposing the city's riverfront plans.

The land bridge project, which would close off part of the Wolf River Harbor, almost certainly would require use of eminent domain to acquire land owned by several businesses that would lose their access to the river. Lendermon said plans for the land bridge, which would create new property for businesses to develop on Mud Island, are so far in the future that the impact the New London case might have isn't worth worrying about.

Many cities across the country have launched redevelopment projects along their waterfront property over the past 20 to 25 years. There are plenty of success stories, including regional neighbors such as Little Rock and Chattanooga.
For example, development has sprouted along the river separating downtown Little Rock from North Little Rock, Ark., including an expanded convention center and a new arena. North Little Rock Mayor Patrick H. Hays said investment in public facilities on both sides of the river has attracted new private businesses, particularly apartments and restaurants.

There's debate, however, about the merits of direct government investment in private businesses.

The Waterfront Development Corp. in Louisville, Ky., has focused its efforts on developing a giant riverfront park, using a combination of public funds and private contributions.

David Karem, the group's president and executive director, cites examples of several cities that have tried and failed to create successful private waterfront developments over the years.

"If private development is going to take place, let the market dictate it,'' Karem suggested. "If you're spending public money or money you've raised privately, spend it on parks and let the commercial development float or sink on its own."

Karem recommended private fund-raising not only to reduce the public's cost for riverfront projects, but also to get more community "buy-in" for the work that's being done. For Louisville's $100 million project, Karem said more than $35 million has been raised through private sources.

Memphis's efforts seem to have room for improvement in community buy-in. Friends for Our Riverfront, a citizen activist group, has been trying to build up a grass-roots campaign opposing the RDC's plan on several fronts.

The group generally opposes major new private development along the river. In place of the promenade, for example, Friends representatives would prefer to see a park developed at a fraction of the cost projected for the office building.

Virginia McLean, the group's president, said RDC officials didn't pay attention to citizens' calls for greater use of open space during public hearings before the plan was finalized.

McLean also accuses the RDC of neglecting the assets it already has along the riverfront, allowing brush and debris to collect and the publicly owned buildings west of Front Street to fall into disrepair.

With the right kind of shuttle service in place, McLean contends, the Mud Island River Park could become a popular place for locals as well as tourists to dine or enjoy concerts.

"They're not doing what they ought to be doing because they plan to get rid of it," said McLean.

Friends for Our Riverfront also has concerns about the land bridge project, including environmental questions about creating a slack water harbor and economic questions about the need for more commercial space in the heart of Downtown.

Despite all of those questions, the RDC plans don't seem to be in serious jeopardy - at least right now.

City Councilman Rickey Peete, who also sits on the RDC board of directors, expects all future city capital improvement projects, including those along the river, to be put "under a microscope." Peete said he expects his colleagues will question whether projects provide long-term benefits for citizens, but the riverfront plans should be able to meet that test.

"I think they are sitting on pretty solid ground for the future," said Peete.

Public dollars invested in projects to transform Memphis's downtown riverfront, shown here looking south from Court, could be recovered over time from land leases with private developers, says Benny Lendermon, who is guiding the $292 million plan.

The Friends for Our Riverfront organization opposes the RDC's master plan. The group's president, Virginia McLean, said RDC officials didn't pay attention to citizens' calls for more use of open space when they compiled the riverfront redevelopment plan, and that they have neglected the assets the RDC already has on the riverfront.

A Friends for Our Riverfront slide presentation at a recent Sierra Club meeting brought the audience up to date on the debate about plans to redevelop Memphis's Downtown riverfront.

Blake Fontenay is an editorial writer for The Commercial Appeal. Contact him at 529-2386.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Historic Court Square Park to reopen

The Commercial Appeal
By Jane Roberts
Link to original

With more than $640,000 in renovations to Court Square Park, its graceful gazebo again stands testament to a turn-of-20th-Century elegance. It's a stunning contrast to the cybernetters soaking up the sun and Internet in what is also the city's first smart park.

Tonight, beginning at 5, the Center City Commission will officially reopen the historic Downtown park that not only has hosted three U.S. presidents but lately has been a catalyst for at least $100 million in private development.

"We're returning Court Square to the simple grandeur of the turn of the last century," said Jeff Sanford, CCC president.

"No one could deny the park had a deteriorating gazebo, cluttered landscape, poor drainage and dim lighting. In a word, it had become rather inhospitable."

With $160,000 from the Memphis Rotary Foundation -- the largest single donation in the club's history -- the gazebo has a new metal roof with marquee lighting, ceiling, railings and brick patio.

"This is our way of endorsing Downtown," said Jim Jalenak, past president of a club that stayed Downtown "through thick and thin."

"It gives the Rotary a signature Downtown. We wanted something permanent."

Marriott Springhill Suites and Sleep Inn at Court Square donated $15,000 for lighting, including the period acorn globes on the streetlights. LAN ONE installed the park's wireless Internet access.

The remaining $465,000 came from the CCC, which regraded the park to correct drainage problems and paid for landscaping, including an irrigation system.

It also installed new sidewalks lined with brick pavers, wrought-iron benches and trash receptacles, paid for repairs to the 1876-era fountain and carpeted the park with hybrid zoysia grass to withstand shade and use.

"It's all open now," said Jan Pfaff, senior vice president of CCC operations. "We removed the seating walls along the edge of the park and fountain because they created an obstruction. We also removed most of the monuments and left only those related to Court Square."

Already, the park -- where commerce rattles by in both truck and trolley -- is attracting new attention, with a 16-week Wednesday night concert series kicking off May 16 and lunchtime crowds and the ensuing pigeons lingering over sandwiches and crumbs.

Court Square is the "single most important symbol" of the city's health, said Cy Paumier, the Washington consultant in charge of the redesign and a leading expert in revitalizing urban cores.

"I first observed it as a place with great trees and a great historic walk pattern, but the quality of the details seemed to be tired."

He suggested it be "simplified" and returned to "beautiful grass and trees."

"The community really needs to celebrate. It's not easy to raise the money to do that."

He suggests the payoffs will be lavish in terms of investment, pointing to Savannah, Ga., "where everyone perked up and began renovating buildings around the squares" after they were renovated in the mid-1970s.

William Chandler, a principal in a $40 million project to create 85 apartments and 32,000 square feet of retail in Court Square Annex, Lincoln American Tower and Lowenstein department store, would say it has already started.

"In any other city in the world, this park would be considered the most important location. We're thrilled the CCC is investing its energy in our park."

Friday, April 29, 2005

Letter: The RDC Responds

Memphis Flyer
Letters to the Editor
Link to original

The Riverfront Development Corporation was established as a result of several communitywide public forums, which affirmed that revitalization of the Memphis riverfront was an important priority for moving this city forward ("River of Dreams," April 21st issue).

Having served first as a steering-committee member studying how best to begin riverfront improvements and now as the RDC's founding chairman, I can assure you that our first task for the city of Memphis was to provide a higher level of service to the green spaces along the riverfront, attract more citizens to the area, and provide appropriate amenities.

We have achieved and maintain a high standard of excellence in caring for the parks. We have added canoe, kayak, and bicycle rentals to Mud Island River Park and started a walking club and overnight camping. Plus, we eliminated the admission fee to Mud Island.

The RDC is in fact doing more with less. The RDC is managing the riverfront at the same cost to the city as in 1999. At that time, riverfront costs had been escalating at a rate of 14 percent a year over the previous four years. Using that rate, the RDC has saved the city $3.9 million.

I do not believe that the citizens of this community want their riverfront to fall into disrepair. I believe this community wants a vibrant riverfront and that the vast majority of people support the RDC. We are working to maintain excellence in all that we do, and I believe the people enjoying the riverfront today expect just that.

John W. Stokes Jr., Chairman
Riverfront Development Corporation

Street Talk: Hooks says "revenue problem," history says otherwise

Memphis Business Journal [Link]
By Scott Shephard

At last week's City Council meeting where the mayor presented his 2006 budget, City Councilman Janet Hooks repeated her assertion -- just as she did when her payroll tax was defeated in November -- that the city "did not have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem."

With respect to Hooks, history suggests otherwise.

In 1992 when Mayor Willie Herenton took office, the City of Memphis' operating budget was $252 million. In 2003 the budget was $461 million -- an increase of 83%.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index (CPI inflation rate) for this period was 31%, indicating that spending was growing at more than twice the inflation rate.

The 2005 adopted budget is $495 million, a 96% increase from 1992.

City records contain some other telling statistics:

The property tax income to the city in 1992 for the operating budget was $77 million. The 2003 property tax income was $147 million -- an increase of 90%.

So, Memphis must have grown considerably during this 11-year stretch, right?

Not so much.

The city's population grew by a scant 7% during this time frame, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Apparently, many of those new residents were getting jobs with the city.

The total city employment in 1993 was just over 6,000 people. The city employment in 2005 is proposed to be more than 7,100, up 19%.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Letters: Public won't escape riverfront bill

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

Your April 22 article, "Shutting off Wolf? Land bridge would force companies to move," said: "The land bridge is a central feature of a $292 million master plan of improvements -- most of them privately financed -- sought by the city's Riverfront Development Corp."

If you are talking about the "$292 million" (a figure that is out of date), most if not all of it is actually public financing. But if you really meant to describe the entire master plan (with "improvements," i.e. buildings), then you used the wrong figure. It should be more like $1.3 billion.

I refer to the financial projections provided by the Riverfront Development Corp. in January 2003 to the Urban Land Institute:

The capital cost of the project (with contingencies) was actually estimated at $340 million. (That's in 2002-2003 dollars, and will likely change after the Corps of Engineers does its feasibility study.)

The financials refer to a $200 million "public portion" (which is supposed to be injected evenly over 10 years). The financials do not detail what portions are federal, state and local.

Consistent with the above, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton referred to $100 million over five years planned for in the 2003 Capital Improvement Program budget.

The remaining $140 million ($340 million less the public portion) is to be financed by debt. It does not take a rocket scientist to guess that the public will be involved with this debt, most likely by guaranteeing the bond issues.

Whether you count only the $200 million or the entire $340 million (including debt), most of the capital cost of the land bridge and lake is not privately financed. Therefore, your characterization is highly misleading, if not an outright error.

You don't have to rely on my word about the financial projections. Go to the RDC Web site and look at the master plan itself, which predates the ULI submission.

No question, the $292 million (or the slightly more current estimate of $340 million) is intended to be paid with public financing. Clearly, a correction should be published, lest Memphians be fooled into thinking they will get a land bridge and lake for free.

Michael Cromer

This so-called land bridge is really an earthen dam several blocks wide that would close off the harbor to barge traffic to link Downtown with Mud Island and make new land, in the river, available to private developers to create a second Downtown and a small recreational lake. Taxpayers will pay for this dam, just as they will pay for most of the RDC's "improvements" to the Mississippi riverfront.

Taxpayers will pay for the RDC's attempts to seize the Promenade blocks by eminent domain, and taxpayers will pay for the ensuing lawsuits as the heirs of Memphis's founders struggle to keep that land in the hands of the people. Taxpayers will pay to relocate all of the buildings on the Promenade, which include the City of Memphis Fire Headquarters, Cossitt Library, two garages and, depending on what is done with it, the Customs House and Post Office. Even RDC president Benny Lendermon was forced to admit on television that the public would have to pay for the relocation of the fire headquarters.

Taxpayers will pay a large part of the cost of placing the floating islands, terminal and docking facility at the foot of Beale Street, which is a $27.5 million project.

It is inaccurate and misleading for you to claim that all of these projects in the RDC master plan will be financed by private developers. You need to get the facts instead of taking the RDC's word.

Mimi Waite

Friday, April 22, 2005

River of Dreams: Is Memphis gilding the lily on its waterfront while the rest of the city withers?

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

On Tuesday, Mayor Willie Herenton presented his annual budget to the City Council, including a recommendation of a 54-cent property tax increase to restore some slashed services and continue the city's $86 million contribution to schools.

The visible evidence of reduced services includes the overgrown parks, understaffed golf courses, and weedy boulevards around the city and the reduction of recycled garbage pickup to every two weeks instead of every week.

But one area of Memphis has never looked better and is seemingly immune to budget cuts: the riverfront, which has been under the jurisdiction of the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation since 2000. From Martyr's Park to the Bluffwalk to the Mud Island Greenbelt, parks are as neatly manicured as a country club golf course. Million-dollar homes line the South Bluffs and the main drive on Mud Island. Construction of new homes and apartments is booming. Riverside Drive has been turned into a boulevard with median strips of flowers, crosswalks, and two new stairways up the bluff.

And despite the budget shortfall that threatens schools, hospitals, and law enforcement, the flow of public money to the riverfront continues as steadily as the flow of the Mississippi River. This summer, construction will begin on Beale Street Landing, a $27.5 million boat landing on Tom Lee Park at the entrance to the harbor. A total of $17 million of that amount is coming from city of Memphis funds, the rest from state and federal governments. The main customers for the boat landing will be two tour-boat companies that bring, at most, about 20,000 out-of-towners to Memphis each year, or about the number of people downtown for a sold-out Grizzlies game. The Delta Steamship Company paddle-wheelers and the long, blue River Barge Excursion Boat now dock in the harbor on the east side of Mud Island, and passengers are transported to or walk to downtown.

On the horizon -- long term or not-so-long term, depending on whom you talk to -- is the granddaddy of all riverfront projects, the development of the Front Street Promenade and the construction of a land bridge to Mud Island. That project could bring the total cost of funding the RDC's master plan to as much as $340 million over several years.

The contrast between the Memphis haves and have-nots illustrates several things about urban politics and pressure groups. The RDC, created with Herenton's blessing during his third term as mayor, has an embarrassment of riches in staffing, funding, and business support. Its board includes former city chief administrative officers Rick Masson and Greg Duckett, Cybill Shepherd, Jerry West, Pat Kerr Tigrett, Kristi Jernigan, John Stokes, Barbara Hyde, and former Commercial Appeal editor Angus McEachran. Its president is Benny Lendermon, director of the city's Division of Public Works for several years. His assistants include former City Engineer John Conroy.

Unlike the Memphis Park Commission, the RDC all-star team and their consultants only have to focus on the front door of Memphis. The Park Commission and Division of Public Works and their bureaucrats can't rely on that kind of clout, but they must maintain hundreds of public facilities, streetscapes, and parks in out-of-the-way places used by Memphians who rarely visit the riverfront.

The result is a cityscape that suggests the homeowner who happily pours money into landscaping his front yard while the trash piles up in the attic and the backyard.

The riverfront improvements under the RDC and, in fairness, the Park Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it are obvious and have helped create the downtown apartment and condo boom. But agencies and projects tend to take on a life of their own. Beale Street Landing was funded years before Herenton proposed his latest property tax increase. The land bridge has been approved in concept by the City Council but not funded.

The RDC was not invented to keep the grass trimmed. It is all about big deals and grand visions. With an empty Pyramid and an underused Mud Island River Park and monorail staring them in the face, some Memphians are wondering if the RDC is gilding the lily while the garden withers.

"Why spend $360 million [sic] on a really crummy plan," asked Lisa Snowden at a meeting of Friends For Our Riverfront Monday evening at Cafe Francisco, attended by about 30 people. Members of the group generally support less expensive options that would emphasize parks, sidewalks, and greenspace.

Other speakers aimed their fire at the Beale Street Landing and its "floating islands" to provide pedestrians access to the river.

"They're going to start school at 7 a.m. (to save money) but we're going to have the floating islands," said Mimi Waite. "We don't need the floating islands."

John Gary, a founder of the Friends group, noted that the steamboat companies have other options besides Memphis. "We've got competition that we didn't have before," he said. "I think Tunica has some pretty good enticements to lure steamboats away from here."

Gary said the placement of the floating islands and bridges near the mouth of the harbor is "unfortunate" and could interfere with barge traffic. The group passed out a letter from Terry Martin, terminal manager for Lafarge North America, opposing any project that would affect the entrance of the Wolf River.

Lendermon said the RDC is not gilding the lily or building something that will become obsolete or underused. Pending approval of some permits by the Corps of Engineers, the RDC hopes to have contractors begin dredging the entrance to the harbor in July in preparation for "River Outlook," the name given to the boat landing. When it is complete, it will not only give tour boats a place to dock but will also tie the cobblestones to Tom Lee Park, provide a new site for festivals, and give pedestrians a place to walk between the man-made islands and scoop up a handful of river water.

"You still have no place for people to get to the water," Lendermon said. "If you were going to touch the water, where would you go? You have the ability to do that here."

The city, he noted, was going to redo the cobblestones and reshape the northern tip of Tom Lee Park at the entrance to the harbor anyway. The work actually started several years ago but was aborted because the necessary permits had not been obtained.

The RDC annual report calls River Outlook "a grand civic ending." It notes that one heavily traveled thoroughfare to the riverfront, Poplar Avenue, dead-ends at a parking garage while another, Union Avenue, unceremoniously abutted a metal guard rail before the cobblestones project was completed.

Lendermon said riverboats that carry tourists are pressing for the project to be completed.

"The Delta Steamship Company is close to refusing to dock at Mud Island," he said, even as a boat was unloading Monday afternoon across from his Front Street office. Delta Steamship and the River Barge Excursion Boat carry 350-450 passengers each and make 50 stops a year in Memphis, Lendermon said. Tunica, he said, has only gotten one visit from Delta Steamship since its $20 million museum and river park opened last year.

As for the land bridge, Lendermon said Memphis must cross that bridge when it comes to it, but that might not be for quite a while. The RDC and the Corps of Engineers are looking at industry relocations and navigation issues in the harbor, which is also a concern of the developers of the Uptown neighborhood who would like a water connection.

"In 15 years, as downtown starts developing to its fullest, someone's got to sit down and make a decision," he said.

Meanwhile, Gene Carlisle, a veteran downtowner who has seen the highs and lows of the riverfront, might change the picture if he follows through on plans to develop a condominium tower and a hotel on the corner of Beale Street and Riverside Drive, where an old building was just demolished.

Instead of being an American icon, the corner where the street that birthed the blues meets the Mississippi River has instead been the pits for 25 years, the place where busted dreams and struggling restaurants come to die. Tenants have included a shopping mall called the Emporium, Pyramid huckster Sidney Shlenker, and such forgettable restaurants as Armadillo Jack's, Number One Beale, and Wang's. In 2003, the big wind storm did Carlisle a favor and blew away enough of the building that he could tear the rest of it down and start over.

Carlisle, who grew up poor in Mississippi and made his fortune in Wendy's restaurants, was inducted into the Memphis Society of Entrepreneurs last week. In the next few weeks he said he will unveil plans for a condominium tower at least 20 stories tall and, if he can find a partner, a luxury hotel and four-star restaurant in a second building. The combined investment would be over $300 million, making it the biggest downtown project since FedExForum.

Lendermon said Carlisle's project is "something we would support." Carlisle said it is not being driven by construction of Beale Street Landing and might even have some parking issues.

But that's a problem for another day. The rest of Memphis should have such troubles.

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