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If you are talking about the "$292 million" (a figure that is out of date), most if not all of it is actually public financing.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

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