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.

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