Monday, June 26, 2006

Finding Safe Harbor: Beale Street Landing to lay anchor soon

The Daily News [Link to article]
By Andy Ashby

The Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC) has absorbed $500,000 of city budget cuts and appears ready to move ahead on its largest project to date, the $29.3 million Beale Street Landing.

When the Memphis City Council approved the city budget June 6, the RDC received $2.1 million for its operating budget for fiscal year 2007, down 18 percent from $2.6 million last year. The RDC's total operating budget is projected to be $4.2 million, down slightly from last year's $4.3 million.

The RDC was able to fill the city funding gap by reducing expenditures and through a projected revenue increase stemming from the operation of Mud Island River Park. The park includes the 5,000-seat Mud Island Amphitheater.

From disconcerting to concerts

When the RDC took over the amphitheater's operations from the city in 2000, the concert venue made almost no money, said RDC president Benny Lendermon. Last year, eight concerts netted more than $200,000 in profits. Next year, the RDC has a minimum of eight concerts planned, with a potential for more.

The RDC also will not offer raises to its 35 full-time employees next year.

"The normal citizen's experience on the riverfront will not change through these budget cuts," Lendermon said.

The RDC also adjusted the funding structure for its Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs), spreading the city's payments over three years to lessen the impact on each year's budget. Previously, the city was funding Beale Street Landing over fiscal years 2007 and 2008.

Now the money is going to be spread across three years, with the RDC receiving CIP money in fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Beale Street Landing, which features a floating dock and five islands set at varying heights along the Mississippi River, is the biggest project on the RDC's CIP budget.

The millions at high tide

In last year's CIP budget, the project would cost the city $7.2 million in fiscal year 2007 and $12.7 million in fiscal year 2008, with $9.2 million in reprogrammed money, which is state and federal funding.

Under the new CIP budget, the city will pay $2 million in fiscal year 2007, $9 million in fiscal year 2008 and $7.8 in fiscal year 2009. The project now will get $10.5 million in reprogrammed money, as more state and federal funding has been found since last year, Lendermon said.

Once completed, Beale Street Landing will consist of five islands set at different levels of a terrace along the bank of the river and will be connected by bridges. Some of the lower islands will flood occasionally as the water level changes. This will allow visitors to get close to the river.


AYE, AYE: Capt. William Lozier, owner and operator of Memphis Riverboats Inc., is concerned the Beale Street Landing project will cause logistical problems for his fleet of three riverboats. Since it started in 1955, the company has operated from the cobblestones at the foot of Monroe Avenue and Riverside Drive. -- PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW ASHBYA 13,000-square-foot building will be constructed on the northeastern edge of the property with glass windows facing the river. The first floor of the building will be 10,000 square feet and could host a gift shop, a ticket terminal for boating companies and a restaurant. The second floor will have 3,000 square feet for utility equipment.

"That building will house what is one of the missing links for that area now," Lendermon said. "If you're in Tom Lee Park or at the cobblestones, you're a long way from a Coke, a burger or a glass of wine."

Hope floats

The project also features grass planted over the roof of the building, which slopes down on both ends, with one side landing in Tom Lee Park to the south and the other ending in a planned plaza to the north.

The RDC also is planning a 70-space garage under the building. This is down from the initial plan's 100 spots, another cost-cutting move.

Beale Street Landing's total project cost will remain $29.3 million, despite rising construction costs.

"Prices are certainly going up," Lendermon said. "Katrina and fuel prices have greatly increased the cost of this project, although we've committed to build this project for a set amount of money ($29.3 million). We deal with the increased price through changes in the project."

One change will be a shortened floating dock, which will rise and fall according to the Mississippi River's level. The original design called for a 580-foot floating dock. The RDC reduced the dock length by 100 feet to save money.

The reduction made the dock long enough to accommodate large steamboats and excursion boats.

"We felt it wasn't worthwhile to spend another million dollars extending this floating dock when it wasn't needed for the docking of vessels," Lendermon said.

When planning the landing, the RDC also reduced the number of islands at Beale Street Landing from six to five.

The first phase of the landing was completed in August 2005, when Great Lakes Docks and Dredge Inc. widened the point where the Wolf River Harbor meets the Mississippi.

Lendermon said he hopes bidding for the second phase of the landing, which involves building a sea wall to allow for construction of the rest of the project, will begin in early July. The second phase of the project should start in September, with the entire landing scheduled to be finished in early 2009.

Voice of reason

Beale Street Landing would change the appearance of Memphis' riverfront, but some citizens aren't sure it's needed.

Friends for our Riverfront, a nonprofit citizens group, has spoken out about several RDC projects, such as the proposed land bridge to Mud Island and the development of the public promenade area along Front Street. While the organization might seem to be anti-RDC, that's not the case, said Friends president Virginia McLean.

"But in terms of (the Beale Street Landing project), we think they really need to be evaluated in terms of the cost, in terms of the need and in terms of whether it's a good investment," she said. "Is there really a need for Beale Street Landing, or would the cobblestone area we already have, with improvements that could cost less, suffice?"

Capt. William Lozier, owner and operator of Memphis Riverboats Inc., said he also thinks the cobblestones are a better investment. The company has been in Lozier's family since 1955 and always has operated from the cobblestones at the foot of Monroe Avenue and Riverside Drive.

"We like where we're at," Lozier said. "Yeah, we'd like a new facility, but a new facility comes with new problems."

The company operates three riverboats, and Lozier said he has plans to put two more into service next year. Once Beale Street Landing is built, it could add another step to his departures.

"We would have to deal with the logistics of another landing and where the boat is going to disembark from," he said.

Setting sail from good to great

Some Memphians are excited about Beale Street Landing as a terminus for one of the city's most famous streets.

"If you go there today, it's in a dismal condition," said Carol Coletta, host of "Smart City," a nationally syndicated radio show that focuses on urban issues. "It's really no way to treat the Mississippi riverfront of a city that has ambition or pride."

Coletta said she thinks Beale Street Landing could be a key development for Memphis' riverfront.

"I think one of the reasons Beale Street Landing is so important is because it will set the tone from an urban design standpoint," she said. "It will set the standard for everything that comes after it. It doesn't need to just be good, it needs to be great."

Lendermon said he agrees with Coletta and thinks Beale Street Landing will provide a connection to the water that Memphians desperately need.

"You can't physically get to the water anywhere in Memphis except for the cobblestones and many people can't walk on the cobblestones," he said. "This will be a place you can get to the water's edge any time and in a very pleasant way."

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