Sunday, August 17, 2008

Editorial: Time to move on Promenade

If the area isn't properly redeveloped, everyone who cares about the Downtown riverfront will lose

Memphis Commercial Appeal [Link]
Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's time to do something with the Downtown Promenade. Check that. It's time to do something great with the Downtown Promenade.

The Promenade is made up of four blocks west of Front Street, stretching between Union and Adams avenues.

It's located between the Mississippi River, one of the city's greatest amenities, and Main Street, which the Center City Commission hopes to revitalize as a center for shops and restaurants.

The Promenade property includes the historic Post Office and U.S. Customs House building, which is being converted into a new law school for the University of Memphis.

The Promenade is also a couple of blocks north of the site of Beale Street Landing, a boat dock and public gathering place that's under construction. And it's just a few blocks south of The Pyramid, which may at long last be getting a new anchor tenant soon.

In short, the property is right in the middle of everything. And, best of all, it's legally required to be dedicated for the public's use.

Yet, the law school plans aside, not much has been happening with the Promenade the last few years.

In 2004, the Riverfront Development Corp. suggested putting high-rise office or condominium towers on the property. That was a bad idea, for at least a couple of reasons.

For one, Downtown already seems to have more vacant office space and unsold condominiums than it needs. Also -- and much more important -- tall buildings would put up another barrier that would further discourage people from getting closer to our magnificent river.

On the other hand, Benny Lendermon, the RDC's president, makes a good point when he talks about how some commercial development on the Promenade could help cover the city's expected costs of improving the property.

Friends for Our Riverfront, a citizens group, has done a very effective job of raising questions about various aspects of the RDC's plans for the waterfront.

Yet if anything positive is going to happen on the Promenade, the RDC, Friends and others interested in the riverfront are going to have to recognize the value of compromise. Because in its current state, the Promenade property is badly underutilized.

Citizens' access to the river is blocked by the law school building, two parking garages, a fire station and the Cossitt Branch Library. Only from Confederate Park or the spaces between the buildings can motorists and pedestrians catch fleeting glimpses of the river as they travel along Front.

Preserving the status quo isn't to anyone's benefit. If the RDC and Friends could put aside their history of animosity, they might discover they're really not so far apart in their thinking.

If both sides were willing to give a little ground, the property could support some commercial development -- a restaurant, cafe or outdoor market are all possibilities -- while remaining a true public gathering place.

City Councilman Shea Flinn has expressed interest in trying to bring the two sides together.

For the sake of all who love the river, let's hope that happens. And sooner rather than later.

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