Monday, April 26, 2010

Mayor Wharton's letter to City Council

April 26, 2010

Mr. Harold Collins, Chairman
Memphis City Council
125 North Main Street, Suite #514
Memphis, TN 38103

Re: Beale Street Landing

Dear Chairman Collins:

Our riverfront is being reborn, and when we are completed, it will be more than two miles of new activity, vibrancy, economic impact, public space, and options for experiencing the riverfront in new ways.

The northern anchors for our renewed riverfront are Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid and the lifestyle retail center in the Pinch Historic District, which together will attract hundreds of thousands of new visitors and millions of dollars in new tax revenue to Memphis each year. With this project, we become the first major city to convert an old arena into an economic engine, much less use one whose adaptive reuse sparks a major retail development in the area adjacent to it.

The southern area on the new riverfront is Beale Street Landing, and if it is to achive its full potential, it must be completed as designed. It is clear to me that Beale Street Landing will have an iconic status similar to the The Pyramid, but what remains for us to decide is if the icon is positive or negative. If we modify the design, which was the result of an international juried competition that attracted 171 entries from 20 countries and 27 states, we erode the important impact that that Beale Street Landing promises for the future of our riverfront. Cities across the U.S. are reinvesting their waterfronts at costs that are several times more than Beale Street Landing. Chattanooga has spent $120 million, Louisville has spent $110 million, and Cincinnati has spent $90 million so far. The cost of Beale Street Landing is $35 million.

The rebirth of the riverfront is a key part of our agenda to achieve our vision of Memphis as a "City of Choice" and this vision is based on a change of philosophy and a clear focus on first-class, high-quality facilities in the tradition of FedEx Forum and Autozone Park. Beale Street Landing creates a dramatic sense of arrival for our riverfront, it creates a place for people to get close to the water, it creates a destination and gathering place, and with The Pyramid and the Pinch District retail district, it sets the frame that embraces an attractive gateway at I-40 and Riverside Drive with streetscape, maintenance, and painting; improvements to Confederate Park and the bridge to the University of Memphis Law School; the transformation of the historic Customs House into the University of Memphis Law School; the master plan for the Mud Island River Park that could add a skate park to the park's activities; Memphis Art Park; and connections between the riverfront and the new College of Art Graduate School in the South Main Historic District.

The overall benefits from Beale Street Landing are not only critical to the other riverfront redevelopment initiatives but the entire city. To that end, $1 million in Community Development Block Grant Funds (CDBG) can be re-allocated to the Beale Street Landing Project, and they will be matched by $1 million in private funds. As an eligible CDBG public facilities project, Beale Street Landing will create an estimated 762 construction jobs, an estimated 683 jobs from visitor spending, and 15 jobs from retail operations (total of 698 jobs). Fifty-one percent of these jobs must be held by or made available to low-to-moderate income persons.

While I am very supportive of the need to complete this phase of the Beale Street Landing Project, I am equally committed to the need to re-imagine our entire riverfront. This is especially critical due to the impact of the Bass Pro and Pinch District Project. The city has spent considerable time and dollars to implement these projects. It is now time to integrate the Beale Street Landing Project into the Bass Pro Pinch District and Uptown West Projects to update/finalize a Comprehensive Strategic Plan for the entire riverfront.

It is crucial that we take full advantage of this opportunity for the rebirth of the riverfront as we advance our City of Choice agenda for Memphis. This bold agenda -- whose projects touch every section of Memphis -- is poised to improve neighborhoods, expand the economy, strengthen infrastructure, create new anchors, and provide connectivity to maximize impact and choices for Memphians. These interlocking key projects include the dramatic improvements to Graceland, Memphis Zoo, and the Fairgrounds, to demolition of Marina Cove Apts., from development of Aerotropolis to Bioworks district to a system of greenways.

These projects have catalytic relationships with each other, and most of all, they give us the opportunity to produce economic activity that allows us to capture taxes that in turn can be used in innovative financing plans to prevent more dependence on property taxes as we find ways to increase our tax base. At no time in recent history of Memphis has there been more momentum for progress than now, and I look forward to discussing Beale Street Landing and these other important opportunities with you.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

(signed)

A C Wharton, Jr., Mayor

c:
Members of the Memphis City Council
Greg Duckett, Chair of Riverfront Development Corporation Board
Members of the Riverfront Development Corporation Board
Benny Lendermon, President of Riverfront Development Corporation
George Little, Chief Administrative Officer, City of Memphis
Bobby White, Chief of Staff, City of Memphis
Kelly Raine, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, City of Memphis
Robert Lipscomb, Directory of Housing & Community Development, City of Memphis
Kerry Hayes, Research Analyst, City of Memphis
Tonya Meeks, Communications Specialist, City of Memphis

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