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

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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Prom-e-not? Plans for Downtown Promenade limping

Property's legal status, slow economy present chicken-and-egg quandary

By Blake Fontenay
Memphis Commercial Appeal [link]
Sunday, August 17, 2008

After years of planning, a groundbreaking ceremony was held last month to mark the start of construction of Beale Street Landing, a $27 million-plus boat dock and public gathering space.

The landing is one of the key components of the Riverfront Development Corporation's master plan to draw more people to the Downtown riverfront.

Meanwhile, though, not much has been happening with another major element of the RDC's plan -- the development of a four-block area between Union and Adams avenues that is known as the Promenade.

In 2004, the Memphis City Council approved a concept that envisioned allowing construction of skyscrapers as tall as 150 feet on the strip of property west of Front Street. That proposal grew out of a report that included input from a consultant and a series of public meetings on the future of the riverfront.

But the council decision drew strong opposition from some in the community, including a citizens group called Friends for Our Riverfront.

The council's decision also touched off a debate about whether the property could legally be used for such major commercial development.

When Memphis was established in the early 1800s, a group of the city's founding settlers granted the city an easement to preserve the Promenade for public use. However, the heirs of those founding families retain ownership of the property.

And their feelings about allowing a massive private development, such as an office building or condominium complex, on the site have been mixed.

"Taking (the land) from the city and giving it to private developers to build something on it -- that's not a public use," said Bruce Kramer, an attorney who has represented Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that includes some of the property's heirs.

Economy stalls plan

The disagreement has led to a virtual stalemate over the future of the Promenade.

But RDC officials and other riverfront advocates generally agree that the property could be put to better use than it is now.

The site currently is home to a city fire station, the Cossitt branch library, the old Post Office and U.S. Customs House building, two parking garages and Confederate Park.

A plan announced in 2006 to renovate the historic granite and Tennessee marble Post Office building into a new home for the University of Memphis law school is under way.

But Benny Lendermon, the RDC's president, said not much can be done with the rest of the property until the city's lawyers clear up any ambiguity about what can and can't be done on the Promenade.

"We're getting the sense that may be happening in the not-too-distant future," Lendermon said. "But there's certainly nothing happening now."

With the dismal state of the economy, Lendermon said, it is unlikely the city would put out a request for redevelopment proposals right now even if the legal issues were resolved.

But, he added, "Now would be a good time to clean up those issues before things turn around."

The property's legal status presents sort of a chicken-and-egg quandary, though:

If city officials want to resolve those issues before a development project can proceed, they might need a case in court testing the legal boundaries for public use of the Promenade.

However, in order to get such a test case before a judge, they might need a developer who is ready to move forward.

And many developers would probably shy away from the idea of investing time and money in a project that might be a nonstarter.

Library site draws interest

Not that there's a shortage of ideas about what could be built on the four-block parcel overlooking the Mississippi River.

Local developer Henry Turley believes the Cossitt library site at Front and Monroe Avenue, next door to the new law school, would make a prime location for a mixed-use development in a building no more than 60 feet tall, to keep the project in scale with the former Post Office and Customs House building.

Turley favors tearing down the current library, which was built in the 1950s, and replacing it with a multistory building that would include a restaurant, coffee bar or other "public house" on the ground floor, along with perhaps a smaller branch library or a bookstore. The upper floors could be used for residential or office space, Turley said.

"That property is unique," Turley said of the library site, once home to a Romanesque red sandstone structure that was Memphis' first public library when it opened in 1893. "It's valuable to us as a city. We've squandered it heretofore."

Andy Kitsinger, the Center City Commission's vice president of planning and development, said several projects are planned for the area east of Front Street that could support whatever happens along the Promenade.

Those projects include a luxury hotel planned for 52 S. Front, former home of the Prince Mongo's Planet nightclub, and apartments with ground-floor shops planned for a building at 67 Madison Avenue, Kitsinger said.

Private projects are key

Even without the legal questions and the opposition to skyline-altering commercial development that has been expressed by Friends for Our Riverfront and others, a high-rise office or condominium complex doesn't seem likely for the Promenade, though.

According to a market study issued by the Center City Commission last month, Downtown already has a relatively high office vacancy rate of 19.3 percent for top quality space.

The same study showed that Downtown condominium sales have been on the decline since a big spike in 2005 and 2006.

Lendermon of the RDC said the riverfront master plan didn't specifically call for skyscrapers on the Promenade. However, Lendermon said the RDC's position was, and still is, that some type of private development is necessary to generate money needed to cover the costs of tearing down the buildings and parking garages on the site.

"We're not locked into what the maximum amount of development should be," Lendermon said. "We're just saying there needs to be some to help pay for the amenities."

There's a big disagreement between the RDC and the Friends for Our Riverfront about what it would actually cost to clear the site.

The RDC estimated the cost three years ago at $30 million to $50 million. Friends counters that the work could be done for $7 million, a figure that assumes part of the Cossitt building would be saved and renovated.

Friends members say they're willing to consider other alternatives besides simply turning the Promenade into a giant grass field.

The group's Web site lists a number of possible amenities, including a drawbridge to connect the property to Mud Island, places for artists to display their work, stands where vendors could sell vegetables, an outdoor movie viewing area and a platform for speakers, musicians and playwrights.

Hite McLean, one of the group's members, said some type of nonintensive commercial development, such as a small restaurant or cafe, might also be considered a permissible public use.

City Councilman Shea Flinn said he's hoping to bring representatives from the RDC and Friends together soon to see if they can reach some areas of common ground regarding the riverfront in general, and the Promenade in particular.

"Both sides just need to talk," Flinn said. "The issue with the Promenade is not going to go away."

Pike Place a model?

In searching for a possible compromise, both sides might do well to study the Pike Place Market, which, according to its Web site, opened in Seattle exactly 101 years ago today.

The market, originally established to combat price-gouging by middlemen selling produce, is a major gathering place overlooking the Puget Sound.

According to the Web site, about 200 businesses, 190 craftspeople and 120 farmers rent table space at Pike Place by day. At night they give way to about 240 street performers and musicians.

The site boasts that 10 million people visit the market each year -- a number that tourists who've been there on a busy weekday can easily believe.

So what does McLean, one of the Friends members, think about using Pike Place as a model for developing the Promenade?

"I think it would be a great thing if they had a farmer's market there," he said.

Blake Fontenay is an editorial writer for The Commercial Appeal. Contact him at 529-2386.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

5 goals set toward making Memphis 'choice' city

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

In local economic development efforts, "green" refers to more than just money.

According to a draft version of the economic development portion of Memphis Fast Forward -- an economic growth strategy spearheaded by the City of Memphis, Shelby County, Memphis Regional Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow -- Shelby Farms would act as the eastern anchor of a countywide "greenprint" strategy that could help attract and retain highly coveted "knowledge workers."

Making Memphis a place of choice for knowledge workers -- young, highly educated, upwardly mobile -- is one of the five goals of the economic development plan and the "greenprint" is one of 15 strategies designed to reach the goals.
"This is a comprehensive economic development plan that will help grow the economic pie for all the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County," said John Moore, president and CEO of the chamber.

Goal 1: Develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism

From Kemmons Wilson, who forever changed the hotel industry, to Frederick W. Smith, who revolutionized the package delivery business, the Bluff City has produced a long list of entrepreneurs and forward thinkers in business.

The economic development plan seeks to capitalize on those past successes and drive the creation of new high-value ventures and jobs.

To do that, the plan calls for the creation of a national entrepreneurship "center of excellence."

The Memphis Entrepreneurial Institute would license intellectual property from local and national universities and company research departments. It would also create business plans and secure management teams to start new companies based on the intellectual property.

The plan also calls for growing the share of minority firms in existing markets like roofing or food services that are underrepresented by minority vendors.

The program would include the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurial Development, the business incubator launched recently by the Mid-South Minority Business Council.

Goal 2: Market Memphis and Shelby County

"Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy," Ken Glass, co-chair of Memphis Fast Forward and former president, CEO and chairman of First Horizon National Corp., parent of First Tennessee Bank, recently told members of the County Commission.

Instead of harping on the negative, Glass and other officials want residents to accentuate the positive locally and abroad.

One strategy includes crafting a marketing campaign designed to convince Mid-Southerners that Memphis and Shelby County are great places to live, work and play -- a potentially tough trick in a city with violent crime and public corruption issues.

The campaign also would urge Memphians to "talk up" the city when they travel.

"We have a lot of great stories and we need to tell them," Moore said.

Goal 3: Pursue target industries

The city and county would target four key industries: logistics, music/film, biosciences and tourism.

The plan calls for revising local payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentives so they are more aligned with the targeted industries.

Much of that has already been done. The City Council and County Commission recently enacted sweeping changes to the PILOT program of the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board. Part of those changes centered on awarding extra points to companies in targeted industries.

The plan also calls for developing a comprehensive logistics and aerotropolis strategy. Again, much of that is already in the works.

Tom Schmitt, president and chief executive of FedEx Supply Chain Solutions, is heading a 15-member aerotropolis committee.

The group has hired John Kasarda, who coined the term aerotropolis, which refers to powerful centers of commerce growing up around airports. They are in the process of raising funds from the private sector for an estimated $200,000 yearly budget.

The plan also calls for executing the Memphis Music Industry Strategic Plan, which includes bringing national and international music events to Memphis, recruiting new artists and labels, and establishing the Sam Phillips Center for Independent Music, a planned resource center for local musicians and others in the industry.

The five-year plan calls for $4.4 million to make the Sam Phillips Center a reality, including almost $1 million in the first year.

Goal Four: Grow existing firms

The chamber and a host of other local groups would attempt to recruit and create additional venture capital firms, which "seed" start-up companies and help growing firms expand.

The plan also calls on the MMBC, headed by Luke Yancy III, to deploy its Joint Venture Initiative to pair small Memphis firms with large minority firms outside of Memphis for execution of local contracts.

Goal Five: Make Memphis a place of choice for knowledge workers

All across the country, cities are increasingly competing for people, particularly the young, upwardly mobile knowledge-based workers of the future.

Because these workers are in such high demand, it is often the intangibles -- parks, recreational activities, nightlife, museums and institutions of higher learning -- that can "close the deal."

The plan places high priority on two controversial Downtown issues.

One is the construction of Beale Street Landing, a planned $29 million improvement to Tom Lee Park that includes a boat dock.

Recently, the Memphis City Council's budget committee for capital improvements reversed a previous vote by other members of the committee that deleted the project from the city's plans entirely. To stay afloat, Beale Street Landing needs the support of the full council when it meets Tuesday.

The plan also calls for resolving the legal issues surrounding the Promenade, a four-block area of Front Street between Union and Adams set aside by Memphis founders for public use.

The Riverfront Development Corp. wants private development on the Promenade to pay for public improvements, a plan that has been met with resistance by some citizens, particularly a grass-roots organization called Friends For Our Riverfront.

The plan also calls on establishing Shelby County's park system as one of the country's best by creating a "seamless system" linking Shelby Farms with Downtown parks and other green spaces via the Wolf River Greenway, Memphis Greenline and other green corridors.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Editorial: Mayors prime new jobs pump

The Commercial Appeal [Link]
Editorial
April 1, 2007

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton last week pledged $1.25 million in county funds for economic development in the 2008 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton says he will seek up to $1.5 million in city funds for the effort.

An economic development plan prepared for local government and business leaders makes a persuasive case that the mayors' investments, which are subject to County Commission and City Council approval, are not only sound but perhaps even urgent.

Local business leaders are also being prodded to devote more resources to the task of marketing Memphis to the world and sending our best and our brightest out on recruiting missions to sell the community to potential investors.

A draft of the plan obtained by The Commercial Appeal last week represents one part of a four-part series of strategic plans that also address crime, government efficiency and education-workforce development.

Because Memphis and Shelby County operate "the most under-funded economic development program" in the nation, we apparently have been lucky to get companies like Nucor and ServiceMaster to invest in the community, the report implies.

And while comparisons are often onerous, it may be somewhat instructive to note that while local governments were spending $350,000 on economic development here in 2006, Nashville was spending $3 million.

One of the plan's most useful elements may be its list of 15 disparate strategies for progress in Memphis that engage our attention from time to time but are rarely considered as parts of a coherent whole.

The list ranges from the creation of a national entrepreneurship "center of excellence" to internal and external marketing campaigns to tout the community's assets.

Benefits would flow, as well, from the development of a "seamless" linear park system linking Shelby Farms Park, the riverfront and other parkland via the Wolf River Greenway, Memphis Greenline and other green corridors.

Resolving the ticklish legal issues surrounding the riverfront promenade would be part of an overall plan to invigorate the city's Downtown and Mississippi riverfront. [Emphasis added]

Some of the newer ideas for economic development, such as enhancing the city's international role as an "aerotropolis" and expanding its biosciences industry, are given the prominent role they deserve, along with old standbys like tourism, the music industry and tax incentives.

The infrastructure exists to advance most of these strategies, although a cabinet-level, publicly funded city and county Office of Economic Development would make them easier to pursue.

At the heart of the report is a new five-year, $66 million plan that would attempt to take Memphis into the big leagues of economic development, where the game is played like a "hyper-competitive survival of the fittest in which the winners grow stronger and the losers find it increasingly more difficult to make headway in the race to compete."

Support for the ideas in the plan is easy to voice, and this one will be greeted with enthusiasm. The more difficult task is finding the money to fix the community's shortcomings and put it on a fast track to fortune.

While Wharton and Herenton tally up funding, it will be instructive to see who else wants to get on board.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Branston: The Rest of the Story on the RDC

Memphis Flyer [link]
February 22, 2007
By John Branston

Better late than never.

Following up on its strong series of stories about sweet deals in city government and at MLGW, The Commercial Appeal finally turned its attention Thursday to city government’s kissing cousin, the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) and its staff of three former city division directors.

As The Flyer has been reporting for four years, the RDC, or "retired directors club" as some city council members call the quasi-government nonprofit, enjoys an enviable package of salaries and benefits for managing a small slice of the city – the riverfront parks – as opposed to an entire city division. RDC President Benny Lendermon, formerly city public works director, earns over $260,000 a year in salary, pension, and other benefits. The other two retired directors on the RDC staff are Danny Lemmons, formerly of general services, and John Conroy, former city engineer.

"The area’s biggest megaphone," as CA columnist Wendi Thomas called her employer in her column Thursday, skated over or confused some key RDC issues in addition to doing some good work.

There was no mention of Friends for Our Riverfront, another nonprofit that operates on a shoestring budget and has fought the RDC to a standstill on the public promenade and done at least as much to promote user-friendly amenities along the river and parks in general. Two weeks ago the RDC and Friends, along with other groups, each brought well-known speakers to Memphis on different days to plug “green” issues. Virginia McLean, head of the Friends volunteers, has no ties to city government and gets no subsidy as the RDC does.

The CA story quoted Lendermon and city council members Scott McCormick and Tom Marshall who touted the efficiencies and accomplishments of the RDC and pooh-poohed the gibes about the "retired directors club." Strange then, that the city council, chaired by Marshall, is making such a fuss about former mayoral aide Gail Jones Carson over at MLGW and her $126,000 salary and her pension.

McCormick is quoted saying the RDC does a better job of managing the parks than the Memphis Park Commission did. What the story did not say, however, is that such a comparison is difficult if not unfair. The parks division, as it is now called, is responsible for roughly 180 parks spread over some 300 square miles of Memphis. The RDC gets to concentrate on 10 parks along two miles of the riverfront.

McCormick told the Flyer this week he is satisfied that the RDC really is doing the job for less and baselined its budget against pre-RDC years. "They said they would operate and maintain the parks for $2 million in 2001," he said. "They have operated the parks for five years for the same amount. Where in government does somebody maintain the same costs for five years? I thought that was outstanding."

John Malmo, former chairman of the board of the old Memphis Park Commission, told the Flyer last year that he thinks such comparisons play fast and loose with the facts. Isolating the cost of running riverfront parks from the rest of the city is like trying to isolate the cost of running one room of your house or raising one of your children. Obviously, there are a lot of shared costs and overhead.

The CA story says there are new cobblestones on the riverfront. If so, they’re not the huge ones that many Memphians remember. The broad area at the end of Union Avenue and west of Riverside Drive where the tour boats dock is a patchwork of loose gravel and small cobblestones, with a few massive chain links that are a reminder of the city’s cotton and riverboat days. But "the cobblestones" are in no condition to qualify as a tourist attraction, and, after six RDC years, there are no markers calling attention to them or explaining their significance. To call this an accomplishment of the RDC is a stretch.

With plans to enclose the harbor scrapped two years ago, the RDC’s current big project is Beale Street Landing, a $27 million park and boat landing at the foot of Beale Street and Tom Lee Park. Friends for Our Riverfront and others have argued that modest user-friendly improvements could be made at the park for a fraction of that price.

The CA puts no heat on the RDC board, which includes a host of downtown and Memphis luminaries. Once again, Friends for Our Riverfront does the heavy lifting when it comes to accountability by attending RDC meetings and circulating their notes and minutes via their website.

The quality of the RDC’s work on Mud Island and along the riverfront speaks for itself. The parks, bluff, and Riverside Drive, in the opinion of this 25-year downtown worker and fan, have never looked better. There may indeed be big efficiencies at the RDC versus the public sector. In that case, the agency would be best served by embracing complete financial transparency, explaining its magic formula without fear or favor, joining forces with Friends for Our Riverfront when practical, and expanding its expertise and thrifty business model to other parts of Memphis on a scale commensurate with those salaries.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Editorial: High stakes for high-rise project

The Commercial Appeal

It would be tempting, but inaccurate, to cast a dispute over building heights for Number One Beale as a clash between the rich and the richer. In reality, the stakes are far broader than that.

Number One Beale, not to be confused with the old restaurant of the same name, has the potential to change the skyline of Downtown Memphis in a big way. The proposed $175 million project would include a luxury hotel, upscale condominiums, offices, restaurants and retail space where Beale Street meets Riverside Drive.

The new development could provide another economic boost to the community, creating new jobs and generating more tax revenues.

However, the project hit a snag last week when representatives from Waterford Plaza, an upscale condo high-rise just north of the site, expressed concerns about how Number One Beale's twin towers might obstruct their residents' views of the Mississippi River.

The Land Use Control Board decided to wait at least 30 days before considering an exception to the building height limits needed for construction of Number One Beale to proceed. Ultimately, the building height issue will probably end up before the Memphis City Council.

If and when it does, council members could take a very narrow approach to this case, weighing only the economic benefits of this particular project against the concerns of the Waterford residents.

But we're hoping council members won't stop there.

This case offers a great opportunity for a broader discussion about public access to the riverfront.

Number One Beale isn't the first high-rise project proposed along the riverfront and it probably won't be the last. There has also been discussion in recent years about building high-rises along a stretch of public land known as the Promenade.

Council members should consider ways to balance the public's rights to see and walk along the river against pressure from developers to allow ever newer and taller buildings.

Chance Carlisle, Number One Beale's project manager, said his company's proposed development would provide access to the public. A pedestrian walkway would connect Front Street with the river. Also, the hotel lobby would be open, much like The Peabody's, so residents and tourists could go inside to have a drink or two, eat at one of the restaurants or pay a visit to the spa.

That's fine. But there's a bigger picture question here.

Rickey Peete, chairman of the council's planning and zoning committee, said he would support dedicating some portion of the riverfront for public access. That would, theoretically, provide Memphians with some assurances that the riverfront won't be gradually walled off from sight completely by rows and rows of skyscrapers.

Dedicated public access to a portion of the riverfront is a concept worth pursuing, although the details could certainly be troublesome. Would that involve having the city buy more valuable riverfront property, taking it off the tax rolls? Would that mean establishing a policy that requires riverfront developers to keep some portion of their properties open to the public?

The answers to those types of questions aren't easy. But unless the council is expecting Number One Beale to be the last high-rise proposed along the riverfront, then it seems like a good time to start looking for them.

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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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Friday, June 09, 2006

Eminent domain law could impact riverfront redevelopment plans

Memphis Business Journal
by Christopher Sheff
Link to article

Eminent domain legislation signed by Gov. Phil Bredesen this week could give renewed hope to those opposing the redevelopment of Downtown property by the Riverfront Development Corp.

Although House Bill 3450 is one of the least restrictive of several bills introduced by lawmakers this past session, certain provisions give landowners some real recourse to having their land taken for economic development purposes, says Kevin Walsh with Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh, who primarily represents landowners in eminent domain disputes.

In the session that just ended, 59 bills were filed by state Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate to limit the use of eminent domain by local governments.

The flurry of activity on the issue was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling in 2005 that found that the New London Development Corp., acting through the City of New London, Conn., had the authority to take homes for a development plan that included a resort hotel and conference center, a new state park, 80-100 new residences and various research, office and retail space. The case is now often referred to as the Kelo Case, named after local homeowner and lead plaintiff Susette Kelo.

"I do think it is a good step toward addressing the Kelo issue in Tennessee," Walsh says.

Walsh says the legislation, which was signed June 5 and is still being digested by the legal community, clarifies the limited nature of public use for the stated purpose of taking a property for economic development.

"That should provide some comfort to owners of property that there is a recognized prohibition of taking property solely for economic development," Walsh says.

Test case in riverfront redevelopment?

Locally, the most prominent case that may test the legislation is the RDC's $50 million plan to remake 6 acres of prime riverfront property that now contain the Cossitt Library, Fire Station No. 1, the old Customs House (future home of the University of Memphis School of Law) and Confederate Park.

Private developments, including three proposed new buildings, would pay for projects like a two-level promenade and the relocation of parking garages underground. The buildings would be mixed-use, with restaurants and shops lining the bottom floors. Ground leases would keep the property under the control of the city. The plan also calls for pedestrian bridges that would stretch across Monroe and Court and for improvements to sidewalks on the promenade. Grand staircases would provide access to the upper level of the pedestrian walkways.

RDC president Benny Lendermon, who says he had not seen the new legislation as of Wednesday, didn't express much concern about the impact of the new law on RDC's redevelopment plan.

While saying that the RDC has hoped to never use eminent domain to obtain property, he says the process "is important for municipalities to grow and prosper."

Eminent domain is not a favorable option because the governing authority often pays much more than the fair market value to get it.

"The courts always make sure the property owner is duly compensated," he says.

But in the case of the property in question, it may be a question of actual ownership.

There has long been a legal dispute about the use of the property and who has the authority to decide it.

The property was apparently donated by the city's founding fathers for use as a public promenade decades ago, although the heirs of the founders reportedly still hold title.

Legal showdown may be afoot

Arguments over aspects of the donated land have gone all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court in the past. Some members of the legal community see another legal showdown brewing between the City of Memphis, RDC and the heirs, chiefly the Overton family, whose name is attached to one of the city's largest recreation areas, Overton Park.

The riverfront land in question "was given to the citizens of Memphis," says Virginia McLean, an Overton heir and president of the Friends for Our Riverfront. "The city acts as a trustee of the land."

It was the intention of McLean's family that the land be used as a public promenade or public open space like Boston Common.

She says she is not against the property being developed and improved, "but the question is who is the land being improved to benefit? Improved for a public promenade or private development?"

Despite Lendermon's stated hope that eminent dominion would not be involved, McLean says she is confident the city plans to initiate eminent domain proceedings.

Lendermon says since the project was approved by the City Council in 2004 there has been little movement due to the city's budgeting problems and other priorities. But with a new budget approved and those problems seemingly behind it, talks can now begin on how to proceed.

"Dealing with the promenade property in the future will be some target on that schedule," he says.

City attorney Sara Hall did not return calls seeking comment.

RDC's first move is with the city

Whatever direction RDC and the city attorney's office take will first come before the City Council's economic development, tourism and technology committee chaired by attorney Dedrick Brittenum Jr., managing partner of Farris Mathews Branan Bobango Hellen & Dunlap PLC.

Brittenum, who joined the City Council in November and has handled eminent domain cases in his practice, says he was briefed on the RDC and progress on the promenade project by Lendermon just two weeks ago.

He says if any eminent domain proceedings are to begin, the RDC would first have to make the request to the city.

Brittenum says he was about to ask Lendermon if RDC planned to take that step when a fire alarm in One Commerce Square abruptly ended the meeting before Lendermon could answer.

"He was, literally, saved by the bell," Brittenum says.

csheffield@bizjournals.com

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Too Many Credit Cards

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

A $27 million Beale Street riverboat landing and a $400 million train track from downtown to the airport are capital improvements. So are a walking trail and playground at the Bickford Community Center in North Memphis. Guess which one is most likely to be stopped by the city's spending freeze.

The city and county are trying to get their budgets in shape and keep their bond ratings from slipping. The news gets worse by the month. So the city administration and City Council have frozen spending on capital improvements.

Public facilities such as the Bickford Community Center and its customers will feel the chill. Located between Caldwell Elementary School and Uptown, Bickford has an indoor swimming pool, an after-school and Head Start program, and a senior citizens program. The playground consists of a single swing-set and a bare open field. A modest investment that would make a modest improvement in the everyday lives of young and old is on hold.

A spending freeze gives city officials some breathing room, but it won't stop big-ticket projects such as the boat landing and airport train, and it won't fix the budget or restore public confidence. The reason, to oversimplify a bit, is that the city of Memphis is married with children. There are a lot of credit cards out there.

Memphis and Shelby County are like a couple with joint checking accounts and individual accounts. They have rich uncles -- state and federal government -- that shower them with money they must use or lose. And they have children -- the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), to name a few -- with their own credit cards and some very nice allowances. Unless the parents take away the credit cards and allowances, the spending won't stop.

The Riverfront Development Corporation has groomed Riverside Drive, the bluff, and riverfront parks to an exemplary standard. But now that it has killed the land bridge and written off most of a $760,000 master plan, it should consider its own relevance. A self-imposed sunset clause might be a public service and a recognition that the agency, like the dot-com boom, was a product of an era of excess that is as yesterday as the catered breakfast served up at RDC board meetings.

What's left for an outfit with three former city division directors on its payroll at salaries plus bonuses that exceed what they were making as public servants? Its driving force and guiding light, Kristi Jernigan, is gone. The land bridge is gone, and several board members didn't even bother to show up for the vote that killed it. Mud Island River Park is ready for its annual seasonal shutdown after losing another million dollars or two this year. The University of Memphis can carry the ball for the proposed downtown law school. Lawyers and Friends For Our Riverfront and heirs of the city founders will determine the future of Front Street and the public promenade. The Pyramid has its own reuse committee.

The boat landing is supposed to make the river more accessible, but the river is already accessible from two boat ramps on Mud Island, and you can throw a rock in it from Tom Lee Park or Greenbelt Park.

The city has a contract with the RDC, which in turn signed contracts for the design, construction, and management of Beale Street Landing. With several million dollars already spent, it's not likely that the mayor and City Council will pull the plug on the Beale Street Landing and the RDC. Unless the board acts on it own, as it did on the land bridge, Memphians will have a $27 million tourist bauble.

MATA is another semi-autonomous agency, responsible for the costly and baffling extension of the Madison trolley line to Cleveland in Midtown. With the MPO, MATA is actively studying alternative routes to the airport. The lure of big construction contracts and "free money" in the form of state and federal funds is driving the project.

Once again, unless the board acts or the mayor and City Council specifically target this project, Memphians will wind up paying for it.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

A Dam Shame

The dam was damned from the start. So how did it survive so long?

The Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

On Monday, the Riverfront Development Corporation unanimously voted to remove the land bridge or dam between downtown and Mud Island from its strategic and implementation plans. Not a single member expressed support for what can fairly be called a $100 million turkey, although the exact dollars are anyone's guess.

Members of the illustrious RDC board agreed that the dam was unnecessary, unfeasible, and so unpopular that it was a general hindrance to the RDC, the five-year-old nonprofit agency responsible for developing and maintaining the public riverfront.

Better late than never. But the history of the land bridge is an instructive lesson in public process in Memphis.

One of the first people to propose it was E.H. Crump, the political boss of Memphis, who made the suggestion to a newspaper reporter in 1953, 25 years before work began on Mud Island River Park. But the latest 38-acre brainstorm was the product of a group of consultants -- Cooper, Robertson & Partners -- who were hired in 2000 and paid $750,000 for a 50-year master plan whose relevance is suddenly nil.

Nice work if you can get it.

High-priced consultants don't materialize out of thin air. Mayor Willie Herenton hosted public forums on the riverfront in 1999 and supported the creation of the RDC, which supplanted the Memphis Park Commission, in 2000. A former city division director, Benny Lendermon, was hired to run it. The board was packed with influential downtowners and celebrities such as Cybill Shepherd and Jerry West.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners conducted a series of community meetings on the riverfront. After 18 months, they issued a Memphis Riverfront Master Plan. Its centerpiece, literally, was the land bridge or dam between Court Avenue and Poplar Avenue. Whence it came, no one really knows. Community forums, like reporters' interviews, are a small and subjective sampling of public opinion. It is usually a stretch to generalize from them, but consultants and reporters do it all the time.

My guess is that high-priced consulting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For $750,000, Cooper, Robertson & Partners couldn't very well stop with such common-sense recommendations as a better boat landing, well-manicured parks with additional activities, an improved Promenade, and a nicely lighted sidewalk from Tom Lee Park to The Pyramid. For a big price, there had to be a big deal.

The land bridge was always couched in uncertainty: It might not be built for several years, it might or might not have high-rise buildings on it, it might or might not screw up the Wolf River harbor, it might or might not be paid for by private development. But it was too big to ignore. It was right there in the models and renderings. Of course people were going to react to it, and react they did. A second group of consultants, the Urban Land Institute, which was paid $110,000, threw up a bunch of red flags in 2003 but stopped short of recommending that the land bridge not be built.

For a while, Lendermon and the RDC tried to downplay the land bridge by pushing back the timetable. But everything else in the master plan was contingent upon it in some way. The death blow probably came last month when Jack Belz, developer of Peabody Place and the Peabody hotel, ripped it in a speech to a civic group.

Once the dam was broken, the flood broke through. RDC board members led by Dan Turley, Angus McEachran, Rickey Peete, and Kevin Kane, said kill it and kill it good. "It's not going to go away if we are vague," McEachran said. Board member Jim Hunt noted that nearly half the board members were absent and that the decision would reverse years of planning. Heads nodded in agreement.

By my watch, the RDC "debate" lasted five minutes. The land bridge was a dead duck, and the RDC's new signature project is the $27.5 million Beale Street Landing, which has its own critics but looks like a relative bargain and will probably get built.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Editorial: A bridge better left uncrossed

Commercial Appeal

WE KNOW THIS MUCH about the Riverfront Development Corp.'s board members: They obviously can read the writing on the wall.

On Monday, the RDC board wisely voted to remove a controversial land bridge from a 50-year master plan for reshaping the Mississippi riverfront.

Assuming the Memphis City Council agrees with the RDC's decision, the $78 million project will be officially scuttled.

So what made the land bridge project so controversial? Well, for starters, there was the cost.

For a city government struggling with its finances, $78 million isn't chump change.

Then there were the engineering challenges of filling in a huge section of the Wolf River Harbor between Mud Island and the rest of Downtown.

Then there were environmental questions about whether it would really be such a good idea to create a slackwater lake out of what would be left of the harbor.

Not to mention the debate about whether Downtown really needed all of that extra land for new offices, condominiums or whatever.

All things considered, scrapping the land bridge was an easy choice. As board member Jeff Sanford put it, the land bridge had become a "lightning rod" for the RDC's critics.

RDC chairman Rick Masson said the land bridge was intended to be a long-range project, perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 years into the future, but "the perception of the public was that it was an immediate action item."

It's encouraging that the RDC listened to public feedback on that issue. The RDC would do well to keep working with citizens as it pursues other parts of the master plan, particularly the so-called Promenade project.

That portion of the plan calls for new commercial or residential development, possibly in high-rise towers, along four blocks west of Front Street between Adams and Union. There has been substantial opposition to the idea of putting high-rises in that location - and for good reason.

One of the RDC's stated goals is to open up the riverfront and make it more accessible to citizens.

Phase one of the Promenade would most likely involve removing two parking garages, a fire station and an old branch library from the site.

However, it doesn't make much sense to tear down those buildings for the purpose of improving access, only to replace them with even larger and more imposing buildings.

A better approach might be to encourage development of shops and restaurants in smaller buildings. That would create a magnet to draw people to the riverfront, while also leaving enough open space to improve accessibility.

At a minimum, more public discussions are needed on the Promenade and other key elements of the riverfront master plan.

RDC board members demonstrated this week that they can be responsive to community input. That type of attitude could serve them well in the future too.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mud Island-Downtown land bridge is falling down

Riverfront planners want to refocus, deflect critics

Commercial Appeal
by Tom Charlier

Yielding to what they called political and economic realities, Riverfront Development Corp. officials Monday scuttled plans to build an ambitious, development-studded land bridge connecting Mud Island with Downtown Memphis.

If followed up by the City Council next month, the action could kill a project described as "the single most important defining element" in a 50-year, $300 million master plan for reshaping the waterfront along the Mississippi River.

The land bridge, planned for the area between Court and Poplar, was intended to leave Mud Island "seamlessly integrated" with Downtown. It would have created land for development and transformed much of what is now Wolf River Harbor into a lake.

The RDC board of directors cited several reasons for the vote, including the need to redevelop other areas of Downtown first and the financial challenges facing Memphis.

Board members also said that while the land bridge had not been slated for construction for at least 15 years, the frequent criticism of it was a distraction. RDC is busy trying to build the $27.3 million Beale Street Landing for riverboats and redevelop the Promenade acreage.

"We've got a lot on our plate," said board member Kevin Kane. "...We've got to focus on what we can control in the next five or 10 years."

Jeff Sanford was among several members who said groups were seizing on the land bridge proposal in their efforts to block any redevelopment along the riverfront.

"The land bridge has become a lightning rod," he said.

The board's action, which follows a study of the land bridge by a subcommittee, drops the proposal from the RDC strategic plan. It also asks the City Council to remove it from the riverfront master plan that was approved in 2002.

Board member Rickey Peete, a City Councilman, said the matter probably will be put on the agenda of the council's Nov. 1 meeting.

The RDC action comes as the Corps of Engineers is completing a study of issues involved with the land bridge. Corps project manager Greg Grugett said the study does not make recommendation as to whether the project should be built.

RDC had pegged the cost of the land bridge and related construction at $78 million, by far the most expensive item in its $292 million slate of outlined improvements. Although public capital funds would pay for the projects, RDC's master plan says a "significant portion" of the costs would be recouped through private development activity.

Critics, however, called the land bridge a costly boondoggle that would unloose major environmental and drainage problems and harm recreation.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group critical of RDC's proposals, said she was "thrilled" by the vote Monday, which she said indicates the board has begun listening to public opinion.

"The public has been saying all along that we don't want a fake lake down there. We want a green riverfront," she said.

McLean and group vice president John Gary said RDC officials now should re-evaluate other parts of the master plan, especially those dealing with the Promenade.

"I'm kind of skeptical as to whether the master plan is worth pursuing," Gary said.

Despite the vote, RDC members said the land bridge concept could be revived sometime in the future.

"Plans are basically a work in progress," Peete said.

But for now, "the political reality is that it (the land bridge) has got to go."



Remaking the riverfront

The board of directors of the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit group overseeing efforts to enhance Memphis's ties to the Mississippi River, voted Monday to drop plans for a land bridge between Downtown and Mud Island. The action is the latest in the group's five-year effort to revitalize the riverfront:

July 2000: RDC begins work on a master plan of improvements for a five-mile stretch of the riverfront.

January 2002: The RDC board approves a master plan developed by New York architects Cooper, Robertson & Partners. Its central feature was a 50-acre land bridge, which would transform most of the Wolf River Harbor into a lake. The plan also includes a riverboat facility known as Beale Street Landing and the redevelopment of the Promenade area of Downtown.

May 2002: The master plan is approved by City Council.

May 2004: Despite opposition from a citizens' group, the City Council approves RDC's land-use plan for the Promenade, which calls for mixed-use development on the area west of Front between Auction and Beale.

September 2005: State and federal regulators approve environmental permits for RDC's planned Beale Street Landing project, a $27.3 million facility featuring a floating dock and other amenities to accommodate commercial excursion vessels. Initial dredging for the project could begin this fall.

October 2005: RDC board, citing political and economic obstacles, votes to eliminate the land bridge from the RDC strategic plan and ask the City Council to strike it from the master plan.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Editorial: Try to negotiate riverfront plans

Commercial Appeal

THERE'S STILL TIME to refine plans for developing the Downtown riverfront in ways that could significantly reduce public opposition.

That was perhaps the most promising bit of information that came out of a two-hour debate Sunday afternoon between representatives from the Riverfront Development Corp. and the Friends for Our Riverfront citizens group.

Oh, it wouldn't be easy. On some issues, the gap between the groups' positions is as wide as the Mississippi River itself.

Yet near the end of Sunday's forum at the Central Library, both sides said they were willing to talk about potential areas of compromise. It would be in everyone's best interests for those discussions to take place.

The most likely source of common ground might be on the so-called Promenade project, a four-block area of Front Street between Union and Adams.

The RDC, a nonprofit organization created by city government to manage riverfront property, envisions a high-rise development of some sort -- condominiums, offices or whatever -- that would provide limited public access along outdoor promenade decks facing the river.

Friends for Our Riverfront would prefer to see the area converted into parkland.

Sunday's forum exposed some weaknesses in each of those approaches.

For example, a high-rise development, no matter whether it's residential or commercial, would require a lot of parking. The RDC's plans call for two existing parking garages within the four-block area to be rebuilt as underground structures.

That might take care of the current needs for parking spaces. But a high-rise development would logically seem to require much more parking than the area currently has. And given the property's proximity to the river, there are limits on how far underground it's practical to put a garage.

RDC officials didn't make a clear and compelling case for the demand for new residential or office space, either. They say market conditions will determine what's best for the site. But if RDC officials are focused strictly on some type of high-rise, they're likely to overlook other possibilities that could be more practical and acceptable to the public.

On the other hand, RDC officials raised some very valid concerns about the idea of converting those four blocks into parkland. Rick Masson, an RDC board member, noted that Confederate Park and the Mud Island River Park are seldom used by citizens. That being the case, simply adding more unimproved park space doesn't seem like a good solution.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends, countered that parks don't have to be just empty patches of grass. She cited Overton Park as an example with multiple civic uses.

McLean said Friends wouldn't be opposed to some development on the Promenade, such as restaurants, sidewalk cafes and the like. It seems like there's still an opportunity to redesign the Promenade, perhaps using the same basic design with less-intensive retail uses.

That might prevent a court fight over use of the land. And it could produce one of those "win-win" situations that would make everybody feel better about the finished product.

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Crystal Ball: Five predictions for Memphis, based on recent headlines.

Memphis Flyer
By John Branston
Link to original

John Ford will beat the rap by wrapping himself in TennCare. The more the media, state investigators, plaintiff's attorneys, and rival politicians bore in on him, the greater Ford's chances of being acquitted on federal criminal charges of extortion. The investigations will blur in the public mind and look like piling on.

There is no connection between E-Cycle Management — the bogus company in the F.B.I. Tennessee Waltz sting — and United American HealthCare (UAHC) — the parent of TennCare provider UAHC Health Plan of Tennessee. But Ford has already said he was singled out for indictment by TennCare cutters. If there are criminal indictments stemming from an investigation by the TennCare inspector general's office, which was created by the General Assembly in 2004, or Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers, who put UAHC of Tennessee on administrative supervision in April, Ford will cry dirty politics. And his cry will resonate in Memphis, which has more TennCare recipients who stand to lose their coverage than any other part of the state.

Ford didn't invent the concept of the high-paid consultant, he just refined it as a legislator. This week the Government Accountability Office reported that 34 states used consultants paid on contingency fees to get more Medicaid and Medicare money.

If Ford is tried by a Memphis jury, he will walk.

-- The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain in Kelo v. New London will not help the Riverfront Development Corporation in its efforts to develop the downtown Promenade. In fact, it will hurt it by focusing attention on the land bridge, which is the most expensive and controversial part of the RDC plan.

You can read the entire opinion in less than 10 minutes at this Web site: straylight.law.cornell.edu. It is nuanced, balanced, and bears little resemblance to the simplifications and mischaracterizations of it in media accounts. The New London Development Corporation is somewhat similar to the RDC. A small group of private-property owners whose properties were not blighted fought the development plan and lost. The case turned on whether the plan served "public purpose," which is not the same as "public use." See for yourself how economic development serves public purpose.

The RDC wants to take some public land for private use to help finance public improvements. The only way to get the land bridge through is by stealth. When the focus, for whatever reason, shifts to the cost, whether it is $100 million or $250 million, it's a dead duck. Boss Crump recommended a land bridge to Mud Island in a newspaper interview in 1953, the year before he died. The most powerful man in Memphis history couldn't make it happen, and neither will the RDC.

-- The Memphis Grizzlies will wear out their welcome if they don't boost their contributions to the city in a big way. There is no causal connection, but the fact is that public parks and boulevards and golf courses are suffering while the $250 million FedExForum sits idle, the NBA finals get lousy ratings, Grizzlies malcontents making $8 million a year whine and can't get fired up to win a playoff game, and publicists try to get us to care about the 19th pick in this week's draft. Pitiful. How ironic that "surplus" funds from the MLGW water division are helping to pay off the bonds for FedExForum while the city can't water the greens at the Links of Galloway golf course.

-- The Pyramid reuse recommendation — an indoor theme park and a shopping mall — won't happen. It's not that the ideas are bad. It's that they require public subsidies, giving away the building, or both. And this is not the time to be spending public money to promote tourism or economic impact. With the arena, baseball stadium, trolley, Mud Island, and The Pyramid in place and the highest property taxes in the state, the era of big public projects in Memphis is over.

-- Which brings us to this: The next mayor of Memphis will run and win on a program of a better Memphis for Memphians through revitalized neighborhood parks and public spaces. His or her model will be Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who has been singing this song for years.

"As schools lost their effectiveness as community anchors, the same thing happened to parks, libraries, and other public spaces," Daley has said. "People stopped using them and the city stopped taking care of them. Or maybe people stopped using them because the city stopped taking care of them. ... The nice thing is, if you improve the quality of life for people in your city, you will end up attracting new people and employers."

Nothing gets the public stirred up like uncut grass or unpicked-up garbage.

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Domain ruling gives developers options

Memphis Business Journal [link]
By Rob Robertson and Amos Maki

Opinions are mixed regarding last week's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively expanded the use of eminent domain for private economic development.

In the case of Kelo vs. New London, Conn., the court held that New London could purchase and remove private homes and businesses to make way for a private riverfront development project because of the potential economic benefit the boost in tax revenues would create.

Kevin Walsh of Harris, Shelton, Hanover, Walsh PLLC, calls the court's decision "an unfortunate expansion of public use."

Walsh has an emphasis on eminent domain in his practice and has represented property owners in cases brought by governmental authorities to take private property.

"I found it disappointing that Judge Rehnquist was not able to muster a majority for purposes of protecting private property rights," Walsh says. "This decision essentially allows governmental entities to take property in the name of public use under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution solely for the purpose of generating additional tax revenue."

Still, there are additional levels of scrutiny to consider regarding the application of Tennessee state law, Walsh says. Tennessee has its own clause with regard to the right to take private property.

"I'm not sure it would be interpreted any differently, but you would have to consider not only the Tennessee Constitution but the enabling legislation or statute under which the power of eminent domain has been delegated," he says.

That would include any legislation that allows a government entity to seize private property, including boards like the Riverfront Development Corp., which gained approval from the City Council last year to transform a four-block area of Downtown known as the Promenade.

The $50 million redevelopment plan calls for using private developments, including three proposed new buildings, to pay for projects like a two-level promenade and the relocation of parking garages underground. The buildings would be mixed-use, with restaurants and shops lining the bottom floors. Ground leases would keep the property under the control of the city.

Ultimately, the RDC seeks to revamp a 5-mile stretch of the Memphis waterfront over the next half century. The cost of that development has been estimated at about $300 million.

The property now contains the Cossitt Library, a fire station, the U.S. Post Office and Confederate Park. The land, except for Confederate Park, is virtually inaccessible to most of the public and offers prime views of the river.

The property was donated by the city's founding fathers for use as a public promenade. The heirs of the founders hold title to the land and have been divided on the proposal.

RDC president Benny Lendermon says the High Court's ruling gives the city attorney another tool in dealing with land acquisition for a plan that could produce a significant economic benefit for the city.

"It's incredibly important nationwide," says Lendermon. "Many large metropolitan areas are going through financial crises right now. This gives them more flexibility to pursue economic development when it is for the public good. We developed a plan for the best use of the property."

Barbara Kritchevsky, associate dean of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis, says the ruling would not directly change any restrictions under the Tennessee Constitution involving eminent domain.

"(The ruling) talks about what is permissible under the federal Constitution," says Kritchevsky. "It means if a state chooses to do what New London did it would not violate the federal Constitution. States could be more restrictive in their own interpretations of eminent domain."

Jim Arthur, an attorney at Armstrong Allen, says Tennessee's eminent domain clause is not more restrictive; it essentially mirrors that of the federal Constitution and has been construed by state courts in lockstep with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The New London case, therefore, may have a particular relevance if a similar situation were to occur here.

"It means if an E-Cycle could convince enough local officials to declare that a particular development project it proposed provides a 'public benefit,' however speculative, private property owners whose property stands in the way are afforded no protection by the Constitution," Arthur says, referring to the fake company the FBI used in its Tennessee Waltz sting operation that netted several local elected officials for allegedly taking bribes.

"According to the Kelo majority, I see nothing to stop the City of Memphis, or some agency to which it might delegate its power of eminent domain, from condemning every square foot of riverfront property in furtherance of some development plan it pronounces to be of 'public benefit'," Authur says.

Virginia McLean, president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that opposes the RDC's proposals, says that won't happen.

"The Public Promenade is protected by the Tennessee Supreme Court's prior decisions involving the property and the Tennessee Constitution," McLean wrote on the group's official Web site. "We believe that if the RDC attempts to condemn the Public Promenade, the Tennessee judiciary will reject the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning in Kelo."

Lendermon says the RDC would use eminent domain as a "last resort."

Another project where eminent domain could come into play is the city's push to redevelop the blighted, 138-acre section of the city south of the $250 million FedExForum. Current conditions in the area, bounded by Mulberry on the west, G.E. Patterson on the south, Danny Thomas on the east and Linden on the north, are bleak, with lots overgrown with weeds and covered in trash.

The Center City Commission, the agency charged with guiding development Downtown, has developed a plan for revitalizing the area that includes the possibility of using eminent domain for land asemblage that would spur development.

"Land assembly will be key in creating development in what is a long forgotten neighborhood of vacant land," says Jeff Sanford, CCC president. "I would hope that eminent domain wouldn't have to be used to assemble property, but in the end it may be an option."

Downtown developer Henry Turley says the Supreme Court ruling is a victory for cities looking to attract economic development opportunities.

"I think a city has to be able to assemble property for economic development within that city," says Turley, principal of Henry Turley Co. "Otherwise, that economic development occurs outside the city. So the city tends to languish while the surrounding areas tend to prosper, putting the city at a great disadvantage."

At the other end of the spectrum is retired attorney Hal Rounds, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Shelby County, who says the Kelo case is fraught with dangers to everyone who intends to work, invest and build something.

"We have gone from being property owners to conditional custodians at the pleasure of our government," Rounds says.

He believes the matter is not settled, in part because as Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent, the entire body of cases cited by the majority rests not on Constitutional law but on other precedents.

Should the next similar case go back to the 5th Amendment it could overturn more than a century of decisions. In the meantime, Rounds believes the Kelo case, while potentially unlawful, strengthens the hand of the city.

The problem with the decision, as Arthur sees it, is that it lowers the standard for governmental exercise of its power of eminent domain to an all but meaningless level.

"The 5th Amendment originally contemplated government taking private property for its own use, for forts, roads or other necessities for the common good, or for use by others who might incidentally reap a benefit to serve the public," Arthur says.

"Now, government can take your property simply because it determines that someone else can use your property more profitably and generate more tax revenue than you have."

CONTACT staff writer Rob Robertson at 259-1726 or rrobertson@bizjournals.com. Contact staff writer Amos Maki at 259-1764 or amaki@bizjournals.com. Staff writer Scott Shepard also contributed to this story.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Editorial: More questions about riverfront

Commercial Appeal

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last week might make it easier for the City of Memphis to move forward with its plans for redeveloping the riverfront.

The nation's highest court ruled that cities may use "eminent domain" power to take property from private landowners for the sake of creating new development. Acquiring land through eminent domain might be necessary to complete at least two major projects the city has in the pipeline, the Downtown promenade and the Mud Island land bridge.

But just because the city could use that power doesn't mean that it should.

The legal issues notwithstanding, there are still other questions city officials should address before they move forward with those projects.

The promenade project calls for new commercial and residential development, possibly in high-rise towers, along four blocks west of Front Street between Adams and Union.

The land bridge project would involve damming the Wolf River Harbor to create more developable property connecting Mud Island to the rest of Downtown.

Cost should be a major consideration in both cases.

Those two projects account for much of the total expense of a riverfront redevelopment plan that's expected to cost about $300 million. Given the city's recent budget troubles, it's fair to ask how high they should rank on a priority list for spending public dollars.

Benny Lendermon, president of the city's Riverfront Development Corp., has suggested that some or all of the costs might be recovered through leases charged to private tenants who would use the redeveloped property.

The issue there is how much would tenants be willing to pay and over what period of time? City officials should be very cautious about going into long-term debt to support private businesses that might not stick around until the debt is completely repaid.

There's also a question about how much more space Downtown needs for new offices or retail businesses. With the wrong mix of businesses in the areas targeted for redevelopment, the city's plans could wind up doing more harm to economically fragile areas like Main Street.

Friends For Our Riverfront, a citizens group that has been monitoring the city's plans, also has raised some valid environmental questions about the land bridge project.

John Gary, the group's vice president, believes converting Wolf River Harbor into a lake could create underwater pressure and seepage that would erode Mud Island, possibly causing property damage to the homes there.

Also, Gary said a lake with no outlet into the Mississippi River would trap stormwater pollutants and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

As for the promenade project, Virginia McLean, president of Friends For Our Riverfront, doesn't believe last week's Supreme Court decision would apply to property the city needs there. McLean said the state Supreme Court has already laid down the ground rules for developing that land in previous decisions. That may be a matter for the courts to decide.

What's clear, though, is that the city has a long way to go in terms of justifying key components of its riverfront plan.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Riverfront up for grabs? Supreme Court ruling may allow Memphis to take land for project

The Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

A U.S. Supreme Court decision backing the use of eminent domain for a riverfront project in Connecticut opens up new options for Memphis as it pursues a similar initiative along the Mississippi River, officials said Thursday.

By a 5-4 vote, the court held Thursday that New London, Conn., could seize homes and businesses for a private development project because of the potential boost in tax revenues and jobs that could result.

The decision was viewed as expanding the limits on eminent domain. Municipal leaders said it would help financially stricken cities generate revenue, while critics called it an affront to the rights of property owners, who could be uprooted to accommodate wealthy developers.

The New London case had been followed closely by the Riverfront Development Corp., which plans some $300 million worth of projects to revamp a 5-mile stretch of the Memphis waterfront over the next 50 years.

The decision means RDC could resort to eminent domain to take a four-block section of the Downtown promenade, where a mixed-use development is planned.

"It definitely gives the city more tools in its tool box for dealing with the legal issues surrounding that piece of property," said RDC president Benny Lendermon.

The promenade is land west of Front set aside by Memphis founders for public use. Although the city has a permanent easement, the land is owned by heirs to John Overton and other founders.

The nonprofit RDC, established to manage riverfront projects, wants to raze structures such as parking garages and a library to make way for public areas and residential and commercial development, possibly including high-rises.

But the promenade plan, which was approved by the City Council in 2004, has elicited opposition from a group that includes some of the heirs. They oppose commercial use of the land.

Lendermon said the city attorney's office is reviewing options concerning the promenade. No decision has been made as to whether eminent domain will be used, he said.

But the group opposing the RDC's proposal said the agency's failure to negotiate with the heirs so far suggests it already has decided to pursue eminent domain.

"It's been our assumption that they've been waiting for this case to give them a green light to take this land away from the citizens of Memphis and lease it to private developers," said John Gary, vice president of Friends For Our Riverfront.

Gary expressed disappointment at the decision, which he said allows cities to seize a "public gem" like the promenade and "dispose of it any way they choose."

But Lendermon said the decision provides a boost for Memphis and other cities.

"It's critically important for cities, for their ability to control economic development opportunities, especially in these days when financial crises are the norm," he said.



Eminent domain's past

The Supreme Court's opinion goes further than before in allowing the government to invoke its "eminent domain" and to seize private property from unwilling sellers.

The Constitution says government may take private property "for public use" if it pays the owners "just compensation." Originally, public use meant the land was used for roads, canals or military bases. In the 19th Century, railroads were permitted to take private lands because they served the public.

In the mid-20th Century, the court said cities could condemn homes and stores in "blighted" areas for redevelopment. That 1954 decision helped trigger various urban renewal projects across the nation.

In Thursday's decision, the court went a step further and said officials need not claim they are condemning blighted properties or clearing slums.

-- Los Angeles Times

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Supreme Court ruling may affect Downtown development

Memphis Business Journal

A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down Thursday on the taking of private property for redevelopment will likely reverberate throughout Downtown Memphis.

The case before the High Court involved a settled residential neighborhood in New London, Conn., which the city wants to condemn to make way for an office complex. Homeowners have fought the city over the principle of private property; they've argued that condemnation laws are intended for blighted areas in need of renewal, and for public projects.

New London's argument for bulldozing the middle class neighborhood is that office space would generate lots more in taxes, plus jobs, and that's good for the entire community.

The Supreme Court agreed, saying that local leaders know what's best.

In Memphis the first immediate implication is a proposal to redevelop a huge swath of the bluffs facing the Mississippi River; tearing down public and private buildings and creating a grand promenade park.

The plan was developed by the Riverfront Development Corp., and approved by the Memphis City Council. The Supreme Court ruling now gives the city attorney another tool in dealing with those opposed to the promenade, says Benny Lendermon.

"It's incredibly important nationwide," says Lendermon, president of the RDC. "Many large metropolitan areas are going through financial crises right now. This gives them more flexibility to pursue economic development. We developed a plan for the best use of the property."

Others do not agree.

Friends For Our Riverfront, a group of concerned residents and heirs to the promenade land, has opposed the RDC's plans to use private development, such as tall office towers, to pay for public improvements to the promenade.

FFOR members have long suspected that the RDC would use eminent domain to acquire the land if the heirs could not reach a consensus.

"Why pay when you can just take it?" says John Gary of FFOR.

In 2003, the RDC hired the law firm of Shaw-Pittman, which specializes in legal disputes over development rites and eminent domain, to design the legal strategy for acquiring the promenade land.

Beyond the riverfront, the High Court ruling also has implications south of Downtown, in an area peppered with old industrial buildings, some dating to the Civil War.

The neighborhood has numerous small businesses, such as welding shops and metal fabricators, but the renaissance of Downtown is knocking. The area is slowly being taken over for condo developments: renovations when possible and new construction when not.

Many property owners have resented pressure to sell. A common complaint is that when an owner doesn't sell they get harassed by building and safety inspectors. The Supreme Court may have made the process easier for developers.

© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Riverfront Plans Promise Debate, Change

RDC prepares for summer start on Beale Street Landing

Daily News
by Andy Meek

Looking out a conference room window on the ninth floor of the Falls Building, Benny Lendermon enjoys an unobstructed panorama of Downtown’s riverfront.

Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp., has a clear view of the post office building below on Front Street,which could see a new tenant soon if the University of Memphis law school abandons its current dilapidated building and moves Downtown. Below and to the right is Confederate Park, whose war memorials and Civil War cannons make it a shaded oasis of history.

Sweeping plans. Beyond that, Lendermon takes in the sight of Riverside Drive - and the Mississippi itself - a view that as sweeping as the vision of the RDC, which has held jurisdiction over the riverfront since 2000.

And even though the Memphis City Council, in a seven-hour marathon session, approved a budget plan last week that includes a 27-cent property tax hike, eliminates $1.6 million in grants to nonprofits and keeps the historic Mallory-Neely House and Magevney House closed, the RDC is still on schedule to begin construction this summer on Beale Street Landing, a $27.5 million boat landing and plaza designated for the site where Beale Street meets Tom Lee Park and the Cobblestone Landing. The city is chipping in about $20 million in the project.

Promenade development. At the moment, Lendermon said the city attorney’s office is putting together the legal support that will allow work to begin on remaking the four-acre Front Street Promenade - the subject of a long-running debate between the RDC and an opposing group, Friends for Our Riverfront.

That debate will get another airing when representatives of both groups sound off in a public forum at the Central Library July 10. The RDC wants to replace some parking garages and buildings along the promenade with apartments, offices, restaurants, and other commercial uses.

Opposition. But FfOR believes the plan goes against the wishes of the founders of the city of Memphis. They refer to a bequest by John Overton, John McLemore and other proprietors of the land on which Memphis was founded that said the Promenade was always intended for public use.

“And as I see it, this is really a developer’sdream,” said FfOR president Virginia McLean of the RDC plan. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out where the public gets anything out of this.

“They’ve said they’ll build a sidewalk- they’recalling it a grand esplanade - along the edge of the public promenade, but the whole thing’s ours. Why should we settle for some high rises with a sidewalk along the side?”

McLean said FfOR has invited Joseph Riley Jr., mayor of Charleston, S. C., to speak in Memphis this fall at Bridges Inc. about his own city’s handling of riverfront issues. Riley, founder of the Mayor’s Institute of City Design, will discuss his urban design plan that created Waterfront Park in Charleston, give the city permanent public access to its waterfront.

“And basically, what he did is what we’re saying ought to be done in Memphis - not sold off in some short-term development scheme,” said McLean, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia.

Remaking the riverfront. In his office, Lendermon has several models and renderings of the riverfront project - a well as a bird’s eye view of the real thing - that he calls on to explain the RDC’s vision. Lendermon, a former director of the city’s Public Works division, presides over the group whose board includes prominent Memphians Jerry West, Kristi Jernigan, and Angus McEachran.

Over the next two years, Lendermon said the group will give most of its attention to the Beale Street Landing and Promenade projects.

“And the whole issue on the Promenade is this was the city of Memphis in the 1800s,” Lendermon said, referring to a map of the city. “At that point, Riverside Drive didn’t exist.

The bluff behind the post office would dive into the river. And what’s occurred since then is, one, we built Riverside Drive and we’ve moved the city out to the river.

“Our disagreement with some people on the Promenade is, some people still hang on to the concept that (city founders) in the 1800s thought this ought to be a park outside our window,” Lendermon said, gesturing below. “And all we’re saying is, in the 1800s it should have been a park. But things have changed.”

Other projects. Beale Street Landing and the Promenade aren’t the only jobs on the RDC’s plate. Lendermon said the group took bids last week for a project that would connect Ashburn-Coppock Park and Tom Lee Park with Martyrs Park. Construction will begin in about a month.

He said the group also wants to bring more concerts to Mud Island, work more closely with area developers and further assist the U of M Law School in its possible Downtown move.

The RDC commissioned a master plan for the riverfront that has been endorsed by the City Council - and part of which opponents such as McLean have never stopped fighting.

“We believe that private development is great, but private development belongs on private land,” she said. “And what the RDC plan currently proposes is taking the only remaining public land on the Memphis riverbluff and turning it over to commercial developers. Right now, we’re really just trying to let the public know what’s going on concerning the riverfront, because I know that most people don’t know.”

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

RDC chief uses fishing tactics to land a Big River Catch

Commercial Appeal
By Blake Fontenay

Like most good fishermen, Benny Lendermon understands the importance of being patient. It doesn't do any good to get angry or frustrated when the fish aren't biting.

So it's no surprise that Lendermon, an avid fisherman and president of the Riverfront Development Corp., isn't showing any outward signs of panic about the future of the city's $292 million riverfront development plan.

Never mind that recent budget troubles have some Memphis City Council members questioning the wisdom of spending big bucks on the Mississippi riverfront when other parts of the community are in greater need.

Never mind that a pending U.S. Supreme Court case could severely limit the city's rights to acquire land for private development projects along the river.

And never mind that a determined citizens group called Friends for Our Riverfront has been raising all manner of questions about the master plan the RDC completed in January 2002.

Lendermon says he's still confident that the plan will remain on course, even if some aspects of it won't be developed for many years.

Lendermon's critics might counter that he's fishing with the wrong kind of bait. Some contend the RDC plan calls for too much intensive development, particularly private development, in an area best left open for parkland.

Money questions have been on the minds of City Council members for months. In an attempt to replenish the city's reserve fund and reassure Wall Street bond analysts, they've been looking for ways to cut costs.

For some, the riverfront initiatives are an obvious target.

"It's a huge amount of money at a time when we're having trouble keeping the grass cut," said Councilman Jack Sammons.

The council recently decided not to set aside about $6.2 million for the Beale Street Landing, a planned riverboat docking area and civic plaza, in the budget year that begins July 1.

That hardly derailed the project, though. Because the council already had approved about $21.4 million in previous budget years, Lendermon said he plans to use those unspent funds to begin construction on the Beale Street Landing this summer.

Lendermon isn't overly concerned about the projected costs of the riverfront promenade or the land bridge, two of the other big-ticket items in the RDC master plan.

He said public dollars invested in those projects could be recovered over time through land leases with private developers.

"We support the premise of having projects that can stand by themselves and not be supported on the backs of taxpayers,'' said Lendermon.

While that sounds great, it could take years or even decades for the city to recover its investment in projects with high up-front costs. For example, the promenade project calls for a high-rise office tower along four blocks of Front Street between Union and Adams avenues. Lendermon estimates that relocating a fire station, two parking garages and an old branch library from the site might cost anywhere between $30 million and $50 million - an expense that developers probably would be unwilling to pay up front.

And after six years of waiting for a return on the city's $29 million investment in the Memphis Networx telecommunications venture, council members might not be eager to rush into another long-term deal with private partners.

Another issue that could affect the RDC's plan is a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., a group of homeowners are questioning their city's right to use so-called "eminent domain" powers. The Connecticut city plans to turn the property owners' land over to private developers, who want to tear down the homes and build a hotel, health club and offices.

The overriding question before the court is whether cities legally can take over private property in areas that aren't considered blighted for the "public good" of creating new economic development.

A ruling in the New London case is expected this month - and if the city loses, it won't bode well for similar projects in other cities.

Lendermon said Memphis might not need to use eminent domain to acquire land for the promenade project, but that remains a possibility.

That property is owned by heirs of the city's founding families, although the city has an easement allowing for public uses of the land. The heirs have been divided, with some supporting and some opposing the city's riverfront plans.

The land bridge project, which would close off part of the Wolf River Harbor, almost certainly would require use of eminent domain to acquire land owned by several businesses that would lose their access to the river. Lendermon said plans for the land bridge, which would create new property for businesses to develop on Mud Island, are so far in the future that the impact the New London case might have isn't worth worrying about.

Many cities across the country have launched redevelopment projects along their waterfront property over the past 20 to 25 years. There are plenty of success stories, including regional neighbors such as Little Rock and Chattanooga.
For example, development has sprouted along the river separating downtown Little Rock from North Little Rock, Ark., including an expanded convention center and a new arena. North Little Rock Mayor Patrick H. Hays said investment in public facilities on both sides of the river has attracted new private businesses, particularly apartments and restaurants.

There's debate, however, about the merits of direct government investment in private businesses.

The Waterfront Development Corp. in Louisville, Ky., has focused its efforts on developing a giant riverfront park, using a combination of public funds and private contributions.

David Karem, the group's president and executive director, cites examples of several cities that have tried and failed to create successful private waterfront developments over the years.

"If private development is going to take place, let the market dictate it,'' Karem suggested. "If you're spending public money or money you've raised privately, spend it on parks and let the commercial development float or sink on its own."

Karem recommended private fund-raising not only to reduce the public's cost for riverfront projects, but also to get more community "buy-in" for the work that's being done. For Louisville's $100 million project, Karem said more than $35 million has been raised through private sources.

Memphis's efforts seem to have room for improvement in community buy-in. Friends for Our Riverfront, a citizen activist group, has been trying to build up a grass-roots campaign opposing the RDC's plan on several fronts.

The group generally opposes major new private development along the river. In place of the promenade, for example, Friends representatives would prefer to see a park developed at a fraction of the cost projected for the office building.

Virginia McLean, the group's president, said RDC officials didn't pay attention to citizens' calls for greater use of open space during public hearings before the plan was finalized.

McLean also accuses the RDC of neglecting the assets it already has along the riverfront, allowing brush and debris to collect and the publicly owned buildings west of Front Street to fall into disrepair.

With the right kind of shuttle service in place, McLean contends, the Mud Island River Park could become a popular place for locals as well as tourists to dine or enjoy concerts.

"They're not doing what they ought to be doing because they plan to get rid of it," said McLean.

Friends for Our Riverfront also has concerns about the land bridge project, including environmental questions about creating a slack water harbor and economic questions about the need for more commercial space in the heart of Downtown.

Despite all of those questions, the RDC plans don't seem to be in serious jeopardy - at least right now.

City Councilman Rickey Peete, who also sits on the RDC board of directors, expects all future city capital improvement projects, including those along the river, to be put "under a microscope." Peete said he expects his colleagues will question whether projects provide long-term benefits for citizens, but the riverfront plans should be able to meet that test.

"I think they are sitting on pretty solid ground for the future," said Peete.


Public dollars invested in projects to transform Memphis's downtown riverfront, shown here looking south from Court, could be recovered over time from land leases with private developers, says Benny Lendermon, who is guiding the $292 million plan.

The Friends for Our Riverfront organization opposes the RDC's master plan. The group's president, Virginia McLean, said RDC officials didn't pay attention to citizens' calls for more use of open space when they compiled the riverfront redevelopment plan, and that they have neglected the assets the RDC already has on the riverfront.

A Friends for Our Riverfront slide presentation at a recent Sierra Club meeting brought the audience up to date on the debate about plans to redevelop Memphis's Downtown riverfront.


Blake Fontenay is an editorial writer for The Commercial Appeal. Contact him at 529-2386.

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