Sunday, March 2, 2008

Brief history of Beale Street Landing

Updated August 4, 2009

It has long been believed that there should be a river terminus at Beale Street (the southern edge of the Cobblestones), providing pedestrian access to the water. In the 1990s, there were plans to locate the Tom Lee monument there. At the right is a sketch that was included in Mayor Merenton's proposals for the Riverfront circa 1997 (click to enlarge).

2002 Master Plan

The May 2002 Riverfront Master Plan reaffirmed that idea, sans statue, but expanded it to be a large riverboat dock and a restaurant:
Beale Street Landing terminates Beale Street at the river with a public overlook. The landing is also designed to accommodate the largest commercial riverboats, including baggage handling and transportation needs of passengers. This public space also functions as a transition between Tom Lee Park and the Cobblestones, which have never been directly connected. There will be a restaurant at the landing and Beale Street will end with a view of the “Memphis Elevator,” a contemporary version of the historic dock structure once found here that boat passengers will disembark upon.[1] [Emphasis added]

Note: The Memphis Elevator was a big building, a multi-floor structure with warehousing at the top level and docking openings at each lower level. It did not look like a red steel helical ramp. Read more here.

BSL was intended to handle the largest river cruise vessels:
It is anticipated that at least two specific river cruise operations will use the docking facility: 1) Delta Queen Lines (Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, and American Queen), and 2) River Barge Excursions (R/B River Explorer).[2]

Note: The Delta Queen Lines and River Barge Excursions have since gone out of the business of running overnight Mississippi cruises.

The American Queen, over 400 feet long. [3]

Here is a concept sketch of Beale Street Landing, as conceived in 2002, with a yellow line added to mark the north edge of Beale Street:

Note that BSL doesn't cover anything north of the edge of Beale Street, and leaves Tom Lee Park alone.

The original cost estimate was $10,375,000.

Design competition

In December 2002, the RDC launched an international design contest for the Beale Street Landing component. After nearly a year of receiving and reviewing entries, the winning design came from a firm in Argentina. The jury of seven included only three Memphians: Willie Herenton (a mayor), Diane Dixon (an architect), and Kristi Jernigan (a developer, who has since moved away).

The RDC competition documents had offered the architects a huge space to work with, extending well into the historic Cobblestones, and including a section of Tom Lee Park[4]. Click drawing at left, and note that the red box extends will into the historic Cobblestone area.

The winners used every bit of that space with their design. It included not only a huge dock, restaurant and parking, but also a sprawling public park with up to eight "islets" or pods of varying heights, that would be above or below the water level at different times of the year.

Two drawings from the original design submission. (Source: RDC)

In the four years since, Beale Street Landing's design has been altered considerably, but it retains most of the flavor of the original design, including the five largest pods. It is also even larger: Because the underground parking wasn't feasible, now even more of Tom Lee Park is going to be consumed by a parking lot.

It will cost Federal, state and local taxpayers over $29 million.

Further readings

1. Cooper Robertson & Partners, The New Memphis Riverfront.
2. TetraTech Inc, Beale Street Landing Preliminary Design Competition Program, page A-6.
3. Ibid., page A-7.
4. Ibid., page 4.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It worries me that after the RDC banishes all existing boats from the cobblestones, we will have a dead area and will have to post a sign that says "Something happened here for 150 years". And, then, of course, the few boats that visit Memphis each year will occasionally dock at Beale St. Landing; that is, unless the 'to be announced' fast boat to Tunica hogs the dock. Then again, maybe Willie can get some body guards down there to straighten out the problem.