Sunday, March 2, 2008

Don't we need a new boat landing?

Updated August 3, 2009 and December 21, 2009

A state-of-the-art facility for docking of the largest commercial cruise boats might be a nice-to-have. It was contemplated in the Riverfront Master Plan. But is Beale Street Landing really necessary?

The short answer: No.

For a period of about three years (2002-2005), it did appear that a new big-boat landing would eventually be needed, but now that is no longer true. Furthermore, the overnight cruisers are out of business and dry-docked, and if they ever started running again, we could receive them at Mud Island River Park.

Therefore: No, we don't need Beale Street Landing.

The long answer

The largest, overnight riverboats have long picked up passengers at the Mud Island River Park landing. They had stopped using the Cobblestone Landing some years ago because their big thrusters did too much damage to the Cobblestones. At times when the water level is too low to for them to enter the harbor, the boats have docked at the north end, on the river side, of Mud Island.

The day cruisers (Memphis Queen) embark from the historic Cobblestones. Smaller pleasure boats use the Yacht Club facilities.

Although the Mud Island facilities could be improved, there wasn't (and still isn't) a critical need to build a new landing.

In 2002, the answer changed. The Riverfront Master Plan, as you might recall, would have filled in a major part of the harbor with a so-called land bridge. It would have eliminated Mud Island River Park and its boat landing. (It would also have eliminated the Yacht Club, where the smaller pleasure boats park.)

That forced the issue. If we didn't create a new dock for the larger boats, we'd never again have the thrill of seeing these magnificant ships coming near or into our harbor. So the Master Plan proposed a new docking facility for those large riverboats, while recommending we continue to use the Cobblestone Landing for other boats just as we have for 150 years.

In early 2006, the City Council voted to eliminate the land bridge from the Master Plan. That put us right back in the situation we had before the Master Plan, where the big boats already have adequate landing facilities at Mud Island, which they have used up until 2008.

RDC had already gotten deeply involved in the designing and planning for Beale Street Landing. Reputations were at stake. With the land bridge project canceled, and nothing else to build, they were more committed than ever to see this project through. And somewhere along the line they decided it should be the primary facility for all boats, including the Memphis Queen Line now boarding at the Cobblestones.

Then, in 2008, the RDC's plan suffered another blow: The two largest Mississippi cruise companies went out of the business and put their riverboats into drydock. No other company has stepped forward to restart the business. There is no way to know whether these riverboats will ever run again -- especially in the current economic climate.

So here is where we are today:

We are building a $30+ [updated: $37-40] million facility that is no longer necessary, meant for the largest riverboats that are no longer running, and justifying that cost by relocating the medium sized day cruises away from the famous and historic Cobblestone Landing, that has been used continuously for 150 years.

Further reading

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