Sunday, March 2, 2008

What did the Master Plan say about the Cobblestones?

Whatever its other faults (and there were many) the Riverfront Master Plan of 2002 was correct about at least one thing: That plan clearly meant for the Cobblestone Landing to not only be seen, but also to be used and enjoyed by Memphians for boating and cruises -- just as it has been for over 150 years.

The seventh of its ten design principles set this goal:
Restore the Cobblestones to their historic uniqueness, and establish them as a great commercial boat landing and civic square at the foot of Union Avenue.[1]

In the section entitled Water Plan (see "Water Plan"), it said the following of the Downtown Harbor:
This small river Harbor may become the most unique body of water, connected directly to the Mississippi River. This small sheltered inlet, naturally protected from the river’s devastating current, is defined by its location at the foot of Downtown and a compelling historic artifact: the Cobblestones. The Cobblestones are amphibious in nature, part land, part water and are the perfect form for boat landings given the river’s rising and falling tendency. A full restoration and retro-fit of the Cobblestones into a contemporary state-of-the-art riverboat landing with dining and retail opportunities is essential to the success of the Harbor. This Harbor is the place where river life will come to rest in Memphis.[2][Emphasis added]

Continuing, the Plan said that Beale Street Landing was necessary for the largest boats, but the Cobblestones would serve the majority of river traffic:
The mouth of the Harbor will be a new landing at the foot of Beale, designed to accommodate the largest commercial riverboats, and facilities for passengers with baggage and local transportation needs. The main body of the Harbor [Cobblestone Landing] accommodates local, commercial, recreational, and private boat needs. A 200’ wide navigation channel remains along the Harbor’s west side, ending at the amphitheater-style gathering place, in front of which docking for various boats would be available.[3][Emphasis added]

Later in the same chapter (see "Special Places"):
The Cobblestones are Memphis’ most treasured historic river resource. No credible Master Plan could be put forth without their inclusion. In fact, the Cobblestones are situated in the most strategic Downtown location, at the foot of Union Avenue. In order to have a successful Downtown Harbor and riverfront, the Cobblestones must be greatly improved from the vast eyesore that they are today. The plan envisions the north and south ends of the Cobblestones being framed by public stairs, which provide safe access down to the water. The Cobblestones themselves must be properly reset and retrofitted in an historically sensitive manner with state-of-the-art services and dock facilities needed by commercial riverboat operators. Finally, the top of the Cobblestones along Riverside Drive must be treated as more than a simple sidewalk. The entire length is proposed to become the riverwalk esplanade, establishing the Cobblestones as the new civic centerpiece of Memphis’ riverfront.[4][Emphasis added]

Lest there be any doubt about whether the Cobblestones would continue to be a public landing, let's look at details of the drawings from the Master Plan. Click either drawing to enlarge.

The first one looks south from Mud Island. In the foreground is part of the landbridge now deleted from the Master Plan. At the far end if the Cobblestones you can see Beale Street Landing as originally conceived:

The second one is is an aerial view looking eastward. On the left (north) you see part of the land bridge; on the right (south) is the original vision for Beale Street Landing:

In both drawings, you'll see that the central artery and means of access is Union Avenue, not Beale Street. At Union Avenue is a pedestrian bridge to Mud Island.

1. Cooper, Robertson & Partners, Memphis Riverfront Master Plan, March 2002, p.24.
2. Master Plan, p.32.
3. Master Plan, p.32-33.
4. Master Plan, p.40.

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