Monday, March 3, 2008


The City of Memphis plans to decommission the boat landing that has long drawn thousands of tourists and Memphians to the historic cobblestones at the center of our waterfront.


In a word: Competition. The historic landing would compete with a new boat dock they want badly to build.

Six years ago, the City launched a Master Plan to aggressively develop a five-mile stretch of the Memphis Riverfront. It was to be accomplished via a quasi-governmental agency called the Riverfront Development Corporation. The RDC's board was stocked with politicians, financiers, developers, celebrities, and other power-people of the City.

But that plan eventually stalled, for lack of broad public support.

One piece of the plan remains: A new, $29 million, taxpayer-funded large-boat facility called Beale Street Landing (BSL). Although a new boat dock was suggested by the Master Plan, the new today's BSL would be much larger than the original concept -- which was only intended to dock the largest boats.

In its eight years of existence (and despite its middle name) the RDC hasn't actually built anything except a roundabout and some stairs. The reputations of very powerful people would be tarnished if this piece doesn't get built. To help justify it, all of the boat docking that has historically taken place on the Cobblestones would be moved permanently to the new boat dock. Instead of supplementing the Cobblestone Landing, BSL would effectively replace it.

The old Cobblestones would still be restored, simply because they have to be. They're considered a protected, historic district. The public would still be able to access the four-block stretch of cobblestones, but they would not be encouraged to use or even walk directly on them. The activities that have for so long drawn people to the Cobblestones and river would never return to the original, great Memphis Landing.

The City has feared a backlash if the general public were to catch on. So they have kept the de-commissioning plan quiet. They will only say that they need to move the boat docking in order to fix the cobblestones. What they don't say is that the boats will never come back.

Instead, the City has focused the public's attention on Beale Street Landing. They have gotten all the approvals for the new landing first, leaving the Cobblestone area plan for last. Therefore, only a few people have been able to connect the dots. As of this writing (March 3, 2008), the Cobblestone plan is being developed. It is very preliminary (a "concept" they call it), but it is already obvious that Mississippi riverboats won't be docking there -- ever.

Update, August 4, 2009: Little changed from when I saw it 17 months ago, the RDC has post a first public glimpse of the plan on their Web site, and is moving forward with final approvals. There will be a public information meeting August 11, 2009.

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