Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cobblestones discussion at City Council CIP budget hearing

Although the RDC has had a working plan for the Cobblestones Preservation for several months now, it had only been shown to "stakeholders," the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO), RDC's own Board, and few others. The first officially public exposure was at the CIP budget hearing on May 21.

Click here to read more.Click here to download or listen to a 12-minute MP3 audio of the portion of the hearing dealing directly with the cobblestones and the daily excursion riverboats (2.2 MB file). Committee Chairman Boyd is questioning Benny Lendermon, CEO of the RDC.

What follows below is my transcription of the audio. The images are similar, if not identical, to the ones shown to the Committee, but I will note that they are taken from the project plan as of February 14.

BOYD: Since the cobblestones kinda ties into it [Beale Street Landing], would you get into that part so the council members can have an overview of what the project is all about because that's project priorities one and two, and then we have two other, smaller projects, which we'll talk about in just a minute.

LENDERMON: In your book it shows ... most of you are familiar with the cobblestones. This sort of plan view, this picture here that most of you have turned to, shows the cobblestone site.

Click image to enlarge in a separate window.

LENDERMON: This project consist of funding that is in rough numbers six million dollars from the Federal government, and then a matching sum of money from the City, which I think is total of…

VOICE: A million two.

LENDERMON: ...about a million two of City dollars. It basically goes down below where the cobbles are intact, it sets in a small little wall with rip rap at the end to keep them from deteriorating the path. They put the sidewalk along the base, to basically frame the cobbles with some sidewalks making connectors. There's a little handicapped accessible piece to it that fits in Jeff Davis Park. It ties into the sidewalk at the bottom of the cobblestones. That won't be able to be used but about half the year, but we think its a neat feature because we think that sidewalk will at least get people down to, maybe not the water's edge, but within 50 feet of the water...we think the path will be worth taking.

Click image to enlarge in a separate window.

LENDERMON: These drawings here were the rough drawings to start with, still shows for instance the City here at Union Avenue, Ron Terry Plaza that the City previously approved back six, seven years ago. We suspect that our continued negotiations with the preservation community will have that maybe be moved somewhere else, at a more suitable site and not sitting on the cobblestones.


LENDERMON: But there isn't much you're doing, frankly, to the cobblestones. You're just framing them, protecting them, making walkways down so people can get to the edge. And you're filling in the places where the cobbles are no longer continuous. And that's basically the extent of that project.

BOYD: Alright so what about -- this is, I brought this from home -- will these boats be able to . . they're gonna tie up to your landing?


BOYD: Alright. Now, so how many companies are now using . . . come by Memphis, south of Memphis?

LENDERMON: Two companies. [...] It's the previous American Queen Lines, it goes by a different name now. They have three boats, only two boats this year. There's a big controversy about about one of their boats, whether or not it will be decommissioned because it's all wood. They're only running two of their boats this year. There's the River Barge Excursions who comes here also, will also tie up at the landing.

And then of course our daily excursion boats will use the Landing itself, which will enable them to, uh ... The thing that hurts our water access now in the existing daily excursion operator business, they can't really take advantage of tour buses and things that bring in large groups of people, because they won't come to the cobblestones because it's too much of a hindrance for them. So Beale Street Landing will give that daily excursion operator, whoever it is in the future, ability to capture a much larger number of people and hopefully provide a much higher grade of service.

BOYD: Well, I can speak from old experience, again gang here we go. . .

VOICE: When they installed the cobblestones...


BOYD: I know that Captain [Tom] Meanley's boats...


BOYD: There was a request made from those people, we just put a couple of asphalt strips down the cobblestones in two areas so that so that people could walk ... when people go own and make use Tom [inaudible] boats. The ladies couldn't walk on the cobblestones for sure, and some of the elderly people, so we put those... And I think the remnants of those are still down there. I saw them the other day...

LENDERMON: Part of this project is removing those things, so...


BOYD: So I understand that this drawing here, that's access down to the -- what do you call this here, is that the wall that will keep the cobblestones from...

LENDERMON: Yeah, Mr. Chairman. What it is, it'd just a little bitty, it's just, what'll be there is a sidewalk with a little turn down, then we will use rip rap with the large limestone ramps going down the bank, because frankly the water will be much lower than that during the summer months. What this does is give people a chance to walk...If you're at Jeff Davis Park or you're at Tom Lee Park or at Beale Street Landing, you can walk at that lower level in the summer months, you know., at least a great deal of the time. And we’ve got to put the little wall down there anyway, so the cost of putting a sidewalk on top the walk wasn't much greater, so we think the sidewalk will serve some purpose.

BOYD: So you'll have [three?] ... a little bit better deal than my little asphalt …

LENDERMON: Yeah. And the walkways you see here on this piece here coming down, they're basically...they serve the same purpose as your asphalt. In today's time, with preservation issues you have to deal with, they've done a little bit, a little more sensitive to the cobblestones. They actually would have utility trenches contained within them, so you can get electricity and water down to the edge so in case there's some opportunity for a floating restaurants or docking of boats in the future here, they have the ability to tie into that utility source.

BOYD: Well, I wanted to ask you of course, the cobblestones...I call it the Meanley Line, they use the cobblestone area. Are they utilizing that now?


BOYD: Okay. Now how many boats did you say they have down there -- three or four?

LENDERMON: I think they only have two that are operational, but they actually have ... if you go down there, there's like five or six. Most of them are just sitting there, and aren't operational.


BOYD: They still pay wharfmaster-like fees, wharfage fees of say like $1500 a month?

LENDERMON: Roughly $1500 a month.

BOYD: So they'd be paying wharfage fees over here to the new Landing?


BOYD: You say they're going to be at the new [Beale Street] landing?

LENDERMON: Yes. I think it might be a little bit more than $1500.

BOYD: Yeah, I was going to say, we need to raise that wharfage.

LENDERMON: The concept on Beale Street Landing is, you'll need an operator for the restaurant, gift shop, everything else, so it'll be structured much differently than just a pure wharfage fee.

BOYD: Now, as far as the Cobblestone area, that's just being utilized now by the Captain Meanley boat operation. So, that'll all be vacated?

LENDERMON: Yes. Well, they may still ... There's a good possibility we'll still store some of their boats there, and you'll still have "boat city."

BOYD: If some of them aren't being used now, is it your knowledge being the head of the Riverfront Development, has anyone asked them to remove those...

LENDERMON: We've met with them twice in the last month, and William Lozier [of Memphis Riverboats Inc] is the new owner, the son of Dale Lozier, who’s the daughter of...He's very much aware, he wants to clean it up, he wants to clean those boats up...and right now with the way it looks down there now, it's not near as large a priority, at least for him or us, either one, to get rid some of the, I don't want to call it junk, stuff he has down there. But he's aware he needs to clean that up, he wants to clean it up, he's improved an number of the boats substantially over his maybe two year tenure that he's been operating. They've still got a long way to go, there's still a lot of improvements that need to be made He's working in the right direction. We've had specific conversations two weeks ago about the fact that we'd clean these up, and we'd move the operation over there [Beale Street Landing]. They've gotta clean up that operation. I think he'd still like to, we'd still like for him to dock one or two of the boats there, you know, and they need to do all this pick up and drop off from Beale Street Landing, so he can maybe keep... There may be a need for him to actually store the boats that are not being utilized over here [at the cobblestones].

BOYD: Alright sir. Well it sure would help the appearance I think if we would get them to move those excess boats. Again years ago we had the old Warren [???]. Does anyone remember those people down there? They were on the riverfront down at [???]. It looked terrible and we got them to move over on Treasure Island down south of President's Island.

BOYD: Anyway, this area here, is that a dock? A small, portable light dock on this end, or what is that? At the base of Jeff Davis park.

Click image to enlarge in a separate window.

LENDERMON: Yes. The ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] is complicated. One of the problems with the cobblestones itself is, you're pretty much limited and you can't provide ADA access along the cobblestones. Which is why it makes docking the boats, and taking the passengers on and off very difficult, and very difficult for us as a government entity or municipality. Anything we build down there we plan to utilize year round, we'd have to have ADA access. We were able to provide ADA access at Jeff Davis Park. Looking see these switchbacks here? They go down...we think there might be an opportunity to put like a floating, like almost like a little floating deck or something out here. We don't know if we can do that or not. We'll try to. But this ADA access will get you this sidewalk, when the sidewalk is not under water. When the sidewalk is under water, unfortunately, there is no ADA access...but that's the best we can do. And we don't have to provide ADA access to the whole cobblestone field because it isn't being utilized for anything specific.



Here is a diagram from the 2002 Master Plan, showing how they and Beale Street Landing were originally envisioned. A portion of the Land Bridge is visible.

Things to note:

1. The Cobblestone Landing would continue to be used as the docking, loading and unloading for excursion boats as well as smaller private boats.

2. Beale Street Landing was much smaller (and one-third the cost) than it is now. It was sufficient to dock one of the large riverfoats. It would not overshadow the Cobblestones.

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