Thursday, June 5, 2008

RDC presentation of the Master Plan

Following up on Wanda Halbert's request at the CIP hearing May 21, and Barbara Ware's concerns at the O&M hearing May 8, the RDC came before the Parks Committee Tuesday to explain themselves and the Master Plan. I have broken it into three sections. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] This is Part 1.

Click here to read more.Click here to listen to the entire, 33-minute discussion (5.9 MB MP3).

Click here to listen to the 12-minute audio of Part 1 (2.1 MB MP3).

Here is the transcript:
STRICKLAND: Okay, I’ll just let you all take the floor.

DUCKETT: Okay, thank you. We appreciate this opportunity pursuant to the Council members’ requests to give you a general update…

Basically, there’s several things. One, who RDC is, how our existence came into being, how we operate, what we have done. And in that regard, we will… First we will show you several aspects of our creation as well as the various projects. One of the things I will come back to and comment on is our Master Plan process which… I think it’s important for you all to understand that it is a guiding document in terms of the planning principles of the RDC. But let me digress to comment on two other...

STRICKLAND: Mr. Duckett, just a moment, I’m sorry...Ms. Halbert?

HALBERT: Before you all begin, during the budget process we kept hearing about a Master Plan. The question I specifically wanted to know is, has the Master Plan, has it been altered since the conception of this project. If so, has the Council approved whatever it is…? Is the Plan still the same, and if not, has the Council approved the changes?

DUCKETT: Those are excellent questions, and they will be answered in the presentation. The short answer is yes, and yes. The plan has been changed and the Council has been apprised of those changes. As a matter of fact I was going to digress [???]

RDC is structured as a quasi-governmental entity. We hold open meetings, roughly eight meetings a year, at least. One of the interesting things about the way we are structured is we try to bring around the table a cross section of stakeholders, many of which are ex officio members of the [RDC] Board. In fact, Pete Aviotti is here, he serves as an ex officio member, as well as director of Parks, Cindy Buchanan, as well as the City’s chief administrative officer, in addition to some of the other downtown stakeholders, such as... Excuse me for omitting the fact that the Chairman of the City Council serves as an ex officio member of our body, as well as members of some City commissions and others, but...

I guess it will be a bit redundant, I will direct the initial question because it is embedded in the presentation, Councilwoman Halbert, as it relates to the Master Plan. But approximately in 2002 the Riverfront Development Corporation engaged in a lengthy process to develop its planned vision for the riverfront. There were several stakeholder meetings, I want to say from memory roughly about 25 different special interest groups, ranging from Corps of Engineers to various community groups as well as there were two if not more public meetings held on that process. We contracted with a firm Cooper Robertson and Partners to develop or help us develop that Master Plan. And it was approved with great fanfare, both from the community as well as the City Council.

But one of the…well two, so fundamental, principles came through that Plan. One was that the citizens of Memphis wanted to reconnect to the river. And then the other, overarching thing that came out of that process was that the water’s edge belongs to the public. Those have been two of the fundamental, guiding, planning principles that we have used in developing the plan, of which we have a copy and we will provide it to you today, but there are various components, one of which you probably, might recall a component within it entailed the Land Bridge, which was designed to reconnect the city to its river’s edge, and that is one component which you will see that has been changed from the initial 2002 plan that was presented and we came back to City Council and made a presentation to City Council and City Council approved the elimination of the that from the plan. But I think one of the key things to remember as it relates to the book, “Master Plan:” It is a planning guidebook. It is not a static document incapable of change, but it is the tool that we use to guide us in any of the interim projects that we undertake on behalf of the City of Memphis.

That being said, if there are not any other interim questions, I would turn to Benny Lendermon, our president, to go over the brief presentation that we’ve prepared…

STRICKLAND: Let me ask you Mr. Boyd, did you want your question now or do you want to wait…

BOYD: I’ll save them all

STRICKLAND: Ms. Halbert?

HALBERT: I’ll wait.


LENDERMON: We’ll try to get through this as quickly as possible. Everybody knows that this came out of... actually it was Mayor Herenton’s efforts to reconnect the City to the river. In 2000, the RDC was created as a 501(c)(3) entity, a private-public partnership. We’re governed by a board of directors, we’re self-created. Our relationship with the City is by contract only. Certainly the City…Within our charter the CAO, the Mayor, and the City Council Chairman are members of the Board. But beyond that it is actually a separate entity and the Board of Directors are self-perpetuating, if you would.

The vision is “a world-class waterfront destination rooted in the unique history and character of Memphis that showcases the Mississippi River’s power and majesty, and binds us together as a community.” We think that’s pretty much, that’s what we’re all about. It’s all about bringing people to the river, reconnecting Memphis to the city. The rationale for our creation was so that we could focus all our attention…

STRICKLAND: I don’t mean to…well I guess I did mean to interrupt you because I did. If you could sort of fast-forward and get to the Master Plan itself.

LENDERMON: To be perfectly honest, the Master Plan itself is a document that was created… We consider the master plan as frankly a capital improvements budget that you approve or amend, as it goes forward. But if we can maybe flip through the slides. I mean, part of this, unfortunately… We had been requested by…Councilwoman Halbert’s not…

STRICKLAND: She just stepped out to take a call.

LENDERMON: She had to be… The whole question of why do we exist and what do we do, was the question we kept getting over and over. It was at her request we’re doing it, so… This had never been presented to her…

STRICKLAND: Our council asks a lot of questions, and I don’t want your presentation to take 25 minutes and then have no time for questions. So, do you have Master Plans you can pass out, or is it going to be on the screen?

LENDERMON: I mean, we…I think the Council’s already been given copies of the Master Plan, on several occasions, too. We certainly have some more, a couple more copies if anyone wants any.


STRICKLAND: Did you want this background or did you want to get right to the Master Plan?

HALBERT: The Master Plan [inaudible]

DUCKETT: In terms of the project…Sorry, the presentation, in terms of the Master Plan, it only talks about three components, one basically what it is and the process we went through in defining it. It doesn’t outline every component of the Master Plan.

STRICKLAND: If you’d just tell us, then.

LENDERMON: When RDC was created, we were charged with two things. One, the job of operating the existing parks. And we entered a contract to do it at basically what the City was spending at that time. And we operate the parks, we made inquiries, and we hopefully made them better. The other thing at the same time, we were looking at the planning process for the whole riverfront. And we engaged Cooper Robertson, which is a firm out of New York City, they’d done Battery Park City in New York, they’d worked in Baltimore, they’ve worked in Boston, they’ve worked in a number of other famous waterfronts. And they were selected out of a panel of, a number of people of, I think, 17 firms we were considering.

We had an eighteen-month-long Master Planning process. During that eighteen-month process, if memory serves me correct, I think we had 75 meetings Dorchelle? 75 separate meetings with groups anywhere from five to 25 people. They would be anywhere from downtown stakeholders, to historic preservationists, to bankers, to…whoever. They were all the stakeholders if you would. We also had three larger, public meetings. I think the attendance at those, probably, the smallest we had at any one of those large public meetings was 200 and the maximum may have been, I know we had 250 chairs and awe had many people were standing up, so I don’t know how many people were there, 300, 400 people. And that was at AutoZone Park, in the lobby of AutoZone Park.

The Master Plan actually was based upon the concept of re-connecting Memphis to the river. Connecting all these we have a number of things that one, needed to be connected; we need to improve our connections; we need to improve our access to the water. We have visual access but no physical access. And, that the water’s edge belonged to the public. That became sort of the governing, if you would, themes throughout the Master Plan. And how to do that included a number of individual projects.

Again the Master Plan’s looking at a five-mile stretch of river, going all the way from the north edge of Mud Island, all the way down to Chickasaw Heritage Park. And so in doing that it included a number of things… The Master Plan looked at things from like a 50,000-foot level, if you would. It talks about concepts. It talks about connections. It didn’t say HOW to connect a walkway. For instance, the walkway that some of you were at the groundbreaking, or at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the walkway going behind Ashburn Coppock Park and connecting the old Martyr’s Park behind the old Rivermont.

The Master Plan talked about connections, it didn’t talk about how to do it, okay. So actually moving forward on how to do that was…uh…


LENDERMON: So in the Meantime, we did projects. We did a number of projects. Some of them were mentioned specifically in the Master Plan, some of them weren’t. Tom Lee Memorial. The Master Plan certainly talked about telling our story in signage. It never talked about Tom Lee Memorial as a specific project. But we created with the Council’s assistance and concurrence, and it’s a project we think turned out very well, although it wasn’t mentioned specifically in the Master Plan. Globally, conceptually, signage was, but it, as a project, was not.


RDC presentation of the Master Plan, Part 2

Following up on Wanda Halbert's request at the CIP hearing May 21, and Barbara Ware's concerns at the O&M hearing May 8, the RDC came before the Parks Committee Tuesday to explain themselves and the Master Plan. I have broken it into three sections. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] This is part 2, focusing mainly on the Master Planning process, the land bridge, and the Public Promenade.

Click here to read more.Click here to listen to the 10-minute audio of Part 2 (1.8 MB MP3). Here is the transcript:
LENDERMON: And the biggest change to the Master Plan was, the Master Plan included a very transformational element, which was a land bridge connecting Mud Island River Park to the mainland. And that was to solve this detached problem we had with Mud Island River Park from downtown. That was included in the Master Plan. About two years, or a year and a half into the process, the Board of Directors decided they thought that while that might be a good plan thirty-plus years from now, certainly nothing was going to be done in the foreseeable future. They thought that putting time and effort on that detracted from everything else, and they wanted to jettison that from the Master Plan. They took that action, they brought that to City Council. The City Council concurred. The City Council voted also to amend the Master Plan to take element out of it.

So, because of that, one thing that exists with the Master Plan is, whatever happens eventually when you took the Land Bridge out, then Mud island becomes a little bit more of an unsolved mystery, if you would, in that there is no immediate solution to solving all the problems with Mud Island River Park. That’s why we were mentioning before, we’re working with Robert Lipscomb, and hoping to bring to you a concept of looking forward with zeroing in and having another planning effort specifically for Mud Island project itself, because we think we need to get public involvement in looking at that in much more detail, so that whenever people like in… Before, we’ve have people come to us and want to put a major skateboard park in the tip of Mud Island, and we’ve had, as part of the Pyramid discussion especially, Ericson wanted to do other things with Mud Island. We thought that there is no…we have no quote “public input base” to deal with those responses one way or the other. We have what we think, and we have what individual [??] may think, as a public… We haven’t vetted those issues publically. We think we need to. And hopefully, in the very short future, we’d bring that back to you.

The other thing we did is…the Master Plan…we brought in the Urban Land Institute to look at the Master Plan after it was done. The Urban Land Institute is a very large planning organization, 10,000 professionals. They looked at the reality of how to implement certain of those concepts. And the Urban Land Institute Basically changed our… They didn’t change any of the concepts in the Master Plan, they basically changed our priorities. They said that we ought to be looking at… The biggest piece, the biggest missing link in the Riverfront exists in those four blocks of property we’ve known, called the Promenade.

So we began…we took another, instead of 50,000 maybe a thousand-foot at four blocks of property sitting there, where, from Union to Adams, where the fire station, the parking garages, Confederate Park, and the old library sit, and we did a public process on that. As most of you know, that became a much more controversial piece of our [LAUGHS] public input process, and to this day becomes something that people are very torn one way or the other, on that issue. So what we have is, in looking at that… But we did actually produce a document, and made recommendations that said you have to provide public access. It consisted of putting in…bringing in buildings… Tell you what Dorchelle, if you back up to the slides of…

I guess the big reason around the Promenade was, this is how Memphis looked in the 1800s, and you see the dark area is the Promenade. And this is, the next slide shows how it looks today you see all that new green space has been added along there [POINTING TO MUD ISLAND], which is what sort of sort of changes the idea of what the Promenade ought to be. If we still looked like what we looked like in the 1800s, well then we think the Promenade would look like something different. So that became the controversial piece of our process.

Now, we think…we produced a plan to show a mixed-use development incorporated with public space. We presented that to City Council as part of again a planning process that had I think three public meetings. We brought the City Council in a very contested environment. I think on a 10 to 3 vote, the Promenade Plan was approved, in 2004 I believe. At that point, as we’ve discussed with Councilwoman Ware before, we have done the public process, we presented our concepts, City Council approved our concepts. There are legal issues concerning the property itself. Those can only be resolved by the City administration and the City Attorney. And for us to do anything else requires action by the City administration and the City Attorney and, we assume, concurrence by the City Council. We don’t know that, we assume that’s what it takes. And so, we’re like, we’ve become subsidiary to their directions, and we haven’t had any discussion with them in some time on that issue.

And then, as far as the Master Plan…what we assume [?] is…we think the Master Plan is basically a… It talks about general concepts. It talks about general principles. It’s a…it becomes a living document, that is frankly changed and amended as this City Council approves or disapproves certain capital improvement projects we bring to you.

STRICKLAND: Mr. Boyd and Ms. Halbert.

BOYD: Alright, the cobblestone use. I’ve received a lot of calls, a lot of correspondence I should say, will the excursion boats [portion inaudible]. Will they have an opportunity to tie up at the cobblestones?

LENDERMON: Yes. In fact they’d probably have to tie up there. They’ll probably have to tie their boats up there.

BOYD: And the Landing…

LENDERMON: They will pick up and drop off passengers at Beale Street Landing, in a safe environment that people can get to. They will quote “stage” their boats if you would at the Cobble…or at least SOME of their boats at the Cobblestones. So they’ll have a presence at the Cobblestones, but they’ll do picking up and dropping off of passengers from Beale Street Landing, in a safe manner in an ADA-acceptable manner.

BOYD: Alright, that’s…thank you I appreciate that. A lot of people have concerns about retaining that look of boats on the Cobblestones.

Are there any plans to bring back the land bridge proposal?

LENDERMON: Not that I...

DUCKETT: Not at this time. That’s a big component of this project, but if you don’t have the funding then why even talk about it.

LENDERMON: I mean, after we’re dead and gone, somebody else can bring it back.

BOYD: When the company recommended, as you mentioned a moment ago, that the RDC concentrate on developing the Promenade area, I guess this is a question [inaudible]. Now that circle, is that circle just north of the Pyramid where you show the turnaround.

DUCKETT: It’s a roundabout. That’s on Mud Island.


BOYD: Now was that turnaround north of the Pyramid, was that part of your all’s project?

LENDERMON: No. And that was not part of our CIP budget either. The way that came about was, the City administration approached us about wanting to deal with the traffic issue at Auction Street. And they wanted to do an innovative traffic circle, and they wanted to know if we would build it for them, as a traffic control piece, and do it in an attractive way. That’s how the project came about. The funding was never in our quote “CIP budget” In the course of the CIP that you Council Members approved, you won’t find the traffic circle because it never existed as one of our projects. It basically was a City of Memphis project that we did for them on a contract. We sort of take a little credit for it in our slides, but it wasn’t part of our plan or program.

BOYD: Last question, Mr. Chairman. I’d like for you to answer this. A few weeks ago in regard to the little green area where the up growth of trees are, between the Cobblestone area and the parking lot.

LENDERMON: Right. Point-four acres of wetlands.

BOYD: Point-four [0.4] acres of wetlands. You said that would be replaced in a four-to-one ratio with park up in the Wolf River area?

LENDERMON: Right. In the Wolf River flood control basin somewhere.

BOYD: And that [0.4 acres] would be replaced by the Landing.

LENDERMON: Yes. At the time that the Landing is constructed we are required by our permitting to also construct these wetlands and maintain these wetlands consistent with their requirements, on our 404 permit.

BOYD: Thank you.



Apart from all the spin, I can't let some of these representations stand alone without counterpoint.

Lendermon says that the land bridge (pictured below) would connect Mud Island River Park to the mainland. Later on, he leaves us with the impression that the land bridge would have solved some of MIRP's "problems."

In fact, the land bridge design would have eliminated MIRP and the monorail. If anything, the land bridge would be a "connection" between the residents of upper Mud Island (Harbortown and future developments) and downtown. It would be another way to get downtown and back by auto.

Second, though he says the land bridge was "transformational," he goes on to downplay the it as just "a component" of the Master Plan that the RDC and City Council decided later to "jettison."

In fact, the land bridge (and the lake it would have created) was no less than the centerpiece of the Master Plan, which devoted pages and pages touting it. It was also more than half of the plan, if you look at the mixed-use development that was proposed for the land bridge. By my calculations, 60 per cent. Jettisoning it literally gutted the Cooper Robertson proposal. Furthermore, the RDC has never updated this so-called "living document" to account for the major change. All that's known about this change is a mere two-line City Council resolution in January, 2006.
Adopted a resolution supporting the removal of the Land Bridge component from the Memphis Riverfront Master Plan of the Riverfront Development Corporation.

Lendermon describes the Promenade Plan as the controversial component, but neglects to mention that the land bridge and lake has turned out to be even more controversial -- just not during the original 2002 City Council meeting when it was approved. By 2005, the rising public heat over land bridge was the very reason the RDC had to "jettison" it.

The land bridge, from a drawing in the Cooper Robertson Master Plan. I have added the street names and indicated where the existing harbor, museum, and monorail are.

RDC presentation of the Master Plan, Part 3

Following up on Wanda Halbert's request at the CIP hearing May 21, and Barbara Ware's concerns at the O&M hearing May 8, the RDC came before the Parks Committee Tuesday to explain themselves and the Master Plan. I have broken it into three sections. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] This is Part 3, with Wanda Halbert's questioning.

Click here to read more.Click here to listen to the 10-minute audio of Part 3 (2.0 MB MP3). Here is the transcript:
HALBERT: Thank you; I do have a few questions.

Regarding the Master Plan, I’m a little confused because to me a Master Plan means one thing. A Master Plan generally sets the direction of a concept or an idea. But you all have said that your Master Plan is a planning guide that doesn’t outline every component of the plan. Well, what is the plan?

DUCKETT: It doesn’t outline every component of the activities of the RDC. The Plan outlines concepts to be further defined in terms of projects. It talked about open space. It talked about connecting the City to the river. It talked about projects. We then come back as a body and develop projects to meet the goals of the Plan. And when those projects would require funding we come to City Council, as part of the CIP process and ask for the funding. Just as Beale Street Landing. It was not mentioned…

LENDERMON: Yeah. It was mentioned conceptually as…as a circle basically. And what it looked like and how it was built and how it functioned had to be developed later. And does there need to be some kind of docking facility in the building…

DUCKETT: For purposes of RDC, the Master Plan is a planning guide, because there’s some…

HALBERT: I’m understanding a little better now, but I have to be honest with you and tell you what my concern is.

This belongs to the City. But we’re turning this into something else. I’m just telling you the perception that I’m getting. I’ve been very confused about what RDC is, and what its purposes…I mean who, what, when, where, how, why, how long… I’ve just been very confused. But what you just said has helped me understand. RDC is really kind of driving a lot of what happens down here. But the City should be driving what happens. And even if they want to engage a relationship with RDC and get you to help us implement it, then that would make much more sense to me as a City official. But right now, this looks like something else. And I don’t want to get into the detailed discussion about that because that’s something I need to hear from the administration, because..

My thinking is, somewhere in our administration, someone should have […] the background, the expertise to say, “Well Mayor I know this organization can help us put this concept together,” But that people in the administration should be working hand-in-hand with you, and the administration should be presenting what you all are ultimately presenting. Because for me, this really looks like, this is your all’s plan, this is RDC’s project, this is not a City project. And I just say that respectfully. And the mere fact that you delineated what that Master Plan is, it makes a lot more sense to me now.

DUCKETT: Yeah. If I could, what you’re saying, it’s a philosophical issue. I commend the City Mayor. He realized that in order to bring long-term stability to redesigning in the aggregate our riverfront, there needed to be a constant body that’s sole purpose was focusing on it. Now the checks and balances implicit in this design going forward was one: The way the entity was structured it is populated with officials from City government: The City Council chair, the Parks department chair, the CAO, and a number of other members. Two: Another check and balance is, we can’t do anything without coming to this body, and asking this body for the funding. So that’s another check and balance on what we, as a 501(c)(3) independent body is doing. Now what we might need to do a better job of is, as we talk about projects, make sure we keep you the City Council better apprised of the projects we are thinking, before we come and dump it on you as a request for funding.

HALBERT: I agree that you all have the expertise and the ability, but still, RDC should not be driving what is presented to this Council. The administration of the City government needs to be driving that. Even if they have gone into meetings, and you all have made joint decisions…that’s a little sticky for me, because…

DUCKETT: I think I understand what you’re saying.

HALBERT: …because this is looking like an RDC project, and I didn’t understand that. And it is not just RDC. There are some other projects throughout the City, you know, Zoom. Some of what the Council members, some of us being new, I mean we don’t know what all this history is, and it’s just not quite making a whole lot of sense. It’s almost appearing as if the City has basically turned over facets of the City to different organizations, but then they got to come back to us, and we got to fund it and…I mean, I just want to say, someone told me you used to work for the city. Heck I would have loved to see you work for the City and do some of this FOR the City.

LENDERMON: I worked for the City 25 years.

HALBERT: Well, I’m talking about this kind of project because when I hear a Cindy Buchanan or some of these other directors talk about the expertise in these management groups... I mean the management used to be our management and now you’re outside of management and you’re the one who knows how to do all of this. And so it almost looks like were paying twice, for something should have been doing as a City administration anyway.

And then, two final comments that I have and I know we’re short on time, and we’re going to have t at some time to come back, because now it makes me bring up some more questions that I have for the administration, but on these changes: Has the Council been made aware of all of the changes, and not only be made aware of them, but VOTED on the changes, because I did hear the word, “apprised.” So I need to get the administration to tell us, where did this come from, where was it when it was first developed, how has it changed since first developed, and the fact that the Council has approved those changes, because that’s a little cloudy for me.

And then, during these budget hearings, you all talked about a parking lot. Is that parking lot supposed to take up part of Tom Lee Park, or

DUCKETT: It’s part of the Beale Street Landing project.

LENDERMON: It’s not in there [on screen], it must be somewhere else. There’s a 50 car parking lot that’s adjacent to, that’s incorporated with the Beale Street Landing CIP project. As compared to…the parking lot that exists there now is 120 cars. You see [points to screen], that is the park as it exists now, and right here there’s a little 50 car parking garage [sic], this is the green roof, this is a building, this is again two acres of Tom Lee Park, and the built-out four acres. But this little 50 acre [sic] parking lot right here, landscaped real heavily right here, open here so that it will accommodate Memphis in May. But we feel there has to be some parking somewhere near there for people to access the boats.

HALBERT: But again, that should not be your decision. That should be coming [from] and driven by City administration. And if that’s what they feel we need then they have their expertise already on board, they need to come to you and ask, “How can we make this happen?” But it’s just looking like…

LENDERMON: Understand. But the parking there specifically…our project at first didn’t include any parking. The City Council asked us to include parking.

HALBERT: I hope you all understand what I’m saying. This just does not appear to be a City project. This appears to be an RDC project. And the final comment that I have is, also during the budget hearing… I mean I asked the question because I didn’t know what this was. Who are you? Where did you come from? How long are you going to be here? How long are we going to be dealing with this? And you all said that the Master Plan was a 50 year plan, but we have five-year increments [of] contracts with RDC.

I can understand putting together a concept that we think may take up to 50 years. But we hire the experts to come in and, here’s our direction, this is what we need to do, whether we agree to it together… But if this is going to be going on for 50 years, I mean even though we’re approving it five years, to me the City needs show, where is your ownership of this? What is the CITY’S direction? It’s just…that to me is where some of the confusion is coming from. I don’t see…what I see in you, the leadership in you and the expertise; I need to be seeing that for the City. And I’m missing that. And I’m going to talk to the Mayor, and I hope his administration is listening. They need to have ownership of this, and they need to tell us, where are we going with this. I mean, I’m feeling like other entities OWN the City’s business. And that’s just how it looks to me. And again it’s not just the RDC it’s throughout the City. And we’ve got to address that because that part…I want [???] and Orange Mound to look just like Tom Lee. But nobody’s talking about that because they’re only interested in what’s happening downtown. My neighborhood doesn’t look like that.



Apart from all the spin, there is a misrepresentation here that I cannot let stand without clarification.

Lendermon says the there was no parking lot originally and that City Council asked for the parking lot.

While there may not have been a parking lot in the original contest submission from Argentina, there has long been a parking lot in the subsequent, evolving design of Beale Street Landing. Originally it was to be underneath the restaurant. Due to water table levels, it was later decided not to be feasible there, and it was replaced some time last year by outside parking covering a section of Tom Lee Park. The City Council did not ask for it. It came as a big surprise to them when it was noticed in a City Council committee meeting last fall.