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.

[5:14]

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.

[CROSSTALK, HALBERT RE-ENTERS]

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…

[CROSSTALK AND LAUGHTER]

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.

[CONTINUES]

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