Monday, August 17, 2009

A new plan for our Great Memphis Landing

For a little change of pace, I’m going to offer something positive. I am going to present a solution: A five-point plan to fix the riverfront problems, making the best of what we already have, and having a good shot at something we can enjoy and be proud of in the future.

More good news: We might be able to pay for it within the amount we’ve already budgeted.

My plan consists of five simple principles. I can’t give you drawings because I’m not a designer. But I think you can get the general picture from these five principles. I’m a great believer in working from principles and objectives. I know the importance of getting them right from the start, and then abiding by them.

1. Re-adopt the objectives and priorities of the Master Plan.

Our goal should be to
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.

More specifically,
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.

It shouldn’t have been necessary to say that. The above words are quoted directly from the 2002 Riverfront Master Plan, as approved by City Council, and presumably still in effect. The Master Plan also defined quite clearly the proper relationship of Beale Street Landing (BSL) to our historic landmark: as an adjunct, not a replacement.

But the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) chose to ignore the Master Plan, before the ink was hardly dry, and steered the projects their own way. This time, the project's goals will need to be explicitly stated and explicitly agreed to. Otherwise, let the RDC itself go their own way, and let someone else take charge.

2. Redesign BSL and Cobblestone areas together, as one Great Memphis Landing.

Let's face reality: To accomplish these goals, both the Beale Street Landing and the Cobblestone Landing plans will require re-thinking and a fresh design. This time, however, let there be single, unified plan for a restored Great Memphis Landing, with historic and more modern (Beale Street Landing) areas.

Yes, we can re-design BSL, and now is the opportune moment. We might still be stuck with the red steel boat dock and helical ramp. But the “islands”, terraces, restaurant, gift shop, terminal, and parking lot have not yet been started, and depend on yet-to-be-appropriated City funding. They should all be on the table for re-consideration in the new design.

This time, we should use local designers. We are not lacking for professional talent and vision here in Memphis. Our problem is that we tie their hands with wrong-headed, misguided requirements.

3. We must rebuild the lower portion of the Cobblestone Landing properly.

As Benny Lendermon said in the August 11 public meeting, almost nobody objects to the repair and restoration of the Cobblestones themselves. But there is a huge difference between standing around looking at some old cobblestones, and actually using a historic Cobblestone Landing to board a riverboat for a cruise on the Mississippi, or to launch your own canoe.

The real objective should be to restore the Cobblestone Landing, hopefully for another 150 years of continuous use. That will entail rebuilding the lower portion with concrete and other materials – not cheap rip-rap – and the use of a coffer dam at an (alleged) $5 million of extra cost.

So be it – and here's how to get the money.

4. Remove those “islands” from the design, and recoup $5M.

The terraces might well remain in the new design, but those awful “islands”? They. Must. Go.

However you feel about them, the islands (or “pods” as they've been called) are the biggest part of the problem with the original Beale Street Landing design. They dominate the view, distort the riverscape, and overpower the historic Cobblestone Landing – while bearing no relationship whatsoever to the Memphis riverfront and its history.

By getting rid of them, we might also save the $5 million needed to restore the Cobblestone Landing properly.

Furthermore, we might avoid some significant security problems. Looking at the drawings gives me nightmares of falling children. One can see opportunities for late-night muggers and errant skateboarders. Do we need to bring those problems on ourselves?

5. Consider treating MIRP and its riverboat landing as resources and perhaps part of an integrated solution.

When BSL planning started in 2002, it was thought that Mud Island River Park (MIRP) and its own boat landing would eventually be gone, covered over by a land bridge, and that BSL was to be its replacement. That land bridge has since been aborted from the Master Plan.

Even though we knew in 2006 that it was no longer needed, the City stood passively by and allowed the RDC to redouble its efforts to get the $30 million Beale Street Landing built. RDC needed its big project to justify its continued existence.

Therefore, with this opportunity for a do-over, it makes sense that we now consider Mud Island River Park to be part of the resources we have to work with. Indeed, perhaps the current planning process for the future of MIRP should be suspended if necessary to dovetail with the Great Memphis Landing design.

Next steps for this plan

What can you do?

1. Submit a comment on the Cobblestone Landing proposal (click here for PDF form). Make a point of telling the Army Corps of Engineers and TDOT that you want it to continue as a fully-functioning riverboat landing. Therefore, the lower part of the landing must be rebuilt properly, not filled in with cheap rip-rap. The Landing must not be broken in two by a retaining wall and pointless underwater sidewalk. Get your comments postmarked by September 1 for them to be considered.

Note: Mitch Elcan of the Army Corps has told Friends for Our Riverfront that he will also accept emailed comments for the record. When you write him, I'd appreciate getting a copy, too.

The period for public comments is closed.

2. Contact your City Council person. Ask them to sponsor a resolution adopting the above five principles, and denying further funding until both projects are redesigned according to those principles.

3. Ask the Mayoral candidates what they intend to do about our 10-year riverfront fiasco. If they express strong support for the status quo (the RDC), it tells you something about who their friends really are, and how independent they'd really be if elected Mayor.

4. Forward this link to your friends. Recommend they read the other articles on this site. The best of the articles are linked in the sidebar under Important Questions.

5. Do you know any of these people? Ask them why they sit idly by and allow the RDC to decommission our historic Cobblestone Landing after 150 years of continuous use. Ask them why they think it's so much more important to have this instead.

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