Wednesday, December 16, 2009

RDC Bombshell

The bombshell news is that the RDC has to go back to City Council for another $8.9 million in order to get Beale Street Landing finished by 2011. If it does not go still higher, the total cost will reportedly be $35 million for what was a $10 million feature in the original Master Plan.

A report appeared in this Sunday's Commercial Appeal, on the front page of the Local section. The next day the RDC confessed as much to the public, burying the $9M bombshell several paragraphs down after reminding us once again how much we need BSL to find our way to the river. On Tuesday, John Branston had some choice things to say in the Flyer. On Friday, he had much more to say. On Wednesday, an edited version appeared in the printed edition.

In short: Steel prices have gone up, adding $6.9 to the construction cost. The rest of the shortfall, about $2 million, is because they lost some Federal money they had counted on.

Frankly, it was a bit of a shock to me. I had taken Benny Lendermon's statement to his own Board of Directors at face value. On June 22 he told them that the bids for Phase III (the steelwork) were coming in at around budget, and that they were pleased. Three months earlier (the March meeting) he had been worried, but now things were just fine. You can listen to the audio of his June 22 report to the Board by clicking here.

I'm told by someone in City government that the bombshell news had already gotten around to the Mayor and the City Council by the time the CA article was published, which apparently forced the RDC to go public with it.

If Mr. Lendermon was being truthful to his Board in June, then the steel prices have jumped within the last five months or less. Presumably, the RDC hadn't protected itself against inflation in the contract they wrote less than five months ago. Something went wrong, but it clearly wasn't Katrina.

This project has major flaws, and has had them nearly from the start. I have been kicking myself for not having come out in strong opposition long ago. My excuse is that the full and true picture didn't really become clear until the RDC showed us their Cobblestones plan in early 2008. That's when I started my Web site. I suspect that the RDC's holding back the Cobblestones plan until BSL was locked in was very deliberate -- a key element in their bait-and-switch strategy.

What finally became clear: In the RDC's eyes, BSL was intended to replace, not just enhance, the historic Cobblestone Landing. This viewpoint was directly contrary to the RDC's 2002 Riverfront Master Plan, and the change in direction was never made very clear to previous City Councils. And when the land bridge was cancelled and the City wouldn't take the Promenade by eminent domain, Beale Street Landing was all the RDC had left to build.

After January 2006, BSL was no longer "just" an RDC project. It was do-or-die.

But the good news is this: Here is a opportunity for the City Council, the new Mayor, and the Memphis public to take a fresh look at the situation and devise a new plan, before the RDC digs the City into an even deeper hole between Tom Lee and the Cobblestones.

My recommendation: Stop the Beale Street Landing project immediately. Spend a couple million dollars cleaning up the mess and re-sodding. And then -- without the pressure of RDC officials coming hat-in-hand, spinning up a storm -- we can all take some time to rethink the process for managing and improving our riverfront.

Ten years of nothing ought to tell us something: The current process doesn't work.

To be continued...

Addendum: If you want to make your thoughts known to City government, here are their emails:,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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