Saturday, January 2, 2010

Letter to the editor: A vibrant riverfront -- for less

The Commercial Appeal published my letter to the editor this morning:

As the mayor reconsiders whether to spend $26.6 million more after the $11 million we've sunk into Beale Street Landing, the question remains: What are the alternatives?

Here are five practical and affordable ideas to rejuvenate our riverfront area, with my estimates of the costs. These ideas aren't radical. Most have been suggested many times by others.

1. Filling the hole, landscaping, sidewalks and signage. At the very least we must clean up the mess down there and restore the area to something comparable to the rest of Tom Lee Park. My guesstimate: $3 million.

2. Add a snack bar, restrooms and visitors center. Riverfront Development Corp. supporters have long complained that you can't buy a Coke and hot dog on the riverfront. Let's fix that problem by adding a snack bar. Don't call it a restaurant; that just jacks up the cost. My guesstimate: $3 million.

3. Add a family playground. Beale Street Landing offered play areas within those strange pods. Maybe that's not such a bad idea, so let's include a playground in our new plan. My guesstimate: $1 million.

4. Provide a landing for the big riverboats, should they ever return to Memphis. We don't need a new dock because there is already a landing at Mud Island. Right nearby is a gift shop and a snack bar. Perhaps it needs a facelift and better facilities for the elderly and disabled. My guesstimate: $2 million.

5. Restore the historic cobblestone area as an active and vibrant riverboat landing. The RDC proposes to do half the job (preserve the cobblestones) for about $6 million, which they've already lined up as a federal grant. Let's double that to $12 million to do the whole job: Restore the Cobblestone Landing so that the Memphis Queen Lines can be proud to stay right where they've always been. Smaller boats can use and enjoy the landing too. Net cost: $6 million (floating restaurants extra).

The total comes to $15 million. For that, we get everything Beale Street Landing would have provided and more.

The RDC could have figured this out 10 years ago. By now the work would be done, at even less cost, and we'd all be enjoying it. But they refused to investigate any strategy but their own hallowed land bridge (now defunct) and later its replacement, the overblown Beale Street Landing.

Incapable of considering anything except grandiose plans involving millions of square feet of new development, the RDC has been a great obstacle to the improvement of our riverfront. We need to take back control over our own great riverfront.

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