Sunday, April 18, 2010


Afghanistan. Beale Street Landing.

Similarities? How about:
  • It seemed like a good idea in 2002.
  • The original need has long since gone away.*
  • It drags on and on, with costs mounting.
  • We've invested so much, we can't pull out now.
  • Our stubborn pride.

See more discussion in today's Commercial Appeal.

* OBL's hideout / Those big riverboat cruises.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

CA reports, editorializes...and misses the point

This past Sunday, April 4, a front-page story, "Troubled Memphis riverfront project going under budget knife: Cost concerns may radically alter Beale Street Landing."

Then, today, a followup editorial: "Major delay for Beale Street Landing: Money simply isn't available to complete a project whose cost has soared well beyond the estimate."

I'm glad to see that the Commercial Appeal is finally giving serious attention to this story, which has been burning quietly for months while giving RDC officials some time to try and build backfires, if not neutralize it completely.

But here's my question: Why does neither the Sunday story nor the Tuesday editorial mention perhaps the most salient point about this project? Which is this:

The riverboats aren't coming. This is an unneeded boat dock to nowhere.

The overnight riverboat cruises were the main reason for Beale Street Landing (BSL for short) in the first place...way back in 2002. Since they couldn't dock at the Cobblestone Landing (their thrusters did too much damage), and since the land bridge was going to obliterate the Mud Island Landing, we would eventually need a new place for the big riverboats.

But the land bridge has long since been canceled and the Mud Island landing remains viable. It was used up until 2007 when the last of the big riverboats came to Memphis.

But then the companies that operated those boats started going out of the business. They drydocked the boats and put them up for sale, with no takers. There are no big riverboats running any more.

Just a short economic downturn? I'm afraid not. Their market was dying off. Literally.

The RDC's intransigence I can understand, but it's a mystery to me why the Commercial Appeal and other key influencers seem to steadfastly avoid acknowledging the situation about those riverboats, or claim that it doesn't matter.

Example: A couple of months ago I got into an online argument with a well-known local blogger. He's a man who is respected for his pragmatism and realism, and willingness to buck the opinion tide when the facts are on his side. Unfortunately, not so much in this case. (It might have something to do with his associate, Carol Coletta, who was an RDC consultant and insider from the very beginning.)

Backed into a corner and unable to ignore my point any longer, he wrote (my emphasis):
You keep ignoring the essence. We don’t care if the boats aren’t coming. You’ve got your eye off the ball. We need it regardless."

Stunning. Also, a bit condescending, in that he claims BSL has an "essence" that I and other opponents are presumably just too dumb to understand. Like, it's a piece of (urban) art?

The CA editorial opines that we should just build the boat dock and snack bar, and wait a little longer for the money to build "some of the more inviting details, such as the terraced pods providing access to the river's edge."

Excuse me. Let me suggest another, more sensible, and pragmatic approach: Omit that unneeded boat dock! (And spare this city the embarrassment of hosting an empty red docking facility as a monument to our 10-year riverfront folly.)

The RDC will say that we took the about $7.5 million of Federal money with the promise of providing "transportation improvements." We'd have to pay it back.

No, we wouldn't. There's a simple answer to that problem, which the RDC won't tell you about: Put that Federal money into the beefing up the historic Cobblestone Landing -- which is where it should have gone in the first place.