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VOL. 129 | NO. 12 | Friday, January 17, 2014

Morris: High Bids Lead to Harahan Redesign

By Bill Dries

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Plans for the pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the north side of the Frisco Bridge are being redesigned after the first bids on the boardwalk came in too high.

But Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris said talks are underway with Union Pacific railroad executives about a compromise as backers of the part of the larger “Main to Main” project seek to raise more private funding.

Plans for a boardwalk on the Harahan Bridge are being redesigned for a rebid after the first set of bids proved too expensive, said Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“The first bids came back on the initial design and they were way too expensive. So they are back in redesign,” Morris told members of the South Main Association Tuesday, Jan. 14, at a “state of Downtown” speech.

“Union Pacific railroad is very concerned about their bridge,” Morris said of the company that owns the rail bridge.

One of the concerns has always been security for the freight rail lines that cross the Mississippi River at a critical juncture in the movement of goods across the country.

“Some of the requirements they put on the project made the project really, really expensive,” Morris said. “We’re hoping to compromise with some of those aspects.”

Morris said private contributors continue to be courted for that part of the project and he is “optimistic” it will be fully funded with the bridge project going back out to bid in March.

“We will not move forward with that aspect of the project or any aspect of the project unless it’s fully funded,” he said. “If we don’t raise enough money to do the whole project we won’t just start the project and then use the fact that we’ve started the project as a way to go and recruit more money.”

Less than a month into the commission’s role as overseer of the Beale Street entertainment district in conjunction with the city of Memphis, Morris also said he would like to see the district marketed to attract more Memphians.

His specific idea is “incorporating Beale Street into the larger community and what we are doing on South Main” as the Downtown Memphis Commission considers a new marketing campaign.

“South Main is very local – a lot of locals come to South Main. And Beale Street is perceived as very touristy,” he said. “A lot of locals look at Beale Street and say that is for tourists. If we can help bring some events that are local events ... and host them on Beale Street and get the locals to come down and explore Beale Street, I think we have a chance.”

The other part of the concept is to “do no harm” to the estimated 70 percent of visitors to Beale Street who do not live in Memphis.

“We want to lock down that business but we want to expand the buy by increasing that 30 percent local,” Morris said after the speech. “Beale Street shouldn’t be seen as just one street. It’s part of the whole Downtown package.”

Part of the pitch to Memphians might be defining a daytime identity for a district known for its nightlife.

“I’d like to see people bring their kids and explore Beale Street during the day,” Morris added. “Unfortunately, people have the wrong perception of Beale Street. They think it’s either for tourists or it’s dangerous.”

With the federal bankruptcy court case over control of the district resolved, Morris also sees the marketing of the district itself taking a less tentative approach.

“The club owners and other investors didn’t know what the future was,” he said of the lawsuit. “So it was hard for them to invest in an aggressive marketing approach.”

Morris said that is starting to change as City Hall works during this interim period to come up with a plan for the permanent management of the district.

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