VOL. 113 | NO. 105 | Wednesday, May 26, 1999
By LAURIE JOHNSON
Riverfront committee plans focus groups, town meetings
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
In 1924, a detailed drawing depicting an ambitious development plan for the Downtown stretch of Memphis Mississippi riverfront graced the front page of a local paper a master plan, like many that followed through the years, that never came to pass.
Now, a new group is embarking on a mission in hopes of successfully transforming the riverfront into an appealing and commercially viable asset for the city. One of its main objectives will be to do it with input and feedback from the people who will be using it most Memphis citizens.
Last month, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton appointed the nine-member Riverfront Steering Committee, charging the committee with assisting the city in getting the public involved, attracting public and private initiatives and seeing projects through to completion.
The group met for the second time Tuesday, and its agenda included discussing upcoming public involvement projects such as focus groups and town meetings, as well as organizational strategies, a proposed Web page and approval of a public relations contract and a logo for the citys Downtown riverwalk system.
"Our mission is to oversee the final vision for our riverfront, which we would like to consider the front door to our city," said John Stokes Jr., the committees chairman, emphasizing that the riverfront development planning process was still in its infancy.
"At the moment, there is no plan," said Stokes, vice president of Morgan Keegan & Co. "We are starting with a blank page."
The steering committees first meeting was in April, and the appointment of its members was a follow-up to the Riverfront Workshop, an event sponsored by the city and the Plough Foundation in February and attended by about 130 Memphis citizens.
Input from local citizens will be key to the development of any Memphis riverfront plan, Stokes said.
One of the steering committees first efforts to get the public involved will be to host a series of three half-day focus groups composed of Memphis citizens who, through their jobs, hobbies or daily activities, might be particularly interested in what happens to the riverfront.
The purpose of the focus groups, which will be held June 15 and 16, will be to pinpoint specific solutions for riverfront development, rather than just focusing on the big picture, said Memphis public works deputy director Cindy Buchanan.
"We will be focusing more on a solution rather than a wish list," she said. "And while we may not come away with a specific solution, we will at least get more of a direction."
Members of the focus groups will be asked to deal with some of the more technical issues facing riverfront development, such as options for preserving the cobblestones, where to dock boats, and the effects of different water levels, said Memphis public works director and steering committee member Benny Lendermon.
"We will be trying to simplify these technical issues as much as possible so these citizens will be able to understand them even without a technical background," Lendermon said.
A representative of the Waterfront Center of Washington, D.C., will lead the focus groups, which will each have about 25 people.
The sessions will conclude with a presentation of the results on the Memphis Queen, an event that also will be attended by steering committee members and other city and economic development officials.
Later this summer, the steering committee plans to host a series of 12 town meetings throughout Memphis and Shelby County to both present the findings of the focus groups and receive feedback from residents of other parts of the city, Stokes said.
The town meetings will follow the groups next meeting, scheduled for July 28, where committee members will compile and consider the conclusions from Junes focus groups.
"We still wont have a plan, but we will be able to tell Memphians what issues are involved and what the priorities seem to be, as well as get their input," he said.
Stokes said the steering committee plans to concentrate on getting public feedback regarding riverfront development for at least the next six months.
"We already know that the public thinks the riverfront is important," he said. "And once we feel we have an understanding of what Memphis wants for the river, we will begin to implement that plan."
Ultimately, the steering committee plans to compile its findings in a report, which it will submit to Herenton later this year, Stokes said.
Additional issues the steering committee discussed at Tuesdays meeting included the need to establish an organizational structure to handle the riverfront development ideally a public/private partnership as well as the need to put in place an executive director able to commit the time and resources necessary - who will essentially "eat, sleep and breathe" riverfront development - until the project is completed.
At Wednesdays meeting, committee members also approved a contract with Carol Coletta for public relations services and a new logo for the citys Downtown riverwalk system.
In addition to Stokes and Lendermon, Memphis Riverfront Steering Committee members include: Kristi Jernigan, co-founder of the Memphis Redbirds; Fred Davis, Fred Davis Insurance Agency; Dianne Dixon, architect with Clark & Dixon and member of Memphis Landmarks Commission; Mabra Holeyfield, general manager, Benchmark Hotel; Dr. James Hunt, retired chancellor of University of Tennessee, Memphis and president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association; Bill Taylor, customer relations manager with TVA; and John Vergos, co-owner of Charlie Vergos Rendezvous and member of the City Council representing District 5.