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VOL. 125 | NO. 94 | Friday, May 14, 2010

Funding Questions Haunt Beale Street Landing Project

By Bill Dries

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The president of the Riverfront Development Corp. said earlier this week the organization may have been too aggressive in pursuing the Beale Street Landing project, even when federal stimulus funding dried up.

Benny Lendermon said perhaps RDC officials should have then scaled back the project.

But they didn’t.

Lendermon’s post mortem on a critical stage of the project comes as the Memphis City Council prepares to vote later this month on $10.5 million in city funding for a construction contract on the next to last phase.

Lendermon announced last month that $1 million in private funding and $1 million in matching city funding has been found toward the remaining $8 million necessary to complete the project.

A council committee recommended rejecting the resolution earlier this week.

But council member Shea Flinn, who voted no in committee, predicted the votes on the full council are there to approve the funding.

Flinn questioned the wisdom of continuing with a project whose price has increased as federal funding has disappeared.

“They haven’t adequately addressed what changes have been made to this phase in case the other $6 million doesn’t come through,” Flinn told The Daily News. “There’s now some segmentation to this, saying we’ve done this so now we have to do that. I’d like to see those plans on the front end.”

Lendermon said some scaling back or different plans for the final phase are possible.

But he added he was “not optimistic that there are huge savings that can be pulled out of it.”

The landing would offer docking for excursion boats as well as access to the river itself, along with a small retail area. It would also include a landmark at the foot of Beale Street.

Lendermon defended the project as necessary to improve Tom Lee Park, which he termed “probably the worst waterfront park in America” because of its lack of trees or access to the Mississippi River.

The Beale Street Landing project, he added, fell victim to several changes in leadership at City Hall. The city has had three mayors in less than a year starting with the resignation of Willie Herenton last July. Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery wasn’t asked to act because Lendermon said his tenure wasn’t long enough to commit to a long-term solution.

Flinn was skeptical about the timeline.

“What did they know and when did they know it about the over-runs? They found out in October,” Flinn said of an earlier version of events. “Well, today they said they knew back in Mayor Herenton’s administration, several months before July. … Why did they come to the council last year and say they were on time and on budget?”

Mayor A C Wharton Jr. recently committed to the project after initially saying it would probably have to be amended. That is still a possibility.

But in an April letter to council chairman Harold Collins, Wharton said that for a “new riverfront” to reach its full potential, “it must be completed as designed.”

Councilmember Reid Hedgepeth, another no vote in committee, questioned why the price of the project went up when bids on other smaller city projects have been going down recently.

Lendermon cited the rising price of steel as well as the rising cost of river construction projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The recovery from the hurricane has put a premium on labor for such projects.

PROPERTY SALES 61 61 6,453
MORTGAGES 46 46 4,081
BUILDING PERMITS 113 113 15,474
BANKRUPTCIES 19 19 3,289