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VOL. 123 | NO. 37 | Friday, February 22, 2008

RDC Seeks Remaining Approvals For Beale Street Landing

By Andy Meek

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Beale Street Landing, the $29 million boat dock and riverfront attraction that has been planned for almost six years, has only a few regulatory hurdles left to clear.

Representatives of the Riverfront Development Corp. will return to the Memphis Landmarks Commission next week for one of the last approvals needed by the RDC, which is a certificate of appropriateness.

In early March, the RDC will take its design concept before the Center City Commission's Design Review Board for approval.

While waiting for those last few regulatory nods, meanwhile, the RDC also is reviewing bids from contractors it has received for phase two of the project.

"Phase two includes what we call mainly the support structure, the marine foundations, that kind of thing," said John Conroy, vice president of project development for the RDC. "So once we get past Landmarks and once we get these bids analyzed and can figure out who our best contractor is, we would hope to award a contract here within a couple of months for that phase."

Preserving history

Beale Street Landing is one of if not the biggest and most sprawling projects currently on the plate of the RDC, which has controlled development along the riverfront since 2000. The project will feature, among other things, a floating dock and five islands set at different heights along the Mississippi River. Not all of the five planned islands always will be visible, since the rising and falling river will cover some of them at times.

Concern was raised recently among state historic preservation officials about the way the project would affect the cobblestones along the riverfront. Comments on a staff report prepared for the Feb. 28 Landmarks Commission meeting, for example, show local officials are concerned that drilling for the foundation of support columns could make the existing cobblestones slide or shift around.

The compromise worked out by the RDC to satisfy the Tennessee Historical Commission includes moving the island closest to the cobblestones farther east. The part of the cobblestones that will be affected, according to Landmarks staff, currently is buried under dirt and debris because of a previous city project.

Back to the future

Beale Street Landing will extend north-south from the cobblestones to Tom Lee Park, and between the visible cobblestones and the project's new construction will be a steep terraced concrete area. That cobblestone area is the only remaining intact historic wharf in the country, said former Memphis Heritage Inc. executive director Judith Johnson.

"The wharf was the economic engine that allowed Memphis to grow and prosper," she said. "With the growing scarcity and increase in the price of fossil fuel, I believe one day there will be a resurgence in river traffic, and the Great Wharf will once again be an economic generator, long after the
parking garages are converted to some other use."

Other features of Beale Street Landing will include a building that handles such operational functions as ticketing for local excursion boats. The project also will mean the creation of a small gift shop, a restaurant and a 57-lot parking area on the north side of Tom Lee Park.

"We went before the Landmarks Commission last year and got approval, but their certificates of appropriateness are only good for a year," Conroy said. "And we were unable to proceed within that year because of other approvals we needed at the state level, namely the historic preservation office.

"We got by that in November or December, I guess, so now we have to go back to the Landmarks Commission simply because the certificate expired and we in effect need to get it renewed."

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