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VOL. 127 | NO. 153 | Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Funding Brings More Changes to Riverfront

By Bill Dries

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The world’s largest steamboat will have some company at Beale Street Landing. Water taxis would travel from the landing at the foot of Beale to the south end of Mud Island River Park and back as part of a still developing plan that last week secured $800,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Construction crews work on Beale Street Landing, which in addition to the American Queen riverboat, will also see river taxis. 

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

“When tourists are at Beale Street Landing and they are looking over at the island and they are wondering, ‘How do I get there?’ – This answers that question. We are thrilled,” said Dorchelle Spence of the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit entity that manages the landing, the river park and the city’s riverfront in general under contract with the city. “The RDC and the city of Memphis can move forward with connecting Beale Street Landing to Mud Island River Park.”

The money is specifically to buy two water taxis and design and build several docks at different points on the island park as well as the city-side of the Wolf River Harbor.

Spence said Beale Street Landing is one of the docks but the sites for the others haven’t been determined yet.

The RDC is overseeing still evolving plans for the river park that during the brainstorming sessions several years ago included such ideas as some kind of walkway from the south end of the park to Memphis mainland. That idea faced long odds because of the barriers that would pose to boats entering and exiting the harbor. Water taxis were the other option for a new way to access that end of the island.

“One of the things we are going to do is marry up the Mud Island land use plan developed two years ago … with the federal funding to see if we can afford to do two or three connections,” Spence said. “The connections are a little bit difficult simply because of the rise and fall of the Mississippi River.”

The Mud Island park plan has a goal of more and better usage of the south end of the island and its view of the southbound Mississippi River on its way under the city’s three original bridges across the Mississippi River. The southern end of the island is accessible at the end of a walk from the Mississippi River Museum building.

Boats were originally the only way to get onto Mud Island when it was still an island and before an access road was built in the 1960s atop the dam that stopped the Wolf River’s flow into what is still called the Wolf River Harbor.

“Our general thought is something akin to a pontoon boat that would have seating along the sides. But we’ve not researched any of this yet,” Spence said. “We have some preliminary things done but nothing in the last few years.”

When the river park opened 30 years ago, it included the pedestrian and monorail bridge with the entrance on Front Street. Access to the park has improved in recent years with auto parking allowed near the site of the old Memphis Belle pavilion.

Meanwhile, another riverboat is due to dock at Beale Street Landing this month. The landing is already homeport to the American Queen, the world’s largest steamboat.

Another smaller paddlewheeler, the “Queen of the Mississippi,” built by American Cruise Lines for 150 passengers, was launched Saturday, Aug. 4, in New Orleans.

Memphis and Beale Street Landing will be a regular stop in the seven-night regular Mississippi River itinerary for the Queen’s service between Memphis and New Orleans and Memphis and other cities north on the river.

The first regular seven-day run for the Queen of the Mississippi starts Aug. 11 in New Orleans with a Memphis stop on the trip scheduled for Aug. 17.

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