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VOL. 127 | NO. 56 | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

River View

Beale Street Landing about to spring to life

By Bill Dries

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A river view alone isn’t enough for a restaurant to make a go of it on the Memphis riverfront.

Construction crews work on Beale Street Landing, which should be open by April 27, when the American Queen riverboat is scheduled to arrive. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

And there are many examples to prove the point.

The old Harbor Landing restaurant on Mud Island has a beautiful view of the Memphis harbor and a slightly more distant view of the Mississippi River. There was once an old towboat on the cobblestones that offered the pleasures of dining on its decks. And One Beale Street also came with a view.

Harbor Landing is occasionally booked for meetings, the towboat is closed and One Beale in no longer part of the horizon.

The key to success isn’t the view. It is flexibility, says Benny Lendermon, president of Riverfront Development Corp.

RDC this week was working out the final terms for a contract with Beale and Second Inc. to operate the restaurant at Beale Street Landing.

“It’s a multi-purpose facility. … What it is in February is not what it is in April,” Lendermon said of the 4,500-square-foot restaurant space. “It’s got to be able to shrink and grow and morph into what it needs to be for a given period of time.”

The Riverfront Grille & Dockside Bar will probably open in July, and its partners are familiar with surviving the seasons on Beale Street – winter, basketball and tourist. The company’s name is a reference to the corner where Blues City Café, the company’s best-known restaurant, stands.

On the riverfront, Lendermon says, the changing seasons will include daily shifts from snacks for those walking the riverfront to lunch to happy hour to a sit-down dinner crowd.

“More than anything else, it needs to be a taste of Memphis and not be one specific food source,” he added. “The great number of people visiting this restaurant will be tourists. That’s what they want – a taste of Memphis. It can’t be one particular thing.”

Construction crews work on Beale Street Landing, which should be open by April 27. Plans are under way for a restaurant to open inside the facility. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The restaurant is one of three spaces including an open area beneath the grass roof as well as a space for a gift shop in addition to a gift shop that is to be part of the restaurant.

Daily excursion boats will also debut at the landing in July, with space for ticket sales and a broader market for merchandise.

“Anybody they sell something to now is making a conscious effort to go down the cobblestones … and ride their boat,” Lendermon said. “They’re not just tourists walking around seeing what’s floating down there. They are selling primarily now to people who are riding their vessel.”

The dock itself will open before the restaurant with the April 27 arrival of The American Queen. The largest steamboat in the world will call Memphis its home port.

The floating islands that are the access to the river at the landing are now floating in McKellar Lake, south of Downtown. Later this month, they will make the short journey north to be attached to the mooring arms at the landing.

Meanwhile, the new landing is having an impact on neighboring Tom Lee Park, which will soon begin its annual transformation for three weekends of activity during the Memphis In May International Festival.

The northern tip of the park is now part of the landing – including an area that was one of the four stages for the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.

Joey Hagan, principal of Architecture Inc., has configured the park space for the music festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphony each year for the last five years.

“We’ve had to regroup,” Hagan said of the new space considerations. “That doesn’t sound like a lot of land until you go down to the barbecue festival or the music festival – because they use every square inch of dirt at Tom Lee Park. … So the influx of the Beale Street Landing project really has been kind of a challenge to try to regain that space and reorganize everybody so that everybody has enough room and all that stuff.”

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