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VOL. 128 | NO. 64 | Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lendermon Discusses Riverfront Access

By Bill Dries

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Riverside Drive could work well if it lost a lane of automobile traffic in each direction, says the president of the Riverfront Development Corp.

Mud Island River Park opens April 13. It is one of several riverside public spaces operated for the city by the Riverfront Development Corp.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

But on-street parking on Riverside, also recommended by urban planner Jeff Speck last month, is another matter.

“I think traffic-wise, you could make Riverside Drive two lanes and not cause a hardship on Downtown Memphis,” Benny Lendermon said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “I’m not sure you could put parallel parking along there … even though we need parking there desperately. … Most Memphians can’t parallel park. Half of Memphians probably never have parallel parked in their lives. Especially in this city, parallel parking is a challenge. It just takes so long.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video, www.memphisdailynews.com.

Lendermon talked of controversies of the Beale Street Landing project as well as the nearby Cobblestones as something that “comes with the territory.”

He added that he learned a few things from the controversy over construction of the Bluffwalk in the 1990s. At the time, he was city Public Works director.

“One lesson is never have a public meeting where they serve alcohol. You have to leave out through the back door,” Lendermon said. “During that process I lost several close friends. But after it’s built, all of a sudden people see how it works. … I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t think the Bluffwalk is absolutely wonderful.”

The initial opposition to the Bluffwalk included someone who camped out in a magnolia tree.

“Fortunately she was in one of the magnolia trees that wasn’t going to be cut,” he said.

“Our biggest problem is people wanting to cut down those trees that we actually left up there because they block views. It’s an interesting dynamic of what people want one day versus another.”

An enduring controversy not so easily resolved is what to do with the riverfront Promenade, the area designated for public use in perpetuity on Front Street by the heirs of the founders of Memphis. Lendermon is convinced any plan for the promenade will likely be settled in court.

And he doesn’t think the area is quite ripe for a development plan yet anyway.

“I think you’re getting ready in the next two or three years to see the whole dynamics of the riverfront changing,” Lendermon said. “All of a sudden the promenade area will look quite different to some people who see it as it is today and not what it could be. I would certainly suggest to anyone don’t rush any decision on the promenade. Its day is not here yet. Its day will be here.”

Meanwhile, Mud Island River Park opens for the season on April 13.

The park is among the riverfront areas under the jurisdiction of the Riverfront Development Corp. The RDC operates those areas for the city of Memphis under a contract similar to the agreements the city has with the Overton Park Conservancy and the Memphis Zoo.

In the case of Mud Island, the city provides $500,000 in public funding, which was the city’s level of funding in 1999 when the agreement was made.

Lendermon is preparing to announce a slate of concerts for the Mud Island Amphitheater for the third consecutive year under the RDC.

“We’ve zeroed in on the fact that Mud Island works very well for an events venue, like the dragon boat races that were held there this past year,” he said. “They are coming back this year. We hear about the Jimmy Buffett concert, but the most people ever on Mud Island was for the dragon boat races last year. It totally filled the space up. We have a number of large events like that this year. We’re trying to book every weekend.”

Long term, Lendermon said the island park needs more than a “paint up or fix up.”

“Change the way it works. … Going in and dropping a million or two dollars, in my opinion, won’t solve the problem,” he said.

That includes a system of water taxis that the development corporation recently secured a federal grant to begin planning for.

It’s one way and probably the least expensive way of improving access to the river park, a barrier to development plans on the island since the park opened in July of 1981.

Another way is either a passenger or auto bridge or both across the Wolf River Harbor that would have to open to accommodate water traffic in the harbor.

“Everybody thinks they could build that bridge for $5 million to $10 million,” Lendermon said. “And every time they go to an engineer and an engineer looks at it, it’s $30 million plus. … We’d love to have one but we just don’t think we can afford $30 million.”

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