In a city with lots of markers and monuments showing where historic events happened, there is an increasing amount of attention to a different kind of Memphis historic event.
The Hampline will travel through the Broad Avenue district.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
And it involves something that did not happen – the interstate that was supposed to go through Overton Park 50 years ago but was first delayed and then stopped for good in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 43 years ago this coming Sunday.
The Overton Park court case and the efforts behind it came up again this week as city leaders broke ground on the first leg of the Hampline, the two-way bike track, formerly known as the Broad-Overton Connector.
“That was a good name for a while,” said David Wayne Brown, president of the Historic Broad Avenue Arts Alliance.
But before the Monday, Feb. 24, groundbreaking got too deep in the old and new names, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. noticed attorney Charles Newman standing toward the back of the crowd.
Newman was the attorney who pushed the lawsuit opposing the interstate through the park all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and its landmark ruling.
“This has really been a long time coming,” Wharton said. “This is historic ground. This is the first time anywhere that an interstate highway’s been stopped dead in its tracks. It was supposed to roll right through the park there and they were on their way.”
“Politics and business is sometimes not pretty,” said Joe Royer, of Outdoors Inc., as he talked of the new face of the area and the Hampline in particular. “It really is showing the world how progressive Memphis is.”
The first leg of the Hampline, which is being built by Wagner General Contractors, is in a green space between a row of houses and Sam Cooper Boulevard. The cost of that section is $80,000, which is being funded with donations by FedEx.
Royer believes it is also critical to growing cycling in the Memphis area because it is off the road and has lanes in both directions on the same side.
“I am reluctant to take my grandchildren cycling if it’s not safe. They are very good little bike riders,” he said as he talked of how children stop riding bikes at around the age of 10 and then may resume later after parental safety concerns have subsided.
“You’re going to let your children go ride their bike a little more,” he said of the impact of a stretch of the Hampline that is on an already set-aside green space.
The Arts Alliance and Livable Memphis have raised $3.6 million so far for the entire two-mile connector that will link up with the western end of the Shelby Farms Greenline on Tillman Street.
The city put up $2.3 million of that in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality transportation grant money. Another $839,000 comes from local and national grants with $383,000 from nonprofits, corporations and private donors that include the Hyde Family Foundation.
The effort also raised $78,000 through crowdsourcing.
As Wharton and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, did the groundbreaking honors Monday, in the background a crew was working on the bicycle gate where Sam Cooper Boulevard dead-ends into East Parkway, which is what the Hampline will connect to.
The paving stones that are being bought by sponsors and will go into place later in the bike gate plaza will also include some references to the interstate as well, said Tina Sullivan, director of the Overton Park Conservancy.
The corridor of land cleared east of the park for the interstate runs to the eastern side of East Parkway, part of the scenery those in the plaza will see once the plaza is open to the public.
It is a reminder of just how far along the interstate planning was when the high court ruled in Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe in 1971.
The group filed its suit in late 1969 after the city of Memphis sold 26 acres of parkland to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for $2 million that same year.
The Citizens to Preserve Overton Park group lost its federal court claim that federal officials had not followed its procedures for such a project in U.S. District Court and on appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That set the stage for a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in late 1970.
But by then homes and businesses on the land east and west of the park had already been demolished.
Homes were rebuilt on the western corridor in the late 1980s, financed with federal money that had been intended for the interstate project, which came off the national interstate highway plan in 1981 after numerous alternatives to an interstate through the park were explored in the wake of the court ruling.