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VOL. 7 | NO. 29 | Saturday, July 12, 2014

Editorial: Enhanced Riverfront Much Needed for City

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The idea of a city’s riverfront as an ornate front door is a relatively new concept in the evolution of cities as old as ours.

Historically, riverfronts were busy, functional, ever-changing ports not built to dazzle but instead to serve as the engine of commerce in river towns like ours.

So the transformation underway on the Memphis riverfront remains something new and, to some degree, tentative for those who want an active and welcoming area to match the expectations the city skyline raises from a distance.

That riverfront is close to reaching critical mass and we tend to agree that Beale Street Landing could be the cornerstone many of its staunchest advocates believe it to be.

But there are also lessons to be learned specifically from the project and most of them are cautionary tales that go back to the decade it took to go from renderings to reality and the $43 million it cost.

The landing never should have taken that long or cost that much, and citizens understandably have a hard time separating the overblown cost, in particular, from the potential of the landing as a catalyst now that it is up and running.

Attributing this project’s political drift to a benevolent caricature of our civic identity as a “slow and easy” river town too easily dismisses the recurring problem our leadership has with getting project budgets to match the project.

We’ve certainly undertaken enough civic construction projects in the last 25 years, especially in the way of arenas, to be masters of the craft.

Yet we aren’t and this project is indicative of political leadership that does not know the meaning of project oversight and ultimate accountability.

The irony is Beale Street Landing will bring more of us to the river at a critical time for the riverfront.

The overnight riverboat cruise business is back after collapsing twice, and for Memphis it’s better than it was before the downturn – much better. With its return come hundreds of passengers at a time at the landing, not to mention the smaller daily excursion boats of the Memphis Queen line.

Crossing Riverside Drive on foot to get to the landing and the riverfront in general is less hazardous than it was before automobile traffic was cut for the southbound lanes between Beale Street and Georgia Avenue.

The landing’s playground is the only playground in the Downtown area for children 10 and under and its oversized catfish sculpture was getting lots of attention even before the formal opening last month. The two magnificent trees that stood and remain where once there was no landing beyond them make the park an oasis from which to approach the water’s edge safely and experience our place at its side in solitude or with others.

The simplicity of purpose in this undertaking is about an experience for us as well as our visitors. We welcome its arrival.

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