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VOL. 130 | NO. 81 | Monday, April 27, 2015

Wharton on State ‘Blueprint’ Funding, Mud Island Plan

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. wants to bring state funding to the table when he takes his “Blueprint for Prosperity” to the Memphis City Council and others.


Wharton was to meet with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Friday, April 24, in Nashville to secure the state’s commitment to the effort, he said after taping the WKNO-TV program "Behind The Headlines" earlier that day.

The multifront approach to attacking Memphis’ pervasive and historically high poverty level has been years in the development stage. It incorporates the city’s work with the Bloomberg Foundations on incentive programs as well as other grant-funded programs.

Wharton said having state funding and support in hand would bolster his push for the overall plan and make it more substantial.

The administration canceled a briefing for Memphis City Council members last week in committee sessions the same day that Wharton presented his budget proposal to the legislative body.

During the show, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, Wharton also said tentative plans by developer and investor Andy Cates to add one of his RVC Outdoor Destinations development to Mud Island likely will move slowly.

Cates and the Riverfront Development Corp., which runs Mud Island River Park for the city, have been talking for several weeks.

“We’re trying to take a breather. Let’s let Bass Pro get open,” Wharton said, referring to the Thursday opening of Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid, which is on the other side of the Wolf River Harbor from the park. “We want to get everybody around the table. The Cates proposal is attractive. But we’d like to look at everything.”

RVC, founded by Cates, has 11 properties across the country that offer upscale amenities of different kinds to those looking for some contact with the outdoors and natural settings as well as recreational activities in those settings.

Cates has talked of a “hybrid” arrangement on the island that would blend the private development with the public nature of the park, similar to how the RVC sites work elsewhere.

The island park, which opened in the early 1980s, has flirted with some form of that intermittently over the years, including having an appointed board run the park as well as the city’s park services division before the RDC assumed control.

The RDC has talked in recent years of better access to the park and recreational use of the park on a higher level. But those plans have been muted by a hesitancy at City Hall to fund a different direction for the park.

Wharton also confirmed that stalled plans for a museum featuring the works of photographer William Eggleston are “back on” for what is now the general services administration facility in Overton Park at East Parkway and Poplar Avenue.

“The Eggleston plans are back on,” he said. “It’s the original parcel and it’s the original design.”

And Wharton said he will amend his list of nominees to the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority approved by the Memphis City Council this week.

Council members included a provision that no more than two of the 13 authority members could have a direct ownership interest in a Beale Street business. Three of Wharton’s nominees had such business ties.

“It’s so odd,” Wharton added, noting it was council members who last month wanted a larger board to specifically guarantee business owners in the district were represented.

“When we complied with what the council said, they said that’s a conflict of interest,” Wharton said. “Beale Street is too important for us to get bogged down on the political dilly-dallying. It’s the development authority and we’ve got investors waiting. That’s a business proposition.”

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