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VOL. 130 | NO. 221 | Thursday, November 12, 2015

RVC's Cates Speaks Out on Mud Island Plan

By Bill Dries

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Keep the Riverwalk and amphitheater. Maybe extend Greenbelt Park into Mud Island River Park with camping on the southern end of the island. Bring in food trucks instead of restaurants.

Those are some of the ideas Andy Cates has for Mud Island, which he talked about in detail for the first time Thursday, Nov. 12.

RVC Outdoor Destinations CEO Andy Cates' emerging proposal for Mud Island River Park would preserve the Riverwalk and amphitheater, and could offer camping opportunities or outdoor experiences on the island’s southern end.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Cates, CEO of RVC Outdoor Destinations, plans to submit a proposal to the city of Memphis, which issued a request for qualifications to potential Mud Island developers this week.

“Our general thesis would simply be that it’s time that we fix Mud Island as a community,” Cates said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines,” hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes.

Cates talked about the still-emerging proposal the same week that the city of Memphis opened a request for qualifications process to seek possible redevelopment plans for the island park.

Before the RFQ process, Cates had proposed to the city that it explore such options, which set in motion the decision to request qualifications from those interested in taking on an overhaul of the 33-year-old park.

RVC Outdoor Destinations offers a range of accommodations – including cottages, yurts and tents – for those seeking a variety of outdoor experiences. The nine-year-old Memphis-based company offers varied outdoor experiences at 10 locations in eight states. The developments include trails, zip lines and swimming pools that are designed to work with the natural surroundings.

In the case of Mud Island, Cates said he foresees a public and private investment of “tens of millions of dollars” for the city park currently run by the Riverfront Development Corp., which has had no significant investment in the last decade.

In the interview, which airs Friday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. on WKNO, Cates said his plan is still tentative but added there are a few “nonstarters.”

“The Riverwalk … needs to be restored and needs to be lifted up. I think it’s untouchable, in my opinion. I think you start there,” he said. “The amphitheater I would put up there as well. Both of them desperately need to be fixed. They need to be improved and they need to be brought into this century.”

The park’s river museum, if it remains, would require some kind of renovation at a minimum, he added.

Cates said he wants to “revisit” the park’s name.                                                    

He also advocated for a public or nonprofit entity similar to a conservancy that would oversee the future development of the island. Under that scenario, RVC would negotiate a contract directly with the city of Memphis to “radically redevelop it and operate it and that conservancy would oversee it.”

RVC’s development of the park could include cottages or tents in a resort-like area on the southern end of the island.

“I think there is room for water features. I think anything that goes there has to be architecturally and artistically thought out deeply,” Cates said. “I’m very, very scared of the term ‘theme park.’ … I think if it’s not authentic, if it’s not Memphis, if it is not real and attractive to a very broad range of folks starting with Memphians, it won’t work.”

An extension of Greenbelt Park, which is north of the river park’s borders, is another possibility although that’s where some of the park’s structural features come into play.

That is the case with the River Terrace restaurant building.

“It physically cuts off the ability to walk or drive further south. That needs to be revisited,” Cates said. “If you extend Greenbelt Park there are physically a number of issues you are going to have to resolve.”

And the different uses bring into play an “operational struggle” as developments like a water park coexist with camping areas.

“If you had a water park that required admission, how are you going to separate that?” Cates asked. “If you have cottages or a river tent that’s furnished that you allow someone to rent overnight, you’re going to have to find a way to protect those areas and control access to those areas.”

During the program, Cates also discussed his recent call for Memphians to defend the city’s reputation as well as more than $3 billion in recent development plans that affect Memphis’ quality of life.

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