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VOL. 131 | NO. 42 | Monday, February 29, 2016

Mud Island Management Search Narrows to Two

By Bill Dries

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A committee reviewing proposals to manage the Mud Island River Park has narrowed the field of four contenders down to two.

Mud Island River Park (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Riverfront Development Corp. working committee has narrowed the field to RVC Outdoor Destinations of Memphis and Mansion Entertainment and Media LLC.

That follows the submission of four specific plans for redevelopment of all or part of the park by four companies including ML Professional Properties and Memphis Equity Brand Management. Those two companies do not advance to a next round of interviews with the committee in the next 10 days.

RVC Outdoor, the company founded by Andy Cates, submitted a park-wide plan that included keeping the River Walk scale model and the amphitheater and upgrading them as well as adding riverside cabins and safari tents for guests. The park’s main entrance would be reoriented to the northern gate and the Greenbelt Park north of the river park would be extended along the western edge of the river park all the way to the southern tip of Mud Island.

Cates also has proposed abandoning the park’s monorail crossing and turning the walkway above it into a pedestrian and bicycle way similar to Manhattan’s High Line development.

RVC executives said they're "ready to invest $10 million of our own capital that is currently available and ready to deploy."

Bass Pro Shops executives had expressed an interested in the park’s redevelopment earlier, but did not submit a specific proposal including financing by the Feb. 24 deadline.

In the first phase of the search, Bass Pro Shops executives said in a letter to the RDC that they wanted some consideration in what happens next in the park even if they didn’t submit a proposal because of their proximity to it.

The Pyramid where Bass Pro Shops opened its largest store with other attractions in May is across the Wolf River Harbor from Mud Island River Park.

Cates said later that he had talked with Bass Pro Shops executives about his plan and that they expressed a willingness to work with him as the plan takes a more specific shape.

Cates has said he is willing to talk with other partners about RVC’s Mud Island plan.

Mansion Entertainment of Branson, Mo. proposed an upgrade and operation of the park’s amphitheater only, based on its experience managing similar venues in Branson and other entertainment districts across the country.

ML Professional Properties also had a park-wide plan that relied heavily on links to other developers. The company is headed by Mark Lovell who created the Delta Fair and operates similar fairs and expos across the country.

Memphis Equity proposed a large resort-type hotel in the center of the existing park with others developing the rest of the park.

Kevin Kane, chairman of the committee and president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the RVC and Mansion proposals were “particularly strong.”

“Of the four, these two proposals were significantly more well-developed conceptually and offered the most financial detail,” he added, in a written statement.

Once the interviews are completed in March, Kane said the committee will make its recommendation.

The recommendation by the committee then starts a process that involves the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland directly in negotiating specific terms.

“Having the right concept is of paramount importance,” RDC President Benny Lendermon said. “Mud Island River Park’s unique location in downtown Memphis significantly enhances the chances for a successful and sustaining redevelopment, as long as it’s the right concept and the funding works out.”

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