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VOL. 131 | NO. 98 | Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Delay On Larger Pinch Plan Grows Uneasy

By Bill Dries

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When Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland met last week with representatives of Bass Pro Shops and city council member Berlin Boyd – the council member whose district includes the Pyramid, Mud Island, the Pinch District and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – there was a lot of turf to discuss.

Jim Strickland

Whatever was discussed about all or parts of that prime real estate apparently wasn’t any more specific than the public pronouncements in the last year about the general area.

In the absence of a long-anticipated master plan for an area of four distinct parts, any movement is being scrutinized.

Strickland’s office acknowledges that he met with representatives of Bass Pro Shops.

And when asked if Mud Island River Park was discussed or any conclusions reached on its future redevelopment, Strickland said in writing: “I have been consistent on this from the start of my administration. We are not in a position at this time to provide any funding from our operating or capital budgets to assist in any redevelopment plan for the south end of Mud Island.”

Boyd has said Bass Pro Shops executives didn’t talk about any specific plan they would like to see for the river park.

But the outdoors retailer that marked a year in the Pyramid this month has said it is interested in what happens across the harbor on Mud Island, even though it did not submit a proposal to the Riverfront Development Corp. committee that is weighing two proposals for recommendation to the RDC and Strickland.

In January, shortly after Strickland took office, Michael Dunham, real estate director for Bass Pro Shops, wrote the RDC committee to say formally and in writing that the corporation would not have a “specific project concept” to present “at this time.”

“We have considered resort, timeshare, entertainment and museum uses, to name a few,” he continued in the letter.

Dunham also put on the record the company’s declaration that it considers itself to have a “large vested interest” in the general area and that plans for St. Jude, the Pinch and Mud Island River Park should be coordinated.

“It seems quite clear to us that all four of these projects can be uniquely tied together, further enhancing the Downtown Memphis redevelopment,” Dunham wrote.

While they adjoin each other, Strickland has pointed to different scales for what might happen next for each, and each are different cases for city funding.

While Strickland is opposed to city funding for a Mud Island redevelopment, he has also said the city would be willing to help fund a St. Jude expansion, which the state of Tennessee is also contributing $12 million to in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“Their potential expansion is 2,000 new high-paying jobs,” Strickland said this month on the WKNO/Channel 10 program Behind The Headlines. “That’s huge. I think we need to be involved there.”

The interest in the Pinch is not new. Bass Pro Shops initially planned to tie its move into the Pyramid with a redevelopment of the Pinch, the area on the east side of Front Street across from the Pyramid.

But Bass Pro dropped those plans, including working with developers Poag & McEwen on plans for the Pinch.

The administration of Mayor A C Wharton talked generally of coming up with a city plan for the Pinch, but nothing ever surfaced.

And the lack of any substantive plan drew complaints from some developers and Downtown boosters who argued that despite the proximity of the Pyramid and Bass Pro Shops’ popularity, the vacuum created by not having an overall city plan was actually an incentive for developers to stay clear of the area.

The city council underlined its desire to wait on a Pinch plan in March when it rejected a hotel proposed for the northeast corner of Jackson Avenue and Front Street, across from the Pyramid.

The council vote to reject it was close and with some debate.

“It’s just one of those things,” Boyd said during the debate of his move to defeat the project. “I don’t want to lose the investment from St. Jude.”

Meanwhile, as Bass Pro Shops moved in last May, it did not restore the connection to Front Street and to the Pinch District on the Pyramid’s eastern side as Wharton said the corporation had promised at the outset.

Six months after Dunham’s January letter to the RDC on Mud Island, the RDC committee continues to weigh specific park proposals by RVC Outdoor Destinations of Memphis and Mansion Entertainment of Branson, Mo.

RVC’s recreational plan covers the entire park and stresses a connection to the outdoor elements of the island. The Riverwalk and amphitheater would be upgraded and remain. The monorail would go, with the pedestrian walkway above it converted into something RVC CEO Andy Cates has likened to Manhattan’s High Line. The main entrance to the park would be the north entrance and Greenbelt Park would be extended from north of the park to run all the way through the park along its western, Mississippi River side to the southern tip of the island.

Mansion’s interest is in the amphitheater only, calling for others to re-develop the rest of the park.

If Mansion executives are uneasy about the time it has taken for an RDC recommendation to City Hall, they haven’t said anything publicly.

Cates called in February for a full disclosure of whether Bass Pro Shops has any rights in its agreement with the city for the Pyramid to have a voice in what happens on Mud Island and/or with St. Jude’s $9 billion expansion. Details of St. Jude’s plans, including $1 billion in construction, have yet to be defined.

Boyd has said St. Jude and Bass Pro Shops are in general agreement on the St. Jude plan. Cates said earlier this year that he and Bass Pro Shops were also in general agreement on RVC’s proposal for Mud Island.

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