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VOL. 131 | NO. 204 | Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mud Island Proposals to Reset If Tourism Funding Approved

By Michael Waddell

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Even if the city of Memphis gets state approval to use Downtown tourism development zone (TDZ) funds for Mud Island, Andy Cates says his outdoors company will not be part of any redevelopment plans for the river park.

If the state approves tourism development zone funding for Mud Island’s redevelopment, new plans will be entertained, but RVC Outdoor Destinations is officially out.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

And if the city gains TDZ funding, it would open redevelopment of Mud Island to more proposals.

Last month, Memphis developer Cates dropped RVC Outdoor Destinations’ bid to redevelop Mud Island, leaving only Branson, Missouri-based Mansion Entertainment and Media LLC’s proposal to redevelop just the amphitheater on the table.

As the city waits for state approval to use TDZ funds for developments like Mud Island River Park and the Memphis Cook Convention Center, Mansion is left waiting to see what happens.

“If the TDZ funding comes through, it will be a whole new solicitation with whole new set of requirements,” said Benny Lendermon, president of Riverfront Development Corp., a city entity that oversees Mud Island. “We’ve had several other people approach us lately, and we’ve told everybody to sit tight and let us figure out what funds, if any, that we have available and what our requirements are going to be.”


One of two finalists, RVC quietly dropped out of the running last month after becoming frustrated with the process. Cates’ redevelopment proposal for the south end of Mud Island featured riverside amenities, a water park and high-end rental cottages and climate-controlled tents.

“We are disappointed things didn’t progress and there was really no real engagement with what we were proposing, so we’re moving on,” Cates said. “It’s not a head fake or negotiating tactics. After 18 months and not feeling like we were fully desired, we decided it’s too hard to keep trying to push on something that was not getting a response.”

RVC was willing to invest at least $10 million of its own capital, Cates said, not that the entire development vision would have been $10 million.

“That has always been misunderstood,” he said. “The scope of anything we developed would have been dependent on whatever total capital was available, in addition to our own.”

He says they will not re-enter the proposal process if it’s reset after receiving the TDZ funds.

“We were aware of that possibility from the beginning, and we had proposed that we would be a part of that conversation, but the city was not interested in including us in that conversation,” said Cates. “Even if the funds were to show up, it’s not something we’re interested in pursuing any further.”

Cates stressed that reports claiming he was unhappy with undercutting from Bass Pro Shops were misconstrued.

Bass Pro was one of five entities that put its name in consideration for redevelopment of Mud Island, but it didn’t submit a specific plan. In a letter, Bass Pro real estate director Michael Dunham indicated the outdoors company had considered “resort, timeshare, entertainment and museum uses, to name a few.”

Dunham went on to say its lease on the Pyramid gives Bass Pro a “large vested interest” in the area and he hoped the company would be consulted on future plans for the park, along with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and other stakeholders in the Pinch District north of Mud Island.

“I do think that they were not helpful or constructive in the process, but that had nothing to do with our decision,” Cates said. “I wish them luck in the Pyramid, but that doesn’t lead to the desire to see them do any more Downtown.”

Lendermon said Mansion Entertainment is waiting to see what happens, but the company could be interested in more than just the amphitheater.

“They actually did have desires, and their planning spoke to it, to look at the rest of the island, and they have even stronger desires now,” Lendermon said.

Getting TDZ funding would create “a whole different ballgame,” he added.

“In the first solicitation effort, we told everybody that there was zero city dollars going into the project,” Lendermon said. “The city is willing to put dollars into it if it generates more revenue and more tax dollars stay here. Then it may be to the city’s advantage to putting more money into Mud Island instead of less.”

Mud Island was built in 1982 for $63 million, and today welcomes approximately 170,000 visitors per year. Lendermon cites the continued success of events at Mud Island this year, including at least three concert sellouts and the Wine on the River event in early October that drew more than 3,000 attendees and sold out a week before the event.

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