VOL. 132 | NO. 142 | Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Riverfront Concept Plan Emphasizes Connections, River Access
By Bill Dries
A pedestrian bridge between the southern tip of Mud Island and Riverside Drive, more pedestrian use of Riverside Drive, a pavilion at Tom Lee Park and greater access to the edge of the Mississippi River are among the elements of a riverfront concept plan outlined Tuesday, July 18, by a Chicago architecture and urban design firm.
“This is a concept, not a plan,” said Alan Crone, chairman of the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force. “It is a starting point for a common conversation.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced in January the formation of a 17-member riverfront task force that would work with the Riverfront Development Corp. and Studio Gang, an architectural firm whose work has included consulting work on Chicago’s waterfront.
Studio Gang principal Gia Biagi said the guiding principle for Memphis is to connect six miles of riverfront parks and other areas between the northern end of Mud Island, where the Wolf River meets the Mississippi River, and Martin Luther King-Riverside Park in South Memphis.
“The river is the thing,” Biagi said as she showed conceptual drawings.
They reflect different ideas gathered and considered from six months work of gathering public input at various forums as well as at least 11 previous riverfront plans various city administrations have commissioned since 1980.
With connections and provisions to account for the sometimes dramatically different elevations along the six miles of riverfront, Biagi said the different properties involved can become “a system in and of itself.”
The riverfront collaboration is tied to the administration’s ambitious Gateway Project – development of the nine-block area between the Pyramid and the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that is now an area dominated by surface parking lots.
With the concept plan in hand, Crone said the task force begins to consider those ideas along with plans currently underway or in the pipeline. Those include some kind of reconfiguration of Mud Island River Park that Crone said is a priority for Strickland, pending state approval of the long-awaited restoration of the cobblestones at the river’s landing and plans for a second convention center hotel.
Here is a summary of some of the ideas in the concept plan:
Mud Island’s South End
The pedestrian bridge across the Wolf River Harbor, which has shown up regularly in past plans, could be at Beale Street Landing or on Union Avenue. With that access, the southern end of the park would become part of a more active harbor that includes the cobblestones as an activity center and a place for smaller boats to anchor, moving away from its primary use as parking.
Beale and Riverside
The key word here is “pop-up” as in a pop-up market area that could be in the parking area now at Beale and Wagner Place with a stepped or terraced way to walk onto Beale as it goes downhill toward the river. There is also a lot of pedestrian access envisioned here and making it more of an entrance to the riverfront.
The concept here is a center of activity that highlights its place between the waters – Mississippi River and Wolf River Harbor. The dominant building in the park, which is now the river museum, could remain as an “education center.” Also, there were comments about using the monorail access and its pedestrian and bicycle walkway over the monorail as part of a riverfront circuit with a bridge on the south end of the island integral to making that a part of a circuit.
Tom Lee Park
Studio Gang heard several calls for a Ferris wheel or similar iconic structure in the park, but resisted it, at least in the rendering. The general idea could work depending on whether it leverages “what’s in the environment,” Biagi said. There could be a boardwalk by the river that allows access closer to the water with a terraced approach. And there is a pavilion in the concept.
The road would go on “a little bit of a diet,” Biagi said as she showed a rendering with a marketplace on the street’s hard surface that is one of several ways the drive could be put to use in ways that don’t use cars. She also talked about bike lanes in Tom Lee Park itself, a frequently mentioned suggestion by critics of the city’s conversion of Riverside’s southbound lanes to bicycle and pedestrian access-only during A C Wharton’s mayoral administration.
The concept plan focuses on levels closest to the river and set a tone that is very different from the higher-up Tom Lee Park. The concept plan suggests some more east-west pathways for riverside access.