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VOL. 132 | NO. 208 | Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brooks Move, Riverfront Plan Come in Focus

By Bill Dries

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Three months after yet another riverfront redevelopment concept plan was unveiled with some skepticism, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has the catalyst his administration needs to get parts of the plan moving.

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art board announced Tuesday, Oct. 17, it is in talks with city government to relocate the museum from Overton Park to a Downtown site on Front Street between Union and Monroe avenues.

In the July concept plan by planning consultants Studio Gang, a “cultural amenity” is called for on the 2 acres, complete with renderings of what a museum with a river view could look like at the corner of Front and Monroe.

When Memphis Housing and Community Development Division director Paul Young presented the full riverfront plan Tuesday, Oct. 17 – a plan the city probably will take to the Tennessee Building Commission in December for tax incentives – the renderings were more detailed.

“We wanted to bring something bold and catalytic for our city and the citizens,” Young told Memphis City Council members.

The renderings showed a pedestrian walkway from Monroe Avenue to Mud Island River Park’s south end, with one of two aquariums located at the Gulf of Mexico replica on the park’s River Walk. Another freshwater aquarium would be part of an expanded river museum that also includes a “center for freshwater studies.”

“The idea is to focus on the natural assets that we have in the community,” Young said. “There is no city in the country that can claim our position on the Mississippi. We want to embrace that.”

The museum move would be financed, in part, with an estimated $7.3 million in Tourism Development Zone revenue through the year 2031, if the state approves expanded uses for TDZ revenue – sales tax revenue captured in the Downtown zone. The Mud Island plan, which also includes an amphitheater renovation, is also part of the proposed expansion of TDZ revenue.

The current river museum would remain.

“We see a lot of connectivity and synergy between this location and Mud Island,” Young said of the possible site for the new Brooks. “The idea is to actually expand it across Monroe – close down Monroe to make it a civic plaza, connecting what could be the Brooks Museum with the Cossitt Library and really making a premier public space.”

Young estimated that with financing approval, construction on parts of the riverfront plan could start in the fall of 2018.

Brooks Museum executive director Emily Neff and museum board chairman Deborah Craddock confirmed they are considering the riverfront real estate as its new home Tuesday in a letter.

“The Brooks Museum Board of Directors passed a resolution to seek formal consideration from Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration to be that iconic cultural asset,” the letter reads, noting the board voted Oct. 6 to move in that direction.

“Many further discussions with the city of Memphis will be required and we must still have complete and satisfactory answers to myriad questions about a potential new site for the Brooks Museum on the riverfront,” the letter adds. “Nevertheless, we feel that this is a singular opportunity to be part of a true renaissance along the river, particularly with tremendous developments happening in the Pinch and Medical Districts, around the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and throughout all of downtown.“

The block of riverfront real estate between Union and Monroe is all owned by the city of Memphis.

The idea of moving the fire station now on the site, which includes Memphis Fire Department headquarters, has been considered before.

Neff and Craddock say an expansion of the museum in Overton Park would have been “both costly and disruptive to the park-going public and our fellow park partners.”

“Also, any subsequent renovation within the park would likely augur an expansion of our museum facilities to accommodate increasing storage and exhibition space needs; this could lead to an encroachment on the Overton Park Golf Course or other public space areas, which we of course would prefer to avoid,” the letter reads.

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