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VOL. 133 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 6, 2018

Review of Mud Island Museum Begins as River Museum Closes Early for Season

By Bill Dries

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The former director of Governors Island in New York and the head of a Colorado company that helps develop outdoor adventure businesses are coming to Memphis this month as part of the process of rethinking the 36-year-old Mud Island Mississippi River Museum.

Leslie Koch, formerly president of the Trust for Governors Island, and Paul Cummings, president of Strategic Adventures of Littleton, Colorado, will be in town July 16-18.

Their visits come as the museum closed early for the river park season at the end of the Fourth of July holiday.

The season continues at the Mud Island River Park but with the Fourth of July holiday, the park’s Mississippi River museum closed early for the season as the Memphis River Parks Partnership evaluates how to modernize it and better connect it with the rest of the park. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Memphis River Parks Partnership president Carol Coletta said the museum review is turning into an exploration of the museum’s connection to larger changes elsewhere in the river park that MRPP manages and operates for the city.

“Today’s technology is not even a consideration in telling the story of the Mississippi through the museum today,” Coletta said. “That’s a place where I think we could really do some work that might not require a lot of physical work but could be really exciting early work. We’re thinking. We’re listening.”

Koch will be the featured guest at a July 17 public meeting at 4 p.m. at Beale Street Landing to discuss the museum and river park.

Governors Island is a former U.S. Army and Coast Guard military base accessible only by boat. It was transferred to New York City and the state in 2003. Part of it opened to the public in 2014. Two years later more of the island, known as the Hills on Governors Island, opened to the public.

The boats in Mud Island’s river museum were docked on a darkened imaginary and air-conditioned river over the Fourth of July holiday. Despite the air conditioning, the Riverwalk outside the museum beckoned with its tiny current and the promise of some minor wading in the Gulf of Mexico model on the southern end of the river park.

“Quite frankly, the museum as much as we might wish it was otherwise, the museum touches far fewer people than does say the walk bridge,” Coletta said, referring to the pedestrian bridge across the Wolf River Harbor with a monorail running beneath it.

The walkway is getting a mural treatment this summer as one of several immediate fixes or tweaks including alterations to a fountain in the Lake Pontchartrain part of the Riverwalk scale river model to make it more conducive to wading in the water.

“When you start to make changes in a museum there are a lot of considerations where you start to need advice from museum pros,” Coletta said. “We felt like we don’t need small tweaks in the museum. What we really need to do is reconsider how you tell the story.”

That includes incorporating more and diverse experiences from Native-American and African-American history and culture specifically.

A museum studies team from the University of Memphis also is assisting in the effort.

Cummings’ Strategic Adventures works with “adventure operators” – outdoor attractions that include zip lines, hiking trails, river excursions and camping.

Cummings started the company after being recreation director of a Colorado resort.

The area is one that was explored recently by Andy Cates of Memphis-based RVC Outdoor Destinations. RVC proposed a set of outdoor attractions including camping areas and recreational activities similar to what the company does in other natural settings including at Catherine’s Landing in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Pine Mountain in Georgia.

The RVC proposal and a planned renovation of the amphitheater by Branson-based Mansion Entertainment and Media LLC were finalists in a city selection process for development of the park.

Ultimately, the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland walked away from the two recommendations, which would have required some funding by the city. Strickland said later he favored redevelopment of the park that kept more of its basic features and approach.

A year ago, Studio Gang of Chicago presented a concept plan of the Memphis riverfront that included the addition of an aquarium for the southern end of Mud Island River Park and a pedestrian bridge across the harbor connecting the park with a new riverfront Memphis Brooks Museum of Art between Union and Monroe avenues.

Studio Gang based its plans on more than a dozen riverfront projects carried out over several years.

The aquarium proposal is an adaptation of one proposed for the Pyramid before it was repurposed to a Bass Pro Shops store with other attractions.

Coletta said she is reviewing many plans for Mud Island made over that same period of time.

“There’s been many plans for Mud Island and I’m trying to just take a look at that and see what are the ideas that we’ve either paid for or have been contributed over time that we can learn from,” she said. “We’re not starting at square one by any means on thinking about Mud Island. Many smart people have looked at it before.”

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