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VOL. 133 | NO. 105 | Friday, May 25, 2018

TDZ Expansion Seen As Catalyst for 'Public Realm' Work

By Bill Dries

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In the five weeks since the Riverfront Development Corporation became the Memphis River Parks Partnership, Greenbelt Park on Mud Island and Martyr’s Park on the Memphis mainland have gotten some rehabbed park benches. The bench work includes the Bluffwalk as well as work on the RiverLine trail that runs behind the flood walls on the other side from the Pyramid.

The partnership is off to a basic but fundamental start with a goal of showing Memphians by the river for the summer that the riverfront is changing.

The pace of that change got a big boost this past week when the state Building Commission, meeting in Nashville, approved the city’s broader use of sales tax revenue generated in the Downtown area through the Tourism Development Zone.

The zone itself covers the same geographic area. But the sales tax revenue can now be used for riverfront redevelopment and a long-discussed redevelopment of Mud Island River Park in particular.

“This is all of that,” city housing and community development division director Paul Young Wednesday, May 23, said the day after the state panel’s decision. “Improving the public realm is at the fore of what we want to see happen. When we talk about the riverfront we are talking about Tom Lee Park and Memphis River Parks (Partnership) has done a lot of work to try to push some of those projects forward.”

There could be some more visible changes to Tom Lee Park once Saturday’s 901Fest and Great American River Run end the Memphis In May International Festival’s 2018 edition.

MRPP president Carol Coletta has said she is talking with leaders of the festival about changes to the park that would likely include more trees among other things.

Much of the immediate attention this week was on two parts of the overall riverfront concept plan that will likely be funded with a majority of privately-raised donor and philanthropy money – an aquarium on the southern end of Mud Island and a new Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on the riverfront between Union and Monroe Avenues.

The permission to use sales tax revenues generated Downtown for the riverfront in general starts to answer a basic question about each of those undertakings.

“Is it financially feasible for these projects to take place?” is how Young framed it.

“With projects like the aquarium, we will be trying to identify is there private money that is willing to invest on that project in particular,” he said. “With the Brooks Museum, the Brooks is already looking at fundraising around this project. Now they have a little more assurance that the city will be able to participate in the project. It will help them in their fundraising,”

The city funding for both would not be the bulk of the financial lift, but it would be a catalyst.

“On the aquarium side, I think it is the more speculative of the two projects,” Young said. “Whether or not the aquarium happens there will be improvement to the public realm on Mud Island.”

The group pitching the aquarium project is the Memphis architecture firm archimania and Andover, Massachusetts architect Peter Chermayeff, who specializes in the design and construction of aquariums around the world.

Chermayeff and archimania were involved in an aquarium venture proposed for the Pyramid before the city settled on Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

Brooks Museum director Emily Ballew Neff said in November the earliest a new museum on the riverfront could open is 2022 and it would likely come with a $110 million price tag that includes an endowment.

Alan Crone, a special advisor to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said any city funding toward the venture would be “the last money in.”

Young said what happens next with the museum depends on the success Neff and the Brooks board have with donors. But the city already has a role in the preparation of the site on Front Street between Union and Monroe that is owned by the city.

“We will start the process of looking at other options for the fire station,” he said of the city fire station on the block next to a parking garage. “We’ll be looking at what it’s going to cost to remove the existing structure – the parking garage and the fire station that is currently located there and what it will take from the TDZ to clear that site to make way for the Brooks Museum.”

Meanwhile, the Memphis City Council has already approved money for the city to buy a site at Danny Thomas Boulevard and Adams Avenue, next to the city’s maintenance facility for fire vehicles and equipment, as the site of the fire station that will replace the one at Union and Front.

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