Behind the Headlines – April 20, 2018

Behind the Headlines – April 20, 2018


– (female narrator)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Can a comprehensive
plan for the Riverfront finally be executed? Tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of The
Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by
the new President of the Memphis River Parks Partnership, formally the Riverfront
Development Corporation, Carol Coletta,
thank you for being here. – Glad to be here. Along with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with The Memphis Daily News. The name of the Riverfront
Development Corporation which has been around
for quite some time, or actually, this is one of the
first moments where you all have unveiled it, you
took the Presidency, we’re taping this on Tuesday,
but it’s airing on Friday, and so you just
took the job today, is that correct? – I did. 5:01. – [Eric chuckles]
Well congratulations. Let’s talk big picture, then
we’ll dive into all the parts of the river, because I think there
is an interesting dynamic with the Riverfront, that when I say
Riverfront to any given person they think of one or
another part of it. And what, already, see what now,
the partnership has influence over is a much broader, I
believe six miles of parks, and open spaces and so on. Your vision for it
at the highest level; why will this plan, and I’ve
heard you joke about other plans that have been proposed,
why will this plan work? – It’s interesting, we did our
first Riverfront plan in 1924, so we are almost a hundred
years out from the first plan. And there certainly
have been things done along the Riverfront in those years. But what we’ve never done is
taken advantage of the fact that Memphians, together, we own six
miles of Riverfront property. That’s almost unheard
of in American cities. Not only do we
own it, it’s clean. We don’t have to
remediate this land. So when you, what we haven’t
done is we haven’t joined it up and made one
connected Riverfront. We like to say “Six miles, five
park districts, one Memphis.” And that’s what we’re really
going for on the Riverfront. So what Studio Gange, the
Chicago based architecture and design firm did
for the city of Memphis under Alan Crone’s
leadership, last fall, is put together a concept
for the Riverfront for all six miles,
that really make it, it really involves
a series of small, connected, elegant moves, to
join up the Riverfront so that it really can be catalytic
for the City of Memphis. – (Eric)
And what does it take, and as we talk about this,
there’s some renderings and some visions
that Studio Gang, the design firm put together,
I think we just saw one from the Cobblestone area,
which is a kind of, un-exceptional area,
but as they’ve envisioned it, there’s plantings and trees,
and much more activated, and accessible to the public, and that’s true
of all the proposals. So many questions.
One is, how to pay for it. How to pay for all these
things that are being proposed. – Well, first of all, I
think it’s really important to understand that when you say,
“Who will pay for it” what, what this doesn’t include is
some big, magic silver bullet, right, that’s the hundred
million dollar plus project that sits there
on the Riverfront disconnected from
everything else. We are not putting
our eggs in one basket. Again, this is a series of
small, connected, elegant moves along the Riverfront. So if you look at a first
phase of the Riverfront, what we think of as first
phase being Tom Lee Park, a safer, more pleasant,
more beautiful Riverside Drive, Cobblestones,
Mississippi River Park, just north of the
Cobblestones, a boat house, and Wagner Street market. If you look at that
as a first phase, which is a pretty
big first phase, that will make a big
difference to Memphians I think. That’s a $65 million
investment to do all of that. And you know, where you really
get your leverage on projects like this is not the thing, not
the grand gesture that people will visit once or twice a year,
and then later years when the visitor comes to town, but
rather that thing that you’re going to use over and
over and over again. The daily use. Because that’s what
people want to work near, it’s what they
want to live near, and so that’s where you’ve
really got to get the financial and the social leverage. So, and that’s what we have
proposed on the Riverfront. – And people can, I think,
we’ve had Jim Strickland on, and maybe others who’ve talked
about this whole plan for a TDZ, a Tourism Development Zone,
that would, a lot of that money that you’re talking about
would come from that. So it’s tax dollars, right,
sales tax dollars that would otherwise go to the
state stay in Memphis, other cities in Tennessee
have used this to their benefit. I think Chattanooga did a lot
of its Riverfront doing that. There’s private
foundation money, am I correct?
I mean, we’re… – You’re answering the
question I didn’t answer. Thank you Eric. – Yeah, and no, that’s fine, but
you correct me where I’m wrong. And people can go
to your website, and we’ve written about it, Bill’s
certainly written about it, because we’ll have Jim
Strickland on in a couple of weeks and we’ll talk
to him about this, and he’s very quick to say this
is not going to be paid for by some increase in the
property tax dollars, right? – (Carol)
No. No. – I mean that’s, that’s maybe a
question that we’ll get to him in I think two
weeks when he’s on, but it’s not a
$65 million dollar check that the City of Memphis is writing. – No, not at all. This will be a combination
of public and private money. And the public money will, we
anticipate will come from an expansion of the existing TDZ,
the Tourism Development Zone that takes state tax dollars,
that are collected anyway, already being collected
and sent to the state. In this case they
would stay in Memphis, for use by Memphians on a
set of public projects, a set of public and
private partnerships along the Riverfront. – Okay. Bill Dries. – So, do you, in terms
of what gets leveraged, if you have private
money, philanthropic money, that says this is what
we want to do in partnership with this plan, is it the
availability of that that determines kind of the
staging of different parts of what you’re trying to do
with the Riverfront? – Yes, although I think it’s a,
the staging is going to be very important, what you want to do
is do something that Memphians will most enjoy, and most
recognize as the beginning of a transformation
for our Riverfront. I think you want to do something
that’s close to downtown, because, and in the heart
of downtown because that is catalytic to downtown. On the other hand, I think it’s
important to note that the way we’re imagining the Riverfront
extends all the way to South Memphis because we
believe if the Riverfront doesn’t play a catalytic role,
if it doesn’t get us X-plus-plus in terms of its impact,
then it’s really not doing what it needs to do for
the citizens of Memphis, so it needs to increase
the value of living and the quality of life
around both downtown as well as the dis-invested
neighborhoods at the north and the south ends
of our Riverfront. – I’m going to
interrupt Bill, just a second, we will put a map up that shows,
at least part of what you’re talking about stretching
from the tip of Harbor Town, Mud Island, where the
Wolf River Conservancy is– – (Carol)
North end, yep. – (Eric)
And what the viewers will see is, ’cause it’s a small
map, but it’s important. To the right there is the north
tip of Harbor Town where Wolf River Greenway meets,
and then going through downtown it shows the Harahan Bridge
to the left there. So that, just to
give people some scale, and MLK Riverside is
south of the bridge. So that map that shows so much
of what you’re talking about, doesn’t even show
all of it, right? – (Carol)
Doesn’t even show all of it. – (Eric)
Yeah. But just to give people context, back to you Bil. – So, Mud Island River Park opened for the season
this past weekend, and there were a few changes. There are longer hours,
dogs are allowed in the park, and one thing that
caught my eye was the museum. The museum is going to
be open through July, and then you’ll begin,
well, you’ll begin taking a look at the museum at that point. – Yes, it will be opened for
a limited run this season, until July 4th, where we
have the big fireworks display with our friends at the
Convention and Visitors Bureau. And then we’re going
to put it on pause, and we’re going to think about,
along with a number of citizens that we will call
upon, including teenagers, who, after all, own
the future of the town, and say, how do you tell the
story of the Mississippi River. Its history, its folklore,
its ecology, etcetera. How do you tell that
in a 21st-century way. I mean this museum,
I sort of love it. It’s very quaint,
it’s nostalgic, it’s sweet, everybody remembers
a good time they had at the Mississippi River
Museum on Mud Island. But it’s really
time to think about… we still have animatronics.
[laughs] – (Bill)
Yeah. Dioramas… – Yes, exactly,
old-school technology. All of which,
could be incorporated, right, into a new
telling of the story. But there’s been a lot of focus
as you know over the last couple of years on
Mud Island and how people, some of it is hand-wringing,
some of it is trying to re-imagine a whole
new use for the island, there’s been talk
of an aquarium, so we think it’s a great
time to just pause it, and sort of take a breath, and
do a couple of design sprints around what, how
could we tell this story. But when we put the
museum on pause on July 4th, we’re also going to flip the
learning and the opportunity to inquire, to explore
the Mississippi River and its history and its folklore
and its ecology to outdoors. So the programs won’t stop,
they will just resume outdoors, while we think about
what ought to be indoors. – Right, and the musuem
has been talked about as possibly a part
of the aquarium project. Just in the very tentative
discussions so far about it. So is that still the plan or is
that going to be incorporated into whatever happens with it? – Well that’s a great question,
and we don’t know enough about the aquarium, or
whether it will happen, how it will happen, if it did. So I think what we need
to do is make sure that in our initial planning
for Mud Island, we don’t cut off great opportunities
for the future, but we also don’t put it
on pause forever, right. So, we want to continue
to find uses, great uses for the citizens of Memphis
for Mud Island. I was over there on Sunday
when it was really cold. Even with gloves and a hat.
And there were people there. There were lots of people
there enjoying Mud Island, which, so you know it says
something about the lure of being out in the middle
of the Mississippi River. That’s a winner,
that’s a home run, so this year, like you
said, we’re allowing dogs in, we’re open till
sunset, till 8 o’clock, and I think it’s going
to be a whole new experience out there this year. – You talked about the staging
and I think one thing that I think is critical about
what you talked about is, this is not a build it
and the visitors will come and will drop
all of their cash here. Which we’ve certainly
been guilty of in the past. How do you make a sense of
place that includes everyone on, as you said, six miles
of real estate here. – Well the
interesting thing is today, the Riverfront does
include everyone. I mean if you go
to the Riverfront, on any given Sunday,
you’re going to see every shape, every age, every color,
every family grouping on our Riverfront. That’s what makes it so amazing,
I mean it’s this enormous, you know, mixing bowl of people
and I love it for that reason. And you don’t, you
can bring your picnic, you don’t have to pay
any money to get in, it really is public space.
Which I love. So, so what we
have to do, I think, is create a little more
form, a little more shape, a little more shade in
places to give people, you know, different wonderful
experiences while they’re there. But keep in mind, we can’t think
any longer of the Riverfront as being different from downtown. These places have
to be joined up. I would say we can’t
think about the Riverfront different from South Memphis.
Or North Memphis. Look at Uptown, it’s
right there on the Harbor. So we need to start thinking
about how all these things join together, and what we do on the
Riverfront that makes sense on the Riverfront, versus what we
do in downtown or South Memphis or North Memphis
that makes sense. And join it all up and let
people have a great experience, and let it again, be catalytic so that it’s driving value
and quality of life. – Walk through some of the
sections that you’ve talked about, I think we have a map
of the Greenbelt park area that zooms in on what we
were looking at before. And that park,
it’s funny, that’s a park that I go to fairly often. And it’s amazing to me
that people don’t know that park is up there. That on Harbor Town,
and all that, that whole area which is probably some of the
wealthiest homes in Memphis, but also some that aren’t. I mean it’s truly a
mixed use, and it is, as you said, an
incredibly diverse park, that people often, so many
people just don’t know about. Part of the reason
they don’t know about it is that it’s not
very accessible. I mean, you can by car,
but what people will see, I think the blue line in
there is ways in which that park connects
to the rest of downtown, talk about that. I guess, what’s it called, the
Riverline is the name for this line that will connect
all the way through the areas that we’re talking about. – (Carol)
That’s right. We are, one of the projects that we’re
building now, both Memphis River
Parks Partnership and the City of Memphis Housing
and Community Development together are building something
that we call the River Line. That will be a pedestrian and
bike path that will take you from Confluence Park
on the North, which is where the
Wolf River dumps into the Mississippi River, and the
Wolf River Greenline ends at the Mississippi River. So from Confluence Park all
the way down to Greenbelt Park, you can ride on into Mud Island,
to the tip if you want to. But then you can also go over
the A.W. Willis Bridge, circle back around through
the Coast Guard property, and behind the flood wall, one of my favorite places,
so floodwall at the Pyramid, behind the floodwall, come right
out at Tennessee Welcome Center. Go into Mississippi River
Park, which will get under construction June 1st,
it’s going to be a fabulous jewel of a park, come down
Cobblestone Walkway, into Tom Lee Park,
up Asburn-Coppock, around to Martyr’s Park
where you get this gorgeous view of Big River Crossing, and
then over Big River Crossing, and then eventually
on-street to MLK. – (Eric)
Right, and people see that last part there, and I think a lot of people now
have been on Big River Crossing, Harahan Bridge, but a number of
those areas you talked about, I bet the percentage of
Memphians who’ve been down there, walking, on a bike, is
miniscule, right? – (Carol)
Well sometimes they’re there and they don’t know
they’re there. You know, they wouldn’t
know Asburn-Coppock Park, what is that, but they
sort of know the south end of Tom Lee
has a big point, and so… – One area that
there was some concern, there was some consternation,
was last year for much of the summer, Riverside Drive was
closed with a park that had basketball courts,
and places to sit, and some people, not
everyone were upset about that. Is part of this plan… that part of Riverside Drive,
one, will it be closed again, and will it be closed
permanently, and two, what is the vision through all of this
for Riverside Drive. Which is right now
two lanes each way, a relatively fast,
at one point during the Wharton administration it was
closed down temporarily to two lanes,
with some bike paths, it was a little bit
awkwardly executed I think most
people would say. What’s the vision for Riverside? – That’s a great question. Riverside Drive I think
is something that is, it’s an iconic
street in Memphis. The problem is you have an
expressway on the North, an expressway on the South,
both of which dump out into Riverside Drive. Which means people are going,
and they don’t get stopped by a light, if you’re coming
from the South for instance, you don’t get stopped by a light
until you get to Beale Street. Now what that means
is that people are going still at Expressway speeds. Even though the lanes
are a little narrower, they’re going way too fast for,
to allow pedestrians to cross safely from downtown
to Riverfront and back again. So I think our goals should be
to make Riverside Drive more beautiful, make great
view-sheds through Tom Lee Park. You never want to
destroy that view, it’s the Welcome
to Memphis view, right? But you can make it a
prettier view with creating some view-sheds there. Which means you need
some trees and that gives people in the park shade. You want to slow
down the traffic. It will never get
slowed down with signs, it will never get slowed
down with speed tables. You really need to through
design get the speeds lower so you get a safer Riverside Drive,
you get a better connection from downtown to the Riverfront.
And that will be our goal. That to me does not mean
we close Riverside Drive. I want to be clear about that. Look, it’s in all of our
interests to have more people living and working in downtown.
And playing in downtown. So we don’t want to discourage
people from coming downtown. We want them downtown, we
just want them to come in, and once they get
out of their car, be safe and have a
really pleasant experience. – Before I go back to
Bill, we’ll bring up, I think we showed it earlier,
a rendering of the Cobblestone area, the cobblestones,
which now are kind of desolate, hard to get down
there, I don’t know that, you talk about
safety of walking, not so much safety
of anything else, but that’s a view from
downtown towards Mud Island, you also, you see that the
Cobblestone area can be planted and that, just the
beautification and things that you’re talking about, I think
that is a good representation for people of what
you’re discussing. But also there’s access, there’s
a potential pedestrian bridge from downtown
over to Mud Island, something that’s been
talked about in various forms many, many times. Is that a reality in this new
iteration of the Riverfront Development
Corporation and in this plan. – (Carol)
Well, let me defend the Cobblestones a little bit.
You called them desolate. We do have six football fields– – (Eric)
Did I say that? [chuckles] – You did, you did. You’ve said
it twice now. I’m counting. And I just want to say
that I think a lot of people, particularly those
who really value built, physical history, would look at
those cobblestones and say they are an amazing
historic asset for our city. And if you really look
at the cobblestones, I mean yes, six football
fields of cobblestones, that’s a lot. And yes,
on a hot day, they’re hot. But I will also say, they’re
also quite fascinating and there’s
all sorts of patterns. I mean so much so
that Studio Gang, the firm that did the Riverfront
concept is taking cobblestones that we’ve had in storage to
the Venice Biennale this year. And featuring our cobblestones
there in an exhibition called ‘Stone Stories’
in the U.S. pavilion. Which is a very big deal,
they will return them to us in November. And I think they become even
more valuable after having been on international display. So, now let me get
to your question. I think we will have to
negotiate what kind of shade we can put on the cobblestones,
what kind of shade we would want to put on the
cobblestones, given that they are a historic resource,
but I think those are things we should all work
together on. In terms of the
pedestrian bridge to Mud Island. I think there has long been
an interest in exploring the harbor as a lake, right. As a stable body of
water, at a stable level. You know what happens when
the river rises and falls, which it does
50 feet here at Memphis, and that means the
Harbor rises and falls. The river rises, we get all
the debris that people up north, right, have sent our way. So our river becomes not only
full of driftwood and things, that’s great, not so great
when it gets plastic bottles and every other piece
of garbage people have decided to release into the river. So we’d love to have a stable
lake and activate that lake. Whether we can do it, whether we
could do it at a cost that makes sense is still up for grabs. There are ways you could do a
pedestrian bridge to Mud Island, that wouldn’t be as
costly as doing a lake, but those are… but they’re
still working, you know, business including the
U.S. Coast Guard that use the harbor
and need that open, so there’s still
work to be done. That’s not a first phase piece. – Ok, four minutes
left, I’ll go back to Bill. – So, if the
harbor becomes a lake, would the bridge then fuction
as some kind of control on the water level, is that
how that would work? – You’re asking a
non-engineer, don’t ask me. It’s not in phase one, which
means I’ve got my hands full right now, but,
again there are people interested in that,
and we’ll explore it. – Ok. Changes to Tom Lee Park. Do you have
to step carefully there because of Memphis in May
being there? – You have to
step very carefully, and what we said
we want to do, and what we’re committed to
doing is form a partnership with Memphis in May,
we want Memphis in May to be the
greatest festival it can be. That’s good for the
Riverfront, right? That’s good for Memphis. So what we want to do,
and what we’ve been working with Memphis in May
hand-in-glove to do this, on account of the early stages
of thinking about what we do with Tom Lee Park, we brought in festival
consultants who’ve worked on big, outdoor festivals,
to say, how could we one, make a great festival
ground for Memphis in May, cost them less to produce,
give them the infrastructure they need, and help them get
in and out of the park rapidly. Do that,
and provide a great park for Memphians
365 days a year. I think we,
and Memphis in May are now convinced
we can do that. So we’re just about
to complete that work, and that will give us a great
basis for going with the design schematics for Tom Lee Park. – We’ll talk just
[clears throat], couple minutes left,
I mentioned it ealier, is MLK Riverside Park. A park that too many
Memphians have never seen. I think I saw, at
your suggestion once, and it is, I’m now being more
careful with my word choices, it is anything but
a desolated park, but it is isolated. It is one of those parks that
was cut off by the highway, the damage of highways to
cities all over the country. That is one that
really suffered, and it’s just been
suffering from inattention. But it is an absolutely
beautiful park that goes back, it’s of the same era as
Overton Park I believe, and what is, what can be
done to open that park up, make people aware of
it, access to it… Certainly many people
who do go there love it, I’m not saying there
aren’t people who go there, but so many Memphians
don’t know about it. – Well, let me say, most
Memphians have seen it, they just don’t know they’ve
seen it because they’ve driven by it at a high speed and
it’s on the expressway, because unlike
Overton Park, as you said, it did suffer an
expressway going through it. It clipped off the
edge of the park, and as you said,
what now is MLK Park, and Overton Park were the
original farms that were bought by the City of Memphis and
then connected by the Parkway. That’s where the
Parkway system came from. So over the years,
MLK Park has not gotten the love and
attention that it should have. It is a magnificent park
with topography not unlike some in Shelby Forest. It has forest that
is ten minutes on a slow bike
from downtown. – (Bill)
It has hills. – It’s incredible. – (Eric)
Yeah, it has hills. It’s one of- – It has hills. – the most
striking things about it. – Yeah, it’s like,
oh my goodness, who knew there were
hills ten minutes… thank goodness for
Frayser and MLK Park. Hills. So I think what we
are going to look at, and keep in mind, we
don’t manage that park. That park is managed by
the Division of Parks and Neighborhoods by
the City of Memphis. But what we want to do
is, as we say in our name, we want to create partnerships,
and in this case we want a partnership with
the City of Memphis, Maria Munoz-Blanco is all in,
so that we can make a great park for the citizens. – Alright, we’ll do a
whole show on that someday. – (Carol)
We should. – Ok, thank you for being here. Thank you for joining us,
join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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