Behind the Headlines – November 16, 2018

Behind the Headlines – November 16, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible and part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – The accelerating
transformation of the Riverfront, tonight on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, President
and Executive Editor of the Daily Memphian. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Carol Coletta, president and CEO of the
Memphis River Parks Partnership. Thanks for being here again. – Glad to be here. – So you, as we tape this is, which is basically a week ago, you are about to open a
number of new features and you got big,
you brought some news with a big donation from
the Hyde Family Foundation which has supported so
many parks and green spaces and other things in the
city, but talk about maybe what has opened, this
new, this first new feature and how that has set the
stage for what’s to come. – Yeah, if you think
about what most of us think of as the
Riverfront, it’s the river from Jefferson to maybe Georgia
or Carolina on the south. So you know, it’s a big
expanse of riverfront that neighbors the
core city, right? The core downtown. So we are opening a five-mile
trail along the riverfront that will connect finally
the Wolf River Greenway on the north end of Mud
Island all the way down to Big River crossing. We’ve never had that trail. It’s the most obvious
trail in the city, right? – It’s funny that
it’s very significant in part.
– And it’s the last one. – Exactly, because
it’s been talked about. I’ve lived in Memphis
24 years and I remember debates about this
when I moved here. – Right. – And over the past
five and ten years. Debates about why
wouldn’t there be. Study after study that
came forward that you know, some people sort of
cynically said oh yeah we spent X thousand
dollars for a study that said put a trail along
a beautiful riverfront and so how did
you get that done? – Well in part, the
pieces were there and so part of this is
just joining up the pieces, finding the connection
points among those pieces. Some of it is new
and it’s interesting. It’s a collaboration of funders. The Hyde Family Foundation
provided funding for some of those
connections and the signage that was very necessary
to doing the trail. The city of Memphis Department
of Housing and Community Development did the part
on the trail that goes from the coast guard along the
west side of the flood wall which a lot of people
have never seen. It’s really stunning. And so along that part
of the trail down to the Tennessee Welcome
Center to the south and then the Community
Redevelopment Agency came in and did some invitations on the east end of A.W.
Willis Bridge over Mud Island to connect it better to Uptown. So ultimately, what we want
to have is a great connection among all of the
neighborhoods along the river as well as between two
of our major trails now as Wolf River Greenway, you know, sort of
roars to completion and Big River Crossing
now just got better with the paved trails at,
you know, in Big River Trails over in Arkansas, it’s just, it really is a magnificent
natural resource for Memphis, not only for Memphians, but
also for visitors to Memphis since there’s more
recreation travel. – And just to clarify for people
who maybe aren’t as close. We write about it a lot and
you obviously are very close and have been, Big River
Crossing is the Harahan Bridge, the old bridge as a lot
of people refer to it and the crossing over
there to Arkansas over by Church of the River
and back in Martyrs Park and so on and Wolf River
Greenway reaches all the way from the, eventually
all the way out to what, Ghost River.
– Yeah. Just imagine that. – It’ll connect all along
the Wolf River through parks and so on and
various sections of open, but a what, a $40 million plan
that we’ve talked about here. You’re not directly
involved in that. – No. – That’s not on your purview. – No, but we very much
support it and connect to it. – Yeah. – And I think all
these connections make every single
piece more valuable. – Yeah. That, this opening
this green path that you just talked about, that is sort of
oddly significant given how long it’s
been talked about and how hard it was to
pull the pieces together and in part, you described
that because you talked about in just talking about
that five mile trail, you named four or five
different entities who had to come together
on that which is often seems to be the
case with pulling these kinds of
projects together. That is just a first
very visible step and a whole lot of things
are about to happen. So you have a plan of what,
$50 to $70 million. Is that what you’re
looking for in investments in a whole range of things
and maybe what we’ll end up doing is kind of walk you
through where you are with all the various parks from Tom Lee Park to
updates on what people think of is is the Mud
Island River Park and so on, but give the overall of this
$50 to $70 million plan. – Well again, if you, just to
say River Line is the first piece of this, of this new
bit of work we’re doing. I say bit of work. It really is the heart
of the Riverfront and the heart of Downtown. Thus the heart of our city. So think about, we have the
River Line that connects it all. We have a new what
we call River Garden. It is in the old
Mississippi River park, formerly Jeff Davis Park
that runs to the west side of Riverside drive from
Jefferson to Court. So it’s at the north
end of what we think of as the Riverfront. That is, has been
transformed into what we call River Garden. That is, I will tell you,
it sets a new standard for what we think of as
public space in Memphis. It is just a beauty. It’s a one block park. It’s really sweet. It’s right on the harbor. So from that park,
you are both looking across the harbor
into Mud Island, but you’re also looking
straight down the river. You can actually see
how all of the rivers join together from that
park, which I hadn’t realized until we started building it,
but it is an absolute beauty. It has all native plants, plants that will bloom again and again. So we have fields, we have
this wonderful pavilion which leads to this
observation nest that again gives you a view straight down the harbor and onto the river. You can see all
the way to the dock and beyond the Tom Lee Park. We have hammocks underneath. We have a pavilion for dining. – And all this is free
and open to the public. – Free and open to the public. It is really beautiful.
– Right. – And we have hawk. We have our own hawk. Honestly, I saw him this week. – Was that planned or did it turn out there was a hawk there. – Apparently hawks
have used, ’cause we’re in the big flyway, right,
the Mississippi River flyway, this hawk is ginormous and
decides to sit in this tree at the south end of the
park so when you see him, you cannot miss him.
– Right. So you, and taking over
this and people who maybe aren’t, again,
as close to this, there was the Riverfront
Development Corporation which developed
Beale Street Landing and had control I
believe of Tom Lee Park and ultimately had the
authority for a period of time over Mud Island River Park. Let’s switch, so your
organization is really the successor or the
transformation of that. Is that a fair way to put
that of the Riverfront, RDC as people might remember it. Let’s talk about Mud Island. What, I mean, it is
closed right now? Is that correct? Closed for the winter.
– No. – Not Mud Island
but the River Park and the museum and
the amphiteater. We almost have to break it down and the monorail, the track
that goes over the train, let’s break down the
various pieces of what’s going on with what
a lot of people, when they say Mud Island, they really think Mud
Island River Park. – They do and Mud
Island River Park, we decided this summer, that
we would treat it like a park. So you can walk over to
Mud Island all year round. You can walk into it,
you can walk through it, but we’ve closed
down for the season the museum and any food and– – The big, not pool, but–
– Yeah. All that, we have to drain
that or else it cracks. So we drain that for
the winter, but still, what’s interesting
about Mud Island is you can still walk
it, bike it, you know, you can use the scooter.
– Model of the River, all that– – Yeah, now it doesn’t
have water in it, but you can all the way
to the southern tip. I saw people walking
there today actually. So it still acts as a
park like any other park. You can go in it freely,
you can move around in it and so that is still an
asset and we see runners and bikers and pedestrians
use that all the time. – What is next then? Will those amenities
open up in the spring or will they be renovated or?
– Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. They will open up and
they were freshened up. I mean the museum for instance
was freshened up this summer. Closed for a couple of weeks
and reopened and which felt lighter and fresher than
it had felt in 40 years. It was great. So and there is more
to come on Mud Island. We think that Mud Island
can be, ought to be, it’s a very special place. You’re sitting out in the
middle of Mississippi River. I mean you know, it’s pretty
great and with the lighting of both bridges, you’ve
got this great view, you’re really close. I mean it’s in your foreground. So how.
– But the facility itself, anybody out there would
say it’s pretty dated even from some of the
areas you’re talking about. When you look at it, it
feels dated, it looks dated. – Well, yeah and
the funny thing is, I think Mud Island
from a distance, actually looks less inviting
than it is once you get there. – ‘Cause there’s
a big facing wall. – Yeah, yeah.
– It seems far away. It’s removed.
– It feels very brutalist and so forth, but when
you’re over there, I think there’s really
some beautiful spaces. I mean for instance,
the grove of trees that has grown up on the
west side, the river side of the amphitheater is
absolutely stunning. I mean very beautiful
mature trees. So all I would say
is that most people in Memphis I find have very nostalgic feelings
about Mud Island. You know, we all went
there at one time and so we sort of, there’s
something to love about it, there was a sweetness about
it, but people are restless about what it oughta
be for the future. – I would actually say
there’s this nostalgia tinged with disappointment.
– Yes, I agree. – It never achieved, it
was one of those things that getting kind
of off-track here, but it was one of those things
that went back to a feeling in Memphis that you couldn’t,
that big projects went wrong. People would say that about,
when I moved to Memphis, people would talk about how
the Pyramid was supposed to have a roller coaster
and it was supposed to be all these great things and
it actually was kind of okay and they would say
the same about Mud Island and as other projects started
up, say the green line, the transformation
of Shelby Farms, Overton Park, you
know, all these things that we have been
talking about downtown, people would constantly on
the show and in reporting we would do, they
would refer to well, but, you know, Mud Island or
well, but the Pyramid, right? And so what can be done to
kind of, with Mud Island, to erase that history of
a bit of disappointment into updated or is that
just its own sort of planning process that’s
gonna take more time? – It’s a really interesting
question because you know, I don’t want to get too wonky. – We can, it’s
Behind the Headlines. – Oh okay.
– You can do it. – It’s about 40
years old, right? And it was, I have to tell you, I was there when Mud
Island was built. Mud Island was built to
be Bicentennial Park. You know this?
– I did not know that. – There you go. A bit of Memphis history. It was supposed to be a $21
million bicentennial park dedicated to the history and folklore of the
Mississippi River. Can you tell I made a few
speeches about it years ago? And as the expense grew, the timeline was lengthened
for building, for construction. Costs went up and
as it lengthened, the program didn’t
change architecturally, but the programming and the
promotion of it changed. And so it was sold in
the end as a theme park, but it was never
designed as a theme park and so you have these sort
of two conflicting visions of Mud Island from the get go. Now fast forward or slow
forward 40 years later, you’ve got aging
infrastructure that really has not been, I mean
it’s a city asset. We don’t own the assets
as the partnership, right? The 501c3 that we
run doesn’t own it, but we maintain
it, we operate it. So we’re operating on 40 year
old, you know, infrastructure and nobody has an appetite
to renew the infrastructure because of the program, right? Nobody believes in the program that the assets were
built to support. Thus, you have to say
is there something you can layer on to
asset as it exists or at some moment, is there
a reason to radically change the asset, right,
alter the asset, which we know is gonna
cost a whole lot of money. We think we may
have an interesting three to five year holding
plan for the island and we’re working on
that now, but we’ll see. – Are you gonna talk
about or that’s still? – I’m not because there’s
still too many unknowns and last thing I want to
do is promise something we can’t deliver, but there
are a number of people. – That’s never happened
about the riverfront before. – Yeah, right, well okay. But there are a number of
people who have advanced ideas in the recent past and now
again because the excitement of the Riverfront is growing
and people who you know, have ideas are now feeling
like well wait a minute, maybe we could
bring this forward. Maybe now the time is right. So we’re listening
to those ideas, we’re working with some folks. We’ll see what we
can come up with. – Let’s shift down to
to Tom Lee Park, the big park opened where
Memphis in May takes place. You’ve got, I think you’ve
hired architects, right? Is that correct?
– Yes. – For Tom Lee Park.
– Yes. – And looking at some of the
plans which are on your website and some of the ideas,
there’s a lot of criticisms of the space that’s just sort
of a plain wide open space. There’s not a lot of shade so
in the summer it’s very hot. There aren’t really
amenities there particularly. I mean there’s a little bit,
but not a lot of amenities whether it’s playgrounds
or a band shell or whatever could go in there
so what happens next with that big expanse? – Well, let me jump
back one minute. – Sure. – ’cause you skipped five
blocks of Riverfront. – Yes, okay. – With a historic
cobblestone landing. – Okay, sure. – And I just think it’s
important for people to know. – Yeah.
– That project is funded. It’s starting. It should start about, we
think first quarter next year and all of those cobblestones
will be, you know, all the holes and patches
and there’s no edge to it so the cobblestone keeps
slipping into the water. The utility poles
stick up everywhere. All those utilities
will be put underground. All the cobblestones will
be patched and renewed so that our, the largest,
we have the largest historic cobblestone landing in
the country and I think we will be, all of a sudden
instead of being this kind of like really ugly
five block long patch of prime real estate, all
of a sudden, that gets fixed and it becomes a connector
which is really exciting. – Let’s stick with
that for a second. It gets patched, which
again is one of those things that have been talked about
for as long as I can remember. – Yeah I know. – What would happen
with the cobblestone. – And patch sounds bad, but I
mean replacing cobblestones. – Yeah, and will
there be amenities? Will there be paths,
will there be trees? What, besides patching,
what’s going on there? – Well what it makes possible
is activity at the foot of the cobblestones
when we do this work. So that’s really important
because that begins to activate the harbor
in an exciting way. I mean think about it. We’ve got a still water
harbor that you can go out, I mean even a novice
can kayak, paddleboard, do all kinds of
activity on the water, but we, it just goes unused. Why would you leave a
major water resource at your city’s
front door unused? So I think that’s
an exciting part. The other part that’s
exciting is at the top of the cobblestones today, there is a cobblestone
walk way, right? There’s a sidewalk. It’s pretty narrow and
now with the introduction of scooters and bikes,
it’s just simply does not accommodate that
kind of traffic we’re getting which the traffic’s great,
but we need, you know, more of a promenade
to connect it. So that’s another thing
we’ll be working on is how do you make a much more generous walkway
along the whole… now that doesn’t sound
very sexy, right. Connections never do. – Well neither did
the green line. – Neither did the green
line and I think that’s why we always undervalue them
when we’re planning them and talking about them
and then you know, once they’re done,
we’re all like well duh. – And so you say funded. How is it funded? – It was funded by TDOT money, the Tennessee Department
of Transportation with transportation dollars
and the city of Memphis. – City of Memphis, not private funding
on the cobblestones. – No, no.
– Okay. – City of Memphis
has to provide, to make the state funds
work, the city had to provide I think a 1 to 10 match.
– I got you. – It’s great. – 90% coming from the state
and 10% from the city. – It’s a great
deal to the city. Now, Tom Lee Park. – We’ll move down
to Tom Lee Park. No, that’s great. We’re skipping over
Beale Street Landing which I do want to come back to, but let’s just talk
about Tom Lee Park. What kind of changes
are being discussed? – Yeah, well Tom Lee Park
is a bit of a stranded asset at the moment, right and not
only is it flat as a pancake with very little
shade, it’s also, it doesn’t feel joined up with
the rest of Downtown, right? So it doesn’t make
the real estate, the adjacent real estate
valuable in the way it should because of the lack of
connections again, right? – Valuable in terms
of dollar value or valuable as sort of amenity? – Well both because amenities
do have dollar value. And what I mean, so the
best amenities to build in a downtown area,
you want things that people want to use everyday like Memphians want
to use everyday. When they use it everyday,
they want to live near it. When they want to live near it,
then they want to work near it. So that’s where you get
the real, you know, juice, is to create something
that is used everyday or weekly, regularly by locals. So we, you know, we believe
that’s the kind of resource Tom Lee Park has to be. We’re looking at it
from bluffs to banks. We’ve commissioned Studio
Gang, which did the Memphis Riverfront concept
to be the lead firm on that. The good news about Studio
Gang is they see this asset very much as part of
a much larger picture of the Riverfront and
of Downtown and of south Memphis and north Memphis. So they look at this
asset in context, in a context that maybe just
a park designer would not. They have brought
on Scape Studio. Scape Studio is a landscape
architecture firm. They will be doing a
giant amount of work because in the end,
this is a park, but it’s much more than a park. It’s a civic, it’s a
major civic statement. It’s the first thing a lot of people see when
they enter Memphis. So that, the timeline
on that is we are, we’ve announced the
firms, they are at work. We’ve seen about two to three
weeks of work on their part and just the early
look is super exciting. I think they’re headed
in the right direction and the right direction
is to join this up, you know, up the
bluff, make you know, so you don’t have these
stairs to nowhere, right, and you’ve got ways to
go up and down the bluff. – Well and it’s not
even stairs to nowhere. It’s stairs to a very, very–
– Busy, yeah. – Busy and to four lanes
where people are driving very fast.
– Very fast. – Typically into
work late or out. There’s kind of a parkway
kind of situation, coming down a hill.
– Expressway situation. – Yeah basically. You’re coming off
the expressway, down one of the few hills,
major hills in Memphis. What are the plans
there in terms, there was an effort to
go down to two lanes and try that out some years ago. It was met with mixed reactions. Is that on the tables, changing the traffic flow of
that, Riverside Drive? – Well most major cities in
the country, in the world, have realized that river
fronts have better uses than to carry fast moving cars. Not to say they
shouldn’t carry any cars, but fast moving
cars on a waterfront does not increase the value of the waterfront of the
adjacent property. There are two pieces of
evidence that I think are really important. One is the study of the
results of that test you just mentioned because
that test was very abrupt. There was no design involved. It was just close the
west side of the median on Riverside Drive,
pinch it down to two lanes and see what happens
And three things happened. It’s interesting. One is traffic
still moved faster than the speed
limit on two lanes. Two, there was no discernible
increase in traffic throughout downtown so
it’s not like you reduced the traffic and
created traffic jams, and three, accidents
increased slightly, but the severity plunged
because it was more like a backend, you know,
kind of situation where it was more of a
tap than the big accidents you were having when cars
were moving at high speed. So that’s one piece of evidence
that gives us suggestions about what could
happen in the future. If you make changes, go ahead. – Yeah well, just with
the few minutes left, the other big part when we talk about Tom Lee Park
is Memphis in May. So the music festival,
the barbecue championship, you know, they dominate,
pretty much take over the park for what, a month or so or
month plus for all those events. Are they, how do you make
plans for Tom Lee Park that incorporate
Memphis in May or does Memphis in May go
somewhere else? – I hope Memphis in May
doesn’t go anywhere else. We’ve been working, I don’t
wanna speak for Memphis in May. They can speak for themselves. – Yeah, correct. – Well let me say that we have,
we met with Memphis in May early, we went through a series
of design discussions with Memphis in May to understand
what their needs were. Their specifications were for the Music Fest as
well as Barbecue. We did early designs to show
how those needs could be met and again, we’re still
working with Studio Gang, they did that work
with Memphis in May. They are working again to
make sure that the needs are not only met, but exceeded
but you can still have a great park the other
50 weeks of the year when Memphis in May is
not in the park and so I really don’t believe there
is a choice to be made. You know, ooh do we
serve Memphis in May or ooh, do we serve citizens who want to use
the other 50 weeks. I think what we have to
design for is meeting both and making great festival
grounds and a great park and I think we can do it. – Just, a couple minutes
left, Beale Street Landing. How many, another project that sort of disappointed in some
ways, you know, it took longer than people thought, but
there are a whole lot of tour ships or boats, river
boats coming in there. Where does that stand?
– And they’re increasing. – And they’re increasing.
– And they’re increasing and you know, you’re seeing
now some more contemporary river-going boats
which is great. We also have a huge
number of excursion boats, you know, the
Memphis Queen Line, both of which are important
to creating activity. We also hae, by the way, a
very successful green roof and a great splash pad that is used by families
every single day. What’s not, what never
worked in Beale Landing is what’s underneath
the green roof. It feels kind of subterranean. It feels tunnel-like and
trying to figure out what– – The restaurant, they
had never been able to pull off a restaurant there. – No and I think
that’s not because we didn’t have the
right restaurant or the right, you know,
golf cart and all the things have been tried
because really good, I mean Patrick and
Denny Riley tried it, and they’re two of the best. So I think what we
need to do is reimagine what’s underneath the
green roof, reconsider that and think about what
new uses work there. – Very briefly, 15 seconds. There are, a bunch of boat
ships, parked in the harbor, some of them kind
of junky-looking by I think most estimations, some of them are still
working and owned. Is there plans for getting
those out of the harbor? – We are, Memphis
Queen Line, those are owned by Memphis Queen Line. They are cleaning up now and yes, we’ll get there. – Okay. Thank you Carol, thank
you for being here. Thank you for joining us.
Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

Author:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *