The last undeveloped waterfront in downtown Memphis suddenly looks like a logging camp after the woods have been clear-cut.
The 21.5-acre site on Mud Island between the Auction Street Bridge and the entrance to Mud Island River Park is directly across from The Pyramid. Until last month, it had survived as a forest through 15 years of development on the island. Then, in about a week, developer Kevin Hyneman, who has owned the property for about two years, cut down almost all of the trees. Now they are littered across the landscape just in time for the opening of the park and the Memphis In May International Festival.
It isn't clear what will eventually happen to the property. In addition to Hyneman, Harbor Town developer Henry Turley and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) have a keen interest in it, and there has been talk of some kind of joint venture. There are actually two sets of plans on file at the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development.
One has been dormant since June 2001 when Hyneman indefinitely postponed a scheduled appearance before the Land Use Control Board. That plan, called Grand Island Planned Development, would split the property into three parts, including a frontage strip of 25 residential lots, 10 acres of "passive recreation" between the road frontage and the Wolf River Harbor, and another parcel for offices, condominiums, and a 10-story hotel which would be twice the height of anything else on the island.
Hyneman's partners in Grand Island are Johnny Earwood and Davis Engineering Company. Hyneman is primarily a builder of low-cost and mid-priced homes in the suburbs, although he has done one subdivision on Mud Island.
"We propose to provide an attractive streetscape in character with, if not superior to, the existing Island Drive streetscape north of the property," wrote Dan Frazier of Davis Engineering in a letter. Hyneman could not be reached for comment before press time.
Grand Island plans drew opposition last year from the RDC and the Center City Commission. The Office of Planning and Development said it would need more information before the plans could be considered for approval.
"The creation of a suburban-style development on this property is not appropriate," wrote RDC president Benny Lendermon in response to Frazier's letter. "The proposed use is extremely shortsighted."
The other plan for the property was approved by the Land Use Control Board in 1999. It changed the zoning from highway commercial to multiple-dwelling residential. It was submitted by the previous owner, Echelon Residential, based in Dallas. Echelon developed the apartments next to AutoZone Park between Union and Madison before selling its Mud Island land to Hyneman. The Echelon at Mud Island plans included some 450 residential units.
Further complicating matters, Echelon submitted its plans at about the same time the RDC was being established as a public-private partnership. The RDC has commissioned a master plan for the riverfront, but it remains to be seen how much of it will be implemented. The Mud Island site shapes up as its first key test.
Hyneman began clearing the property two weeks ago. Virtually all of it was stripped bare except for a few large trees still standing at the edge of the Wolf River Harbor. Lendermon said there were five or six trees along the road frontage that could have stood, but the others probably would have been cut for any large development. The part next to the Wolf River Harbor drops off to well below flood stage and will require at least 20 feet of fill, engineering reports say. A small triangle of land at the north end of the property next to the Auction Street Bridge still has trees on it. It is owned by a group that includesTurley.