Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shelby Farms Thinks Big

But do park designers have a feel for what Memphians are really like?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In the apt words of Shelby Farms consultant Alex Garvin, the idea is to turn an ordinary park into something extraordinary. The challenge is to make people care.

A lot of the things proposed in the new and improved Shelby Farms Park are already there: wide-open spaces, walking paths, roads for cruising, fishing, buffalo, canoeing, gardening, disc golf, dog-training, bike trails, picnic tables, small boats, a conference room. Or they've been tried: concerts, races, horseback riding, seasonal displays. Or you can do them better somewhere else: soccer, tennis, outdoor basketball, fishing. Or the developers of the riverfront and Mid-South Fairgrounds have similar ideas.

The do-nothing option is not bad. There are no money pits or eyesores in Shelby Farms — which is more than some critics are likely to say about the bolder parts of the three designs on display at the main library and at shelbyfarmspark.org.

So, from a supportive but jaded Memphian who remembers the openings of Mud Island, The Pyramid, Patriot Lake, Shelby Show Place Arena, and Agricenter International, here are a few suggestions you probably won't see anytime soon.

The Willingham Express. Named for former Shelby County commissioner John Willingham, who once talked for 56 straight hours about the missing MATA bus station at FedExForum's parking garage, this park shuttle totes visitors and their bikes for free. MATA provides the services of five of the 4,978 buses in its parking lot on North Watkins and closes the Madison Avenue trolley line and gives riders free cars instead.

The Welch Driving Range and Pitch-and-Putt. Named for developer Jackie Welch, who proposed selling off part of Shelby Farms along Germantown Parkway and putting in, among other things, a driving range to raise money to improve the rest of the park. The proposal received exactly one enthusiastic response — mine. I hereby donate 50 used golf balls to the cause.

White Boy's House of Games. Features in-line skating, skateboarding, BMX course, paddle tennis, and NASCAR worship to the musical accompaniment of Memphis party bands of the Sixties.

The Great Memphis Yard Sale and Swap Shop. The problem with high-end designers is that they are high-end designers. Their work would be improved by spending a few weekend afternoons visiting yard sales in Frayser, Whitehaven, Cordova, Midtown, and Germantown. If this recession keeps up, the bargains will be unbelievable.

Sierra Club Hug-a-Tree. Featuring an actual tree transplanted from Overton Park's Old Forest for the zoo expansion. Wrap your arms around this baby and you'll be green in no time. Add on to the one million new trees one designer has already proposed. A million is an abstraction; 1,000,001 is a real number.

Whac-A-Tree. Inspired by the popular game Whac-A-Mole, customers line up for a chance to take an ax or chainsaw to an actual tree, while a member of the Sierra Club hurls verbal abuse.

MPD Free Bike Exchange. This one's for everyone in Memphis who has ever had a bike stolen, which is to say everyone in Memphis. The bikes are free, and the supply is regularly supplemented by the Memphis Police Department's impound lot. The catch is that they are painted dorky colors and have big-booty seats and sissy handlebars.

Baby-Bass Pro Lake. Face it, The Pyramid is too hard to adapt. But Bass Pro polishes its tarnished image in Memphis by stocking new lakes and donating lures and worms to any fisherman under the age of 12 or over the age of 65.

Memphis Homebuilders Street-Soccer Complex. In honor of the Mexican laborers who built 98 percent of the homes in Shelby County in the last 15 years, this is no Mike Rose Fields. The fields are irregular size with patches of bare ground, uniforms and mothers are banned, and the official language is Spanish. If you can't speak it, you can't play. Best tacos in Memphis at the concession stand.

Design-On-A-Dime Gardens. One dime gets you and three of your friends land rights to a tenth of an acre garden plot. Free mulch, seeds, and use of tools. HGTV meets American Idol when park visitors pick the gardens of the year and winners get a free round-trip plane ticket to the famous garden of their choice.

Joey's Hard Luck Hardcourts. Named for Memphis Tiger Joey Dorsey, these outdoor courts have windscreens, lights, and decent nets. Tiger basketball players put on dunking contests and free-throw shooting clinics. Three out of 10 usually takes it.

Bloggers Paint-Ball Pit. Hosted by blogger Thaddeus Mathews, players are divided into teams according to which group they hate the most — blacks, whites, liberals, or Willie Herenton. No blood, no foul. Masks mandatory to assure anonymity.

Kustoff Resigns

United States attorney David Kustoff, who oversaw most of the Tennessee Waltz prosecutions, announced his resignation Tuesday, effective May 16th.

Kustoff, a Republican who was formerly active in Shelby County politics, became U.S. attorney for western Tennessee in March 2006. He plans to join his former law firm, Kustoff and Strickland, in partnership with Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland.

"Personally, the timing is right," Kustoff said in an interview. "Recently, I have had people across the community ask me if I would seek to be renominated after the presidential election. I came to the conclusion that I would not. I can leave on my own terms and go back and practice law."

Kustoff said he and his wife are expecting their second child in three or four weeks.

"There is nothing more to it than that," he said.

Kustoff did not try cases himself. However, he was frequently in front of news cameras at press conferences announcing indictments and convictions in big federal investigations.

United States attorneys are political appointees and often choose to leave office when a president from the other party is elected.

Kustoff said his resignation should not be interpreted as an indication that he thinks the Democrats are about to take the White House.

"I'm not going to prognosticate anything," he said. "Regardless of who is elected, it will be time for somebody else to serve as United States attorney."

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