Friday, July 20, 2012

Pigging Out on Riverfront Projects

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:59 AM

empress-uscg.jpg
The city's pursuit of riverfront projects, spearheaded by Mayor A C Wharton and go-to guy Robert Lipscomb, looks manic, unsynchronized, and a bit desperate.

The latest play pretty in hot pursuit is the Empress of the North, a white-elephant steamboat replica envisioned as a floating hotel. As reported by Amos Maki of The Commercial Appeal, Wharton said "we have submitted a proposal."

Whoopee. I was reminded of the parental admonition to "clear your plate" before going back to the buffet for more when I was a lad.

Here's the tally of what's on our plate already.

Bass Pro Shops. The latest rendering shows a major makeover of the exterior of the Pyramid, with a band of glass to admit natural light. The fate of the observation deck is unknown. The connection to The Pinch, and what will be developed in the Pinch, is unclear. The interstate connection to Front Street is on the drawing board. The interior construction, including the indoor swamp and hotel, is in the very early stages. The project was first proposed seven years ago. Bass Pro has other megastores in the works in Little Rock and New Orleans. I would bet a bass lure the Pyramid opening is delayed.

Beale Street Landing. Low water forced the American Queen to dock at Greenbelt Park this summer. The dock itself was moved to the cobblestones to allow dredging at the landing. The blockish structure at the top of the hill, trust me, is going to open some eyes. The "floating islands" have yet to be constructed. The usefulness of a boat dock for an occasional steamboat visit is questionable. The relative scarcity of parking concerns the current Memphis boat company. The marriage with Memphis in May will be interesting. The price is $42 million, and the concept is nearly 10 years old, and the opening is supposed to be later this year. The cobblestones work has been pushed back so many times I have lost count.

Pinch District. The connection between Bass Pro and St. Jude Children's Hospital, and the prospective retail anchor for the north end of downtown and the convention center. Forget the colorful handouts and renderings, The Pinch is a small collection of restaurants, condos, blight, and vacant buildings. The convention center and hotel are not part of Phase One of Bass Pro. Nor is funding for it included in the $200 million budget.

Mud Island River Park. Closed half the year. Nice summer concert venue, though.

Tom Lee Park. Too hot in summer. Given to Memphis in May in April and May. Torn up for a few weeks after that. No major structures or big trees because that would cramp Memphis in May activities. Called "the worst riverfront park in the country" by Benny Lendermon of the Riverfront Development Corporation.

Harahan Project. Bike and pedestrian path over the river is slated for 2014 and funding has been secured. Now it needs focus.

Floating hotel. Kitschy. There's one in Chattanooga. Nice place to have a drink on the Tennessee River. But the boat is old, the ceilings low, and the space cramped. The fact that the Empress of the North has been docked for several years and is in custody of the United States Maritime Administration speaks volumes about its viability. And the subsidies that would be required to sustain it.

Add to this, Lipscomb is also point man for the fairgrounds, Overton Square, Triangle Noir, replacement of public housing, and he has two city jobs.

Focus. Finish. Clear your plate.

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