Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Island Dreams

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 11:08 AM

When I think about relaxing on the island, I'm not thinking of Mud Island. But maybe one day, with some of the improvements being discussed right now, I will.

Architects from Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) presented three alternatives for an island land-use plan last night at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. Possibilities included a pedestrian bridge, a ferris wheel, a skatepark, play areas, restaurants, and even a continuation of Poplar Avenue over the Wolf River Harbor.

Each of the three alternatives designated portions of the island for civic use, culture, green space, and recreation and entertainment, instead of designating specific uses such as an aquarium or skatepark.

The first alternative will extend Greenbelt Park south and have a lot of green space and areas for recreation. That might mean a skatepark, a playground, or a carousel. There would also be steps down to the river and improvements to the amphitheater.

This alternative would mean minimal public investment (minimal is a relative term here) and the impact, though it would pay for itself, would also be minimal (again, relative).

The second alternative also extends Greenbelt Park south but would re-align the road closer to the Mississippi River. There would be recreational uses around the marina, as well as possibly some restaurants, retail, or even residential space. This plan also includes a skatepark near the tip of Mud Island and a ferris wheel where someone could see the view both north and south of the Mississippi River.

"Right now, there's not a lot of way to enjoy that boating atmosphere," said Steve Auterman from LRK.

Alternative two, which would mean more public and private investment, also includes a pedestrian bridge near the Beale Street Landing to the tip of Mud Island.

"As a tourist, you could walk from Beale Street to the island instead of getting in your car and driving three miles," Auterman said.

The third alternative also extends Greenbelt Park, but it would also fill in the current marina to allow Poplar Avenue to cross the harbor. A new marina would line the length of the island. Alternative three is the most urban of the alternatives, with a ferris wheel, a museum, and more restaurants and retail.

"Wolf River becomes a harbor in the middle of the city," Auterman said, "not on the edge of the city."

The third alternative would have about the same amount of impact as the second, but would require more private dollars and less public ones.

There were some questions about how the uses should be divided. Skatelife Memphis founder Aaron Shafer asked that a skatepark shouldn't be segregated from the rest of the park's uses.

"We're trying to promote skateboarding as a family friendly activity," he said. "Twenty years ago, we were punks. Now we've grown up."

Other citizens were concerned about the reliance on retail or restaurants since the two nice restaurants on the island are not open to the public, only for private events.

Auterman said the team had talked to the restaurants' management.

"The success of the restaurants is dependent on: Would they be open year-round? Since the park is not open year-round and it is closed after a certain point in the day, you're limited in the amount of clientele you can have," he said.

The Riverfront Development Corporation should have all this up on its website soon, but there is also a second public meeting tomorrow, Thursday, October 1st, at 5:45 p.m. at Harbor Landing. But the plan is just the first step.

"The planning team from LRK will take the input from the meetings and from the website and bring in the financial realities and then present it to the RDC board," said Benny Lendermon, head of the Riverfront Development Corporation. From there, the plan will go to the city administration and then to the City Council for funding.

"If the economy is good and money is not as tight, we'll probably do more projects. If the economy is bad, we might have a hard time getting a project approved," Lendermon said.

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