At least 20 different uses — from a zoo to a 400-foot fountain — have been proposed for Mud Island River Park since 1910. Various visions to improve daily attendance have failed to flourish. More than $300 million has been poured into the park, but it hemorrhages $2 million in annual operational costs.
That's why Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) is back to the drawing board. After posting a request for qualifications, the RDC received proposals last month from five potential redevelopers with ideas for the park, ranging from a skate park to an upgraded amphitheater to a 500-room resort and spa.
RDC issued the request to "make sure the individual parties were qualified in that they had done or been materially involved in projects of this magnitude in the past," RDC President Benny Lendermon said. ML Professional Properties, RVC Outdoor Destinations, Bass Pro Shops, Memphis Equity Brand Management, and Mansion America, LLC, now have until Feb. 24th to explain how they plan to design, develop, finance, construct, maintain, operate, and manage their proposals.
Revitalizing the underutilized Mud Island River Park is no simple feat. Though RDC is in the preliminary stages of choosing a firm, a hotel could take years to build, while the amphitheater might only take months to refurbish, Lendermon said. How the makeover will be funded is uncertain, but footing the bill mostly with private dollars rather than pulling from the city budget is crucial for the master plan.
"We are looking at a public/private partnership to bring new capital to Mud Island to both invigorate it and to pay for deferred maintenance issues that the city does not really have the funds to pay for currently," Lendermon said. "That is our hope. We will not know if any of these ideas accomplish that goal until we receive the final proposals and begin negotiations."
Below are selected details from each of the redevelopment firm's proposals:
ML Professional Properties:
• Add three new bridges, and split the lanes — one for bikers and joggers and one for walkers and sightseers. One would be designed like the Nashville entertainment and pedestrian bridge.
• Develop an area called the River's Edge on the west bank and model it after the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas.
• Construct a water park at the end of the River Walk. Turn it into an ice skating rink during the winter.
• Convert the museum into a mixed-use area like the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.
• Build a U-shaped fishing pier at the west side of the island.
• Build a dog park.
• Build a skateboard park.
RVC Outdoor Destinations:
• Create a new main, north entrance, and incorporate Greenbelt Park.
• Consider renovation or demolition of the Harbor Landing building with a focus on corporate events and weddings. Take advantage of overnight lodging.
• Get guests on the water with boat and kayak rentals, as wells as guided fishing and eco-tours.
Bass Pro Shops:
• Bass Pro Shops did not submit a formal proposal to the RDC by the Jan. 15th deadline. However, they requested in a letter "to still be considered a qualified development partner and have the opportunity to submit a more defined plan in the future."
• Should they not be chosen as the master developer, Dunham asked to have "a representative on the RDC team and have ongoing involvement in the design and development process."
Memphis Equity Brand Management:
• Build a 500-room resort hotel and spa, "which might carry the Marriott flag."
• Construct a monorail that will stop near the hotel lobby.
• Create a parking garage to accommodate 500 spaces for the hotel and 500 spaces for visitors to the River Park.
Mansion America, LLC:
• Update the visual aesthetics of the Mud Island Amphitheater.
• Re-establish a handicap walk ramp to the seating area.
• Establish an in-house ticketing system.
• Establish an entertainment calendar including musicians, comedians, touring variety and theatrical shows, and a televised annual music event.