Whose waterfront is it, anyway?

Just in time for basketball season, interest in property near The Pyramid is heating up. Developers, landowners, and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) were all jockeying for position last week in a busy round of negotiations and deal-making that involved Mayor Willie Herenton at one point. At issue are both a choice piece of Mud Island and the North Memphis area known as the Pinch. In a nutshell, here's where things stand: Developers Henry Turley and Jack Belz agreed to wait up to 60 days before rezoning property in the Pinch for the proposed "Uptown" redevelopment of public housing and vacant land. The RDC, supported by Herenton, sought the delay. Turley wants future Uptown residents "to get to go to the river, just like Harbor Town." The RDC sees the riverfront, including both sides of the slackwater harbor, as part of its own long-range development plan. "Our whole emphasis is connecting to Uptown, too," says CEO Benny Lendermon. Homebuilder Kevin Hyneman is expected to complete the purchase this week of 14 acres of Mud Island north of the park and south of Auction Street. Hyneman has had an option to buy the property from the group building the Echelon apartments next to AutoZone Park. The RDC is also very interested in this property. "If it isn't handled the proper way it can really screw up what we're trying to do," says chairman John Stokes. The RDC met for several hours last week with its consultants "to try to get a handle on the economics," Stokes says. The most expensive parts of the plan include the proposed land bridge between downtown and Mud Island and the possible relocation of industry on the east side of the harbor. Landowners in the Pinch district, including Circuit Court judge Kay Robilio and her husband, Victor, want more money for their land than the city is willing to pay to take it by eminent domain. The Robilios own a half-acre lot two blocks north of The Pyramid that has been in their family since 1866. "All we want is the opportunity to come out with enough money to purchase another lot that is as nice," says Kay Robilio. The sides are headed for mediation. Kay Robilio says the city offered something less than $30,000 and the Robilios countered with a higher number she wouldn't disclose. The lot is appraised at $6,700 but speculators have driven up land prices in the area, which has been very slow to develop since The Pyramid opened 10 years ago.


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