The Riverfront Master Plan is designed to transform the Memphis riverfront into an active, vibrant, world-class waterfront through a combination of subtle and elaborate projects.
The most dramatic project in the Memphis Riverfront Master Plan is the land bridge. The extension of downtown across what is now the slack-water harbor and out to the Mississippi is the largest, most significant part of the plan. It makes possible the creation of a brand-new 150-acre lake and lakefront community on the north and a new active river harbor on the south. Not surprisingly, the land bridge has also generated the most discussion and is the most misunderstood part of the master plan.
As an engineer who was responsible for overseeing numerous major public works projects, including the 24-acre expansion of Tom Lee Park and the building of the Bluffwalk, I understand why citizens are concerned about the process by which the land bridge will be built.
But the construction process -- using fill -- is quite straightforward and has been used many times. In fact, a similar process was used to build the causeway that joins Mud Island at its north end to the city and the Tom Lee Park expansion in 1991. As for the stability of fill, much of Harbor Town is built on fill. And, of course, tens of thousands of people this month enjoyed the land created with fill at Tom Lee Park. So there's no question about the land bridge when it comes to our ability to build it or its stability once we do.
Others believe that the land bridge will not leave sufficient room for a marina. In fact, the east shore of the planned new harbor is large enough to accommodate the boats now docked at the two downtown marinas. The current toe of the slope at the Cobblestones (below where cobblestones are still in existence) will be replaced by a vertical wall which widens the harbor 75 feet on both sides. Even at low water the new harbor will allow docking on both sides, which is not possible today. If the demand is there, we can accommodate almost double the number of boats by building a marina on the harbor's west side.
A few active sportsmen worry that the land bridge will cut off their opportunity to canoe and kayak. Actually, the land bridge increases those opportunities. We'll have safe waters in the two-mile lake and closer access to the Mississippi for those more adventurous. The result is the best of both worlds.
Will the building of the land bridge be inconvenient? Most construction projects are, and this one will likely be no exception. But the fill will come from sand dredged directly from the river, not from dump trucks traveling downtown streets. That will minimize both the inconvenience and the cost of the project.
The rewards for Memphis are clear. The land bridge makes possible an active, exciting marina at the very spot where most visitors go to take in views of the Mississippi -- the foot of Union Avenue. It creates an attractive, clean, stable body of water that will spawn a whole new community to complement Uptown, with continuous public access along its edge. It allows us to preserve the historic cobblestones and yet still make access to the river safe and hospitable to pedestrians. It gives us a way to generate much-needed revenue from appropriate private development to pay for operating and maintaining expanded and upgraded public spaces along the riverfront.
But most significantly, the land bridge will finally connect Memphis to the Mississippi, giving the city a signature identity that few cities in the world can match.
Benny Lendermon, former public works director for the city of Memphis, is president of the Riverfront Development Corporation.