How much input should the public have in the construction of major projects? That depends on who owns the property and who's impacted by its development. Public properties should have public input. Private properties can be a balancing act.
In Overton Square, for example, things appear to be back to, er, square one with the news this week that developers are backing out of a proposed project to build a grocery store and four buildings on the south side of Madison.
One of the co-owners of the property told John Branston (p. 17) that the company wanted to "work with the community." To me, this is a good thing, because I think those whose property values are impacted by a development, even if it's on private property, should have a voice in what's being built.
But what about the new parking garage/rental-car facility at Memphis International Airport? In case you haven't heard about it, it's an $89 million, seven-story structure that will become the new public "face" of the airport. It's a huge, stainless-steel edifice that will feature a 40-foot logo of an airplane with a contrail that becomes a music note. It will obscure from view the Roy Harrover-designed "martini glass" terminal that has been the airport's signature look since the 1960s.
This project is not in anybody's "neighborhood," though it will greatly impact one of our most significant public spaces. The decision to build it — and its design — have not, to my knowledge, had much public input. The design was unveiled January 6th, and construction is scheduled to start March 1st. Done deal, I'd say.
Much of the thinking regarding the new garage is laudable: It will eliminate polluting shuttle-bus trips from rental-car agencies now located two miles away. It will provide more convenient parking and a moving sidewalk into the terminal.
Convention and Visitors Bureau head Kevin Kane called the garage's design "spectacular." Memphis Heritage president Marty Gorman said, "The classic terminal building ... is totally blocked by this seven-story behemoth."
In my opinion, the thing is butt-ugly. Approaching the Memphis airport, especially at night, has always been a visual delight. Soon, probably not so much.
Was there a way to incorporate or play off of Harrover's design to blend the new with the old? Or to put more of the garage underground or off to the side? Maybe not. But we'll never know, because the decision has been made for us.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...
I'm writing this from the restroom facility at Big Hill Pond State Park in southern McNairy County. On Monday, I commandeered the building, which contains the men's and women's restrooms, some racks of pamphlets, and two vending machines. There's no one here right now, but I plan to stay as long as necessary to protest the fact that the state of Tennessee is run by oppressive know-nothings who wouldn't know small government — or freedom, for that matter — if it bit them on their considerable backsides ...