Skate Mud Island? 

Public input study proposes skate park, carousel, and aquarium for river park.

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Its name is Mud. And, as the expression goes, that's generally not a good thing.

Nearly half the respondents of a new public survey about Mud Island think there aren't enough events or interesting things to do at the Mud Island River Park.

Most citizens want three things for Mud Island, according to the study: a vibrant "fair-like" atmosphere, natural beauty, and diverse outdoor physical recreation, such as boating and hiking.

Citizens also want improved access to the park, a family-friendly atmosphere, and more connectivity between the park and the rest of the riverfront and downtown.

But the idea for Mud Island that drew the most support — from the public, at least — is a skate park.

"I think the fact that the number three pastime in this country is not represented in a city this size — that sort of opportunity is amazing," says Aaron Shafer, founder of Skatelife Memphis. "That's like saying we're the only city without a baseball stadium."

During public meetings this week — including one Thursday, May 14th, on Mud Island — the Riverfront Development Corporation begins the second phase of the project. Citizens also can answer an online survey at memphisriverfront.com.

"Many of the suggestions cited (extended days and hours of operations, museum improvement, pedestrian access across the harbor, and installation of a skateboard park) require significant capital investment. While round one participants were encouraged to provide ideas without regard to fiscal feasibility, physical limitations, or long-term sustainability, the next round will introduce cost and feasibility issues into the public discussion," the report says.

But the initial report doesn't mention many specific ideas for the park. Yes, people want green spaces, places to watch the sunset, and places to get a burger. The three specific amenities the report cites as frequently mentioned are: a world-class skate park, the historic Grand Carousel most recently in use at Libertyland, and an aquarium.

The aquarium idea, however, didn't get much public support.

Downtown and East Memphis meetings included roughly 125 participants. During these meetings, each participant was given five votes to determine priorities for the park. At the downtown meeting, the skate park got 54 votes, as did a water ferry. A playground got 26 votes, and an aquarium got five votes.

At the East Memphis meeting, the skate park got 180 votes, public art and climbable sculptures got 56 votes, and the aquarium got five votes.

There are groups less than excited about the idea of a skate park. The local chamber of commerce said that while a skate bowl would be a good attraction for Memphis, it does not need to be situated by the river to be successful. The Memphis parks division said that a number of smaller skate parks scattered around the city would be better for residents.

Skatelife members think their push for an 80,000 square-foot skate park on Mud Island has been misconstrued. "We don't want a skate park there just so we have a place to skate. That's a side benefit," says Kris Gurley. "We want a skate park to help make sure Mud Island is a success."

They make a convincing case. Local skateboarders would come, as well as people from out of town, to skate a world-class park. And the cost to build and maintain it would be minimal compared to some of the other ideas.

"An aquarium, you see it once," Gurley says. "It doesn't have a return draw."

Mud Island could be great, but it's not there yet. One of the report's key findings was that citizens want an active Mud Island, a place where they can people-watch just as easily as going to the museum or watching the sunset.

But the only way to have a place for people watching is to have things for people to do. Similarly, there are plenty of places on the Mississippi to watch a sunset: Tom Lee Park, Ashburn Coppock, Martyrs Park. We don't need another place solely for sunset-watching.

I'd like a restaurant on Mud Island, but without a critical mass of people, how is one to survive?

Perhaps Shafer puts it best: "What's going to be on the island that's going to sustain all the other things that people want there, but that are already duplicated at other places in the city?"

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