Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cobblestones Under Glass

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 4:56 PM

A friend of mine who runs a sports museum makes sure patrons know it does not consist of "jockstraps under glass." In other words, there are events and interactive exhibits as well as memorabilia. Friends for our Riverfront has made a similar observation about the current cobblestones plan, calling it "cobblestones under glass."

I'm no fan of the Riverfront Development Corporation, but I think just about anything would be an improvement to the current neglect of the cobblestones, and it's long overdue.

A few observations about Tuesday night's presentation by the RDC, Corps of Engineers, and Tennessee Department of Transportation.

1. Preservation is a white thing. I saw only a few black faces in the crowd including Greg Duckett, who is on the board of the RDC, and Dorchelle Spence, who is on the RDC staff. I don't think it's for lack of trying, either on the part of the RDC or Friends. It's simply the way it is, at least on the riverfront. The two often opposed groups are, in my opinion, more alike than different in the big picture. They care about the riverfront enough to go to meetings, and they put a higher priority on it than most Memphians who are worried more about, say, school bus routes or losing their jobs. The much-criticized Memphis City Council is more diverse and has to make tougher calls. The RDC and Friends should work it out.

2. Bob Corker stopped by our office for an interview Tuesday. The former businessman and mayor of Chattanooga raised several million dollars in private funds for Chattanooga's celebrated $120 million riverfront, according to reporters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press that I spoke with in preparation for the interview. I'm not aware of any sizable private donations to the Memphis riverfront. It's a government-funded, tax-sucking project.

3. Everyday use by Memphians remains an afterthought in the RDC's plans. Lendermon said there could be some kayak and canoe access at the north end of the cobblestones landing. But the centerpiece will be a plaza with a fountain and some steps leading to some historical markers and the cobblestones with their mooring rings. Very boring. The RDC should harness the energy of Joe Royer, the force behind the canoe race and the cycling event on the Greenbelt. Under the leadership of Mayor Karl Dean, Nashville's riverfront plan costs less and is much more animated and user friendly.

4. Those Memphis Queen Line boats sure are getting a workout. First they had to be plugged into the gaping hole at Beale Street Landing to justify that project after the overnight riverboats went out of business. Now we hear that the cobblestones are being improved with $6.8 million so that guess who can dock at them.

5. The plain fact, as RDC critic and the riverfront's institutional memory Michael Cromer and others have noted, is that "development" is the RDC's middle name. Without a big project, there is little need for a quasi-public agency to beautify and maintain the riverfront parks and build a roundabout on Mud Island. The RDC's original big table had four legs: founder Kristi Jernigan, the master plan featuring the aborted land bridge, Beale Street Landing, and Mayor Willie Herenton and his buddies. Three of those are gone. But thanks to Beale Street Landing and the cobblestones, the RDC can probably hang on for a few more years.

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