OK, so maybe the Riverfront Development Corporation has done a less than stellar job selling its Promenade plan. But that’s no reason for the Commercial Appeal to fall for the case to do nothing being made by the so-called “Friends for Our Riverfront.”
You’ve heard the debate: The Big Bad RDC wants to “develop” our riverfront along Front Street from Union to Adams. The good ole Friends want to “save” our riverfront.
Here’s the real story: Today, the west side of Front Street is full of aging public buildings — a too-small Fire Divison headquarters (with a new chain link fence around it), two parking garages (one of which opens onto Riverside Drive and welcomes visitors coming off the Hernando Desoto Bridge with an offer of “Car Detailing”), and a library that even the librarians want to close. The property also has a park (which looks better than it has in years, thanks to the RDC) and a Customs House that the RDC is actively helping the University of Memphis acquire for a new law school.
Today, this property offers essentially no public access to the bluff, other than in the park.
Now, here’s the choice: Keep it as is. Or develop it according to the Promenade plan developed by Cooper Robertson with public input for the RDC.
That’s it. It’s that simple. The alternative offered by Friends to tear down the public buildings, remove (and not replace) the parking, and build a park is just a smokescreen. No one — no one who understands the City’s finances, anyway — really believes the addition of a five or six block long park on Front Street is a viable option.
Think about it. The only parks decently maintained in Memphis today are those maintained by the RDC. The money for doing so comes from the savings the RDC has been able to manage from its operation of Mud Island and maintenance of the downtown parks compared to earlier management by the City. (And it sure helps to have Danny Lemmons, a smart, committed manager, in charge, who has been spotted picking up trash himself with his crews on Sunday morning after a big weekend event.)
Who believes we’re going to add six new blocks of parks in a part of the city that already has an abundance of green space?
For that matter, who believes that we can remove two parking garages, not replace them and keep office tenants and residents in an area that is already tenuous?
You may not like the Promenade plan (although I can’t imagine why). But your alternative is clear — leave the Promenade as is — a broken down, embarassing collection of underperforming public buildings with no public access.
This is the best Memphis can do?
That’s the real contention of Friends. With friends like these, who needs enemies?