Finish Beale Street Landing, review the process and let the battle on the Mississippi begin.

Over the last few months a debate has been brewing about the future of the Downtown cobblestones.  The problem of the area’s deterioration has been on full display.  Solutions have been presented.  Problems have been revealed and changes have been made.  Prices fluctuating from high to low based on different scenarios have been floated.  Through all of this, the chief advocates for preserving this area have been unable to agree on a compromise.  And every day the area gets closer and closer to becoming invisible history overcome by neglect.

In the next few weeks other, more interesting things will happen.  The RDC will ask the City of Memphis to cough up somewhere between $1 and $8 million to finish Beale Street Landing.  Sort of bugs you, doesn’t it?  Almost guaranteed is that some riverfront advocates will be there to oppose it.  I bet that ticks off a lot of you too.  But what happens next?  Is this project stopped, amended or embraced?  More importantly, what happens after that decision is made?

Sooner or later the RDC and other riverfront advocates will either learn to publicly and purposefully compromise or the great battle on the Mississippi will have to be waged once and for all.  The citizens of Memphis cannot continue to be held hostage by a group charged with developing the riverfront and others opposed to it.  Sooner or later the City will have to declare a victor allowing us to move on to the celebratory space we all demand.  Otherwise we will be stuck in this groundhog day for the rest of our lives.

Suck it up and finish Beale Street Landing

I hate to say it but we must complete Beale Street Landing.  The alternative is too detrimental to our future at a time in our history where our egos are too fragile.

Beale Street Landing has been criticized based on need.  It has been criticized based on design.  This project’s location, size and ultimate purpose has been criticized again and again.  Each time arguments were made, changes were agreed to and the project moved forward with official endorsements.  Now, perhaps around $20 million later, we find out that it needs more money to be finished.  This is infuriating!  But whether or not we are mad isn’t the question.  The question is what happens if we stop the project?

To me, this isn’t about the boat dock or the park or the restaurant or the flag poles or anything else that we could pick off of this project.  This is about the surrounding property owners.  This is about future development of privately owned parcels next door to this thing.  This is also about future funding of new public projects.  And this is about getting our heads out of our behinds and finishing what we started.

If Beale Street Landing is halted we will be out $13 to $21 million.  If it is halted, the Feds will laugh us out of Washington and the State will not let us into the Capitol if we ever come asking for anything like this again.  Tom Lee Park and the Cobblestones will forever be separated by a crater.  Number One Beale, if it is ever relaunched, will have to change its sales photos by replacing the internationally designed park feature with a pit.  AutoZone will be rewarded for its civic philanthropy with a front row view of a mudslide.

Memphians who actually use Downtown will have a visible reminder of our great mutual failure.  Visitors will wonder why someone doesn’t do something grand at the foot of Tennessee’s number one tourist attraction.  And Downtowners will just shake their heads at again being disappointed by all of the people who daily say they want what is best for THEIR neighborhood.

No doubt, it is fair to demand an accounting of how we got into this mess.  We should know how a project started before it was fully priced, before it was fully designed and before it was finally approved.  We should know how the community was engaged, who was involved and how the project evolved as a result.  We should hold the RDC and the other riverfront advocates responsible for their respective roles in this situation.  But stopping isn’t really an option, is it?

We need a decider

Someone needs to sit the RDC and other riverfront groups down and demand peaceful existence or a battle to the death.  In-limbo should no longer be acceptable for Memphians.  Let’s line up the projects, line up the issues and ring the bell.  Tolerance by the public (and most importantly, by contributors) is wearing thin after a decade or two of arguing about how we should embrace the Mississippi.

While this would be progress in the form of finally moving on and efficiently getting future projects done, it will be terribly disappointing.  The loser will represent an important segment of what makes cities truly successful.

The Riverfront Development Corporation is a unique catalyst for engaging the private sector, for building ambitiously inspired public amenities and for efficiently managing facilities in a way that is vastly better than past alternatives.

Riverfront advocates (like Friends For Our Riverfront) represent people who place appropriate value on our history, understand the potential of this City as it exists today and desperately want more people to experience our great public spaces.

However, most everyone else in town is divided.  One group thinks they are all fools with the same stated public mission but just jockeying for control or recognition.  The other group could care less if the cobblestones, Beale Street and all of Downtown quietly slides into the river.

We need a unified vision or a decision. Otherwise the group who thinks this is foolish and the group who doesn’t care will win, while all of the river lovers (and Memphians) in general will lose.