Action News 5: "Riverfront Belongs to Public And Heirs"
May 20, 2004
By Stephanie Scurlock

It's the city's most prized piece of land: the riverfront promenade. It overlooks the Mississippi River and is considered prime property by developers. City council members are hearing arguments about how it should be developed and how much green space should be left. But in the end, it's not totally their decision. It's a decision the relatives of three founding fathers will help make.

Virginia McLean is from the Overton family. She leads the grass roots group Friends For Our Riverfront. She wants improvements to the riverfront, like the removal of unsightly parking garages and vacant buildings. But she doesn't believe apartments and businesses belong there.

McLean and other descendents of John Overton, John McLemore and James Winchester are heirs to the riverfront property. In 1828, the three founding fathers of the city of Memphis set aside a portion of their land, called the Promenade, to give to the city. The one stipulation is it can only used as public land. Descendants are in a dispute on what constitutes public land.

Descendants like Happy Snowden Jones back the Riverfront Development Corporation's proposal. She says it's for the good of the city, not her bank account. She says there are far too many heirs to gain anything substantial financially. Jones prefers a mix of residential and activities on the riverfront. She doesn't believe, as McLean does, that a park alone will attract people downtown.

If the descendents can't reach common ground about what constitutes public use, they'll have to let someone else, like a judge, make the decision.

Copyright 2004, WREG Channel 3 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

Action News 5: "Revamping the riverfront"
May 19, 2004
By Darrell Phillips

"I've been around a long time and I've heard the adage no public money's going to be required many times and it never seems to happen," says Memphis City Councilmember Jack Sammons.

Sammons is one of three who voted against the massive plan to revamp the riverfront.

Planners say it will pay for itself. "Private money generated to pay for public improvements," says riverfront planner Benny Lendermon. He says Companies will pay the City to lease the property. Costs are absorbed by the developers and not the taxpayers.

Sammons doesn't buy it.

"I think we need to be straight with our customers," he says. "Customers are the taxpayers. We need to look 'em in the eye and say ultimately this is going to cost you some money."

Others worry how that money might add up.

"The finances don't work," said an opponent Tuesday night.

Councilmember Carol Chumney said, "We hear that no money's going in but yet we're looking at approving eight million dollars in bonds this year for the Riverfront Development Corporation."

Memphis developer Jack Belz weighed in in writing. His letter to the Council warns, "it is misleading to imply that there will be no cost to the community..."

He writes that moving big business to the promenade will hurt businesses in areas already developed.

"We will in fact be sacrificing the area east of Front for a new town west of Front," writes Belz.

The downtown fire station will have to go too. That will cost someone.

"It'll cost 20 million dollars to move that fire station," says Sammons. "That's the headquarters of the Memphis Fire Department. Not something you can just put in a little building somewhere."

And what about infrastructure costs, sewers, drainage, landscaping, lighting?

Benny Lendermon tells me it's all part of the plan. That private development will cover those costs. But he's clear, nothing will happen without lengthy discussions. He also says it is possible that the downtown fire station will be a problem taxpayers might have to pay for.

Copyright 2004, WMC Channel 5 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

Action News 5: "Council approves riverfront development plan"
May 19, 2004
By Darrell Phillips

Memphis City Council members voted overwhelmingly in favor of an issue so controversial it filled council chambers. But -- as it turns out -- all the debate couldn't derail the plan.

Despite an unprecedented showing of opposition Memphis City Councilmembers chose something new over something familiar, supporting a plan to let private developers build on public land. To turn the Memphis river bluff into a place planners describe as a thriving social promenade.

"I don't think anyone wants to go there in its current state," said Kevin Kane of the Memphis CVB. "We gotta change and we gotta do it now."

It wasn't easy. Hundreds filled the room. They brought signs. They wore ribbons. They were angry.

"An inadequate consideration for the historic fabric of downtown and the uniqueness of the bluffs," said Rebecca Conrad in opposition.

Both sides put up their dukes and came in swinging.

"I'm saying to myself, my god, doesn't anybody have any vision for what this city could look like?" asked Grizzlies Boss Jerry West.

Opponents argued the new plan isn't what city ancestors wanted. Fears of high rises dotting riverfront landscape brought council members to compromise, offering an amendment to limit new buildings to 150 feet. 12 stories high.

Still opponents said it was impossible that the plan wouldn't cost taxpayers, despite planner's promises.

"I've asked Mr. Lendermon. I've asked Ms. Jernigan. I've asked another board member if we could see the financial feasibility study. I've been told by three different board members that there is not one," said Bayard Snowden.

In the end, it wasn't much of a contest for the Council. And now City planners face even higher hurdles. Both sides acknowledged this will likely end up in a courtroom next. A judge will have to determine whether the city even has the legal right to move forward. It could take months. It could even take years.

Copyright 2004, WMC Channel 5 - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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