Behind the Headlines — July 18, 2014


(female announcer)
This is a production of WKNO-Memphis. Production funding for “Behind
the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. Beale Street Landing, Downtown
development and more tonight on “Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. Joined tonight by a number of
people directly involved in Downtown development,
River front development. We’ll start with Paul
Morris from the Downtown Memphis Commission. Thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. Also, Bill Dries, senior
reporter with the Memphis Daily News. And Benny Lenderman, president
of the River front development corporation. Always good to be here. Absolutely, thanks
for coming back. So we’ll start with you, Benny,
because you had the biggest, most recent unveiling, which is
Beale Street Landing is open. It probably took longer
than anyone ever wanted. It was more
expensive than was planned. We’ll talk about the
problems but its there. And I will say with complete
subjectivity it’s pretty miraculous actually. With that said,
absolutely wonderful. You go down there and
you see the people, you see the smiles and
you hear the comments. And it’s pretty
rewarding to see that happen. How many years has it been? Actually, I mean, we did
an international design competition. So, that drug it out longer. So it actually started 10 years. We first started doing
the international design competition. People forget that the reason
this thing looks so great it wasn’t — nothing against going
out and hiring a designer — but it was a competition, you know,
where you are in a national design competition
with 170 participants. And the design was
chosen that way. So because of that, you get a
world class design and not just what someone like me would
think it ought to look like. And some of the
problems along the way, I mean, were difficulties
with the river bank. Is that right? And some of the
engineering issues. Yeah, I mean you got
to remember we tried. I mean purposely, we chose to
shoehorn it in between Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones. We didn’t want to have any
historic implications with cobblestones. We didn’t want to
greatly affect Memphis in May. Because of that, it was a
very difficult engineering feat. It was compounded by the soil
conditions very similar to what the Pyramid’s faced and what
Robert Lipscomb has had to deal with there. When you got in
there, you found out that, you know, how do
you hang this thing. Because we really
rebuilt, you know, four acres of land
out to the river. So most of that site where
you’re standing and playing and splashing in the water, or your
kids are splashing in the water, but you’re standing out in what
used to be the middle of the Mississippi River, okay. And we did it in a way that
takes advantage of the river and the views. And we think it gives Memphians
a chance to get to water’s edge. And so now, it’s operating. It’s being used for the
riverboats for a while. This was the formal opening. But riverboats
have been using it. So there’s probably some
confusion to people listening saying, “Wait, I thought
it was already being used.” But it’s been kind
of a phased opening. We opened the building about a
year earlier than we wanted to because we wanted to
accommodate the American Queen. And the American Queen comes
here and brings $90 million in economic impact a
year for Memphis. And so it’s very important for
us to open the building for the rest of the park. So people kept saying, you know,
construction fencing and things. But it was very, very
beneficial to Memphis. But now, the rest of the
park feature is built. And now the play area is open. And now the
restaurant area is open. And excursion boats are
doing their daily thing. And so now it’s just
a little busy place. Yeah. Bill? And as we’ve
talked about earlier, um, in coming up with the idea
of what Beale Street Landing should be, um, you kind of had
to deal with this syndrome that we’ve had on other
projects of it could be this, it could be the end all and
be all and it could be this magnificent
monument to the river. And the goal here was
something much simpler for it. Not simple in
terms of engineering. We’re very complex and there’s
a reason that Memphis had no connections to the
water for 100 plus years, okay, because it’s complicated. But the goal was
a couple things. One, it was to fix
Tom Lee Park, okay. And, you know, Tom Lee Park is a
great place for Memphis in May. It’s not
typically a great place, say, this afternoon if
you want to go down there. Beale Street Landing provides
all the amenities that aren’t in Tom Lee Park to make
Tom Lee Park a wonderful, world-class waterfront park. Okay but it also accommodates
the docking of the boats, which is very
important to Memphis. It’s very important to bring
tourists to Memphis and build the street and other part
of Memphis and the hotels. But it also
creates a place for, um, you know, for, uh, the local
excursion boats to operate off of. They’ve gotten to the point
where because of change in society, working
off the cobblestones, it was really getting to
be unacceptable from a, um, liability issue, especially
with touring groups coming through Memphis. And then last
thing, it had to be.. If you want to take before Beale
Street Landing opened last week, if you want to take some of your
relatives or visitors or your wife down to have
dinner on the, uh, on the riverfront and
look at the sunset, which golly, we
have a great sunset. We forget how
incredibly our sunset is. But you can go now to Beale
Street Landing and have a place to eat. You can drink. In about a week, you’ll be
able to drink a glass of wine. Probably by the
time this show airs, you’ll be able to have the wine. But and you can just
eat and enjoy yourself. And it’s just magical. I mean to sit there and
watch the river go by, it’s magical. Paul, I’ll bring you in. Benny talks.. Downtown has kind of
multiple sides to it. But in simple terms, you’ve
got the visitors to Memphis. And you’ve got residents. You all have somewhat recently
taken over control of Beale Street, the
entertainment district. Talk about your plans
there, which again, that’s a big draw for
tourists, also for locals. What’s going on there? There are new developments
and new people coming in. Tell us. Sure. Well as of January 1, the city
of Memphis took direct control of Beale Street
from a 30 year incumbent, Performa Entertainment,
which had done a great job of rebuilding the street from
what it had been 30 years ago, which was completely boarded
up and more of saved A Schwabs, which was the only store that
stayed open during that time. As of January 1, the city of
Memphis is directly in charge of handling security,
handling picking up the trash, collecting rent, coordinating
all of the things that are going on on Beale Street. And Mayor Wharton asked me of
the Downtown Memphis Commission to help the city coordinate
those efforts to manage that in the capacity of
being a landlord. And Beale Street’s
really doing great right now. For the first time
in its 50 years, it’s completely fully leased. There’s no place. If I’ve gotten a call last week
form a national tenant who wants to be on Beale Street, I
have no place to show them. It’s bursting at the seams with
Hard Rock having jump Second Street and another club
wanting to jump Fourth Street. So it’s really doing well and
more people are visiting Beale Street than ever before. Bill. And one of your goals has been
also to have locals come there and particularly have families
know that they can come there during the daytime and they can
go to Beale Street Landing and they can come up the
street and go to the district. And there will be things
there for their children. Yeah, Beale By Day is what we’re
calling it because Beale Street is really popular at night. We don’t necessarily
more customers at night. We’re getting a lot. But we’ve got a lot of tourists
and we don’t take that for granted. We want the locals to come back
to appreciate what the rest of America appreciates. Last year, U-S-A Today named
Beale Street America’s favorite iconic street. And this year, we’re talking
about Beale Street By Day, going to A. Schwabs with your
family and getting a toy. I have a four-year-old boy who
loves going to Beale Street. A. Schwabs is his favorite store. And I promise you if you’ve got
young children and you take them to A. Schwabs, they’ll
say the same thing. They have an old
fashioned soda fountain. You can go to
Dyer’s and get a burger. Walk down to Beale Street
Landing and play on the playground. Beale Street is a
great place by day. What about, you know, there’s
somebody out there saying, “Well but you hear
about shootings.” You hear about, you
know, bad behavior. But, you know, where do
things stand with that? Where do things stand
with safety on Beale Street? Well this year, we have not had
any criminal incidents on Beale Street of that nature. And to the extent that there
has been a history of that, if you look at it, it’s
between midnight and 4:00 am. My parents always told me
nothing good happened on — after midnight. I didn’t believe
them then but now, I’m starting to believe them. Between midnight and 4:00 am on
Sunday mornings is when most of the incidents have occured. During the daytime, Beale Street
is the safest street to be on in this city because
there’s heavy police presence. There’s lots of witnesses. And it is a very
safe and relatively, compared to the night time,
quiet place to be with your family. Segue back to the river. I mean a little bit here. The next steps for
your next projects. Nothing, I assume, is big
as Beale Street Landing. But there are other
projects on tap or underway. So talk about some of your
priorities for the river. I mean the priority is to
continue to operate and maintain the riverfront and the high
standard that we have now. Because now, we’re getting more
use with more things going on Downtown. Every year we see more people,
more tourists in Downtown. And so we got to
accommodate those. But we still, we’re sitting and
waiting for final approval to go to bids on the
cobblestone landing. The money’s been sitting there. There’s just a minor issue even
though it’s been taking forever. Our plans are done. We’re just waiting for
the city for the railroad, for the Tennessee Department
of Transportation to agree on improvements to the
railroad crossings, okay. As soon as that’s
done — which frankly, has nothing to do
with our project. But as soon as that’s done, then
we will get about the business of improving the cobblestones. And that’ll be. Describe that project. It’s more.. It’s almost like a old, um, City
Beautiful clean up kind of fix up. Okay. It’s restoring the
cobblestones back. We’re not picking them up. We’re just cleaning. We’re filling in the holes. We’re putting a little small
retaining wall at the base level to keep it from
falling in to the river. And we’re cleaning the site
up and making it presentable, putting in some
historic signage, things that will clean that area
up and give it the presence that it ought to have. It’s a very
important site to Memphis. And you also run
Mud Island, the park. Any big plans there? Small plans? I mean Mud Island
River Park has.. It’s sort of evolved to
where it needs to be. I mean yes, it’s a great
destination for tourists on a daily basis and Memphians alike. But it shines for
special events, okay. So over the past several years,
a lot more special events like the Dragon Boat races, uh,
like the concerts we do, like the, uh, Fourth
of July fireworks. The island is just an incredible
place for special events. So with all this, and you
face it to in your parking. So parking right now for as
you draw more and more people Downtown. I mean is there enough parking
along the riverfront for people who want to be there. And does there need to be? There was a proposal at one
point for street side parking and redoing riverfront
parkway — Riverside Drive, excuse. Well first off, the city
redid Riverside Drive on a test. And they did a
marvelous job with it. They took a plan that had a
little bit flawed a suggestion with the onsite parking. And they tweaked it
and made it work. And they got a
protected bike lane. And we think it’s a
wonderful design, okay. We love what they did to
Riverside Drive and we hope that that stays. A couple modifications
for some left turn lanes. We got to deal with pedestrians
crossing Riverside Drive a little bit better
than they do now. But again, this is
just a trial period. And they did a
marvelous job with that. So with parking,
I mean, you know, everybody.. Memphians are a
little different breed, okay. They want to park right
next to where they’re going. And for Downtown,
that’s, you know, that’s not exactly. There’s plenty of
parking in Downtown. And Paul can probably tell you
a lot more than I can about the parking. We don’t see any parking issues
with Downtown as long as people understand, you know, that
it’s just like any other major Downtown city. Right, is there
enough parking Downtown? I mean it’s a complaint. Yeah, you don’t
hear people complain. So is there enough
parking across the board? And the city put in these new
fancy meters that they actually monitor now, which is a big
change for people who park Downtown and used to
not pay, you know. But so has that been.. Is there enough parking? And have the changes that
have been made so far been a detriment to the
business Downtown? The most successful
Downtowns across the world have, um, a limited parking. I mean being a successful
Downtown does not mean, as Benny said, having a
parking space right next to your destination. That’s the suburbs. That’s an advantage of the
suburbs is that you can park right next to
where you’re going. The advantage that
Downtown has is its walkable. And once you get
out of your car, once you park in a
garage and start walking, it’s much more convenient. Downtown Memphis has less
expensive parking rates than just about any city
in North America, which speaks to the fact
that we’ve got an oversupply of parking spaces
compared to the demand. So there is plenty of parking,
over 40,000 spaces Downtown. And they’re never all full. The on street parking that
the city has implemented has actually helped a lot with the
convenience of parking because the city is now enforcing the
on street parking better and because you can put a credit
card in the machine to use it. It’s having more turnover. So you can now go to just about
any street Downtown and find an on street parking space. They’re not
parking there all day. Before, you had people,
commuters coming to work and parking on the street all day. And while it was free,
you couldn’t find a space. So something free but not
available is not worth very much. Yeah, Bill. Speaking of transportation,
let’s talk about water taxis. Um, you have some
money, as I understand, that you’ve had for a while
for planning for those stops. And that gets in to what we
were talking about on Mud Island because that would be one stop. But tell me where you are
with the water ferries. Yeah, it’s actually for
planning and implementation. So there’s a million dollars
sitting there at the water taxi program. And we’re discussing, again,
with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to, um, again to
do a first feasibility study on implementation. And there’s.. They want to do a, um, a little
more logistics on it and begin with before we start designing
an actual construction project because we want to make sure we
can deal with the A-D-A issues and Landing issues at
the site we select. So that should begin probably
in the very near future. And the sites we’re talking
about are at this early stage. I mean some of the
sites are pretty obvious. I mean it’s Beale Street
Landing it originate from. Now we have the
building to do that. And Mud Island River Park, okay. But it’s also anticipated
that there’s a site would be incorporated to Bass Pro Shop. We think that’s a
huge destination. And maybe and then going on down
the harbor and taking advantage of what happens with that
redevelopment just going on up there in the future. Mhmm. You guys both talk a
little bit about walkability. The Harahan
Bridge is under your.. You’ve got a lot of
things on your plate. Harahan Bridge, which is a much
bigger project than the Main to Main project. So tell us the status of the
various phases of that whole project of making, you know,
bike lanes through Downtown linking up to the walking bike
path on the bridge and so on. Sure. So the Main Street to Main
Street project was a 10 mile corridor project that extends
from uptown Downtown and the Civic Center Plaza,
Main Street Mall, South Main then over the Harahan
Bridge and then in to West Memphis. And it is under
construction now. We’ll see a lot of it. On the way in to the show this
morning I saw a construction on South Main. And the South Main
element is almost complete. What they’re doing is
they’re fixing sidewalks. They’re putting sidewalks in
where there were no sidewalks. They’re putting in bike
facilities in Downtown Memphis that were nonexistent before. And they’re even repaving
sections of Main Street, which long needed repaving. The Harahan Bridge
component of that project, which is the centerpiece,
the most exciting part. It’s a one mile of
the 10 mile corridor. It’s 10%
geographically of the project. It’s out to bid right now. And we will get those
bids back on August 1. And we will know how
much that’ll cost. And from there, we will know how
much we need to raise to close any budget gap that might exist. And if we can raise
the additional funds, we will implement that project. And we’re optimistic
we will be able to. But until we raise
the necessary funds, we will not start construction. When you talk
about raising funds, is that going to government or
is that going private sector or some combination? To the private sector. This project’s got
many different funders. The private sector has been one
of the biggest funders of this project all along. But the biggest funder is
the federal government bureau, a very competitive Tiger Grant
program that we won last year. Only 5% of cities who apply for
this grant won it and Memphis won it. It’s a $15 million that’s
helping pay for a large amount of this work. Keep in mind, a large amount of
this work is fixing flooding in City Hall. It’s doing basic things that the
city would have to go to C-I-P budget for. There is zero C-I-P budget
allocated to the Main Street section of this work, even
though it’s basic things like curb and gutter and road
resurfacing and fixing flooding in Civic Center Plaza. So we’re
leveraging private dollars, federal dollars, county dollars,
state dollars and other sources. Okay. And benny, on the riverfront,
I mean there was a study of studies that came out
I think a year ago. My sense of time
today is not great. But that was there had been all
of these studies over the years about the paths and walkways and
so on on the riverfront and how some parts of it are great. It was the guy Speck who
came out and said that. And he said but then some paths
just kind of stop and they’re not interlinked. Within your area, is
there more to be done, again, not big ticket projects
like Beale Street Landing or even the cobblestones, but just
making more clear and unified paths. Right, absolutely. And the majority of what we’ve
done is create those paths like the cobblestone walkway and
like the walkway to the park. But there needs to be a
continuation of the bluff walk going north, okay,
behind the old library space. But a lot of
things, as you do those, you’ve got to be a little bit
careful on understanding what happens and what goes where
and make those improvements when other improvements are being
made so it’s consistent with the property improvements such as
what’s going on with Bass Pro. I mean we stopped the walkway we
had going behind the flood wall there at Bass Pro because Bass
Pro is coming in and all of a sudden, you know, the geographic
terrain was going to change, okay. So that’s being done as
part of their project. Okay, Bill. Does Beale Street Landing
make it easier in terms of what follows for this? I mean some people have
referred to it as a cornerstone. Now the people can see this. Politically, does it make the
rest of what happens on the riverfront a little bit easier? Yeah, I mean I think so, Bill. I mean I think, you
know, it shows that, you know, what was implemented
was the right thing and it works and it attracts people. But it’s not as much proving
that it works as much as it is you’re bringing
people there, okay. The same way as Bass Pro. You can argue all you want to
about Bass Pro but when Bass Pro comes, it brings people. It makes it easier to do other
things on the riverfront the same way as Beale Street
Landing attracts people. You go down to the.. I promise you even though we’re
filming this pretty early today, right now today, there’s 20 —
at least 20 kids on the play area. And this is early
in the morning. And there’ll be a little bus
come by about 10:00 with some daycare and it’ll drop
off 75 kids or something. So the animation and
attracting of people allows, you know. It’s once people
embrace a space, it makes it easier for people
like Paul and myself to do other things to improve
that experience. So how does this change Beale
Street when they come up the hill? How does this change South
Main when they come up the hill? Well it just adds another
attraction for people to come Downtown. We’re all about bringing
more people Downtown to visit, to live, to work, to heal
in the hospitals we have. But things like Beale Street
Landing playground and other amenities associated with it
draw more people to Downtown. It also gives something for the
people that are already Downtown something to do and makes
them want to stay Downtown. So it’s part of what’s going on
with the South Main district, which is right
there from the Orpheum, a simple station where you’ve
got over $100 million of mostly private investment going on. And it’s really helping to
continue to revitalization of our Downtown Memphis. When you talk about, you
know, Downtown people living, there’s a huge amount. Or I don’t know if it’s huge but
there’s a lot of construction going on in South Main if
you go past the train station, there are multiple
apartment complexes. All that area is
kind of filling in. That Hotel Chisca
across from the Orpheum. Residential seems to
be working, I mean, Downtown and continue to grow. I mean everything slowed
down during the recession. But it’s coming back in force? Yeah, residentially, the demand
to live Downtown has never been stronger. More and more people
are living Downtown. The population of Downtown
Memphis has been growing even though the population of the
city over the last couple of decades has not. But over 23,000
people live Downtown. And that number
continues to grow. I will mention the two
projects you referenced on the construction going
on the south end, called the South Junction, and
the Chisca are both on the line of the Main to Main project. And especially
with the south end, the South Junction project
that’s going on bringing over 200 plus more apartments. They’re marketing
those apartments, if you go to the website, all
about being on the trail on the Main to Main project. They’re having bike lockers. More and more people are wanting
to live in places where they can also recreate and be near
bike paths and other things. And the private sector is
investing way more money than these government projects
are costing to leverage those dollars. And walking around, you know,
thinking through various parts. For one, Beale Street, it
seems to be back on the table. This was the
Carlisle Proposal, right? Right on Beale Street and the
river was originally going to be, I think, a double
high rise, you know, condos. That kind of fell
apart in the recession. But it’s back on
the table as what? It’s back on the table. And I don’t want to get ahead
of the Carlisles announcing what it’s going to be or what
it’s going to look like. But I will tell you that James
Carlisle just sold a bunch of Wendy’s. He’s got a lot of cash to
move forward on something spectacular. And he’s committed to doing
something spectacular at this site. This site is the corner of
Beale Street and Riverside. It’s one of the very few
properties in Downtown that have riverfront views and riverfront
property that you can privately develop. He doesn’t want to do
something ordinary here. He wants to do something great. And he has full intention of
moving ahead very promptly on that. And the building that got
started right in — and I’ve just forgotten the name of it. It is down south of the river. Horizon. Are you all involved in that? I mean do you try to kind of
solicit people to come in and get that thing out of it sort
of financially dormant state? Sure, so it’s for
sale finally for many. For more than a year, it’s
been caught up in litigation. So it’s kind of sitting there. But now the banks have worked it
out enough that they’ve got it for sale. And I believe the bank will
sell it promptly for a great discount. So someone is going to be able
to pick up a $80 plus million construction project that’s 80%
done and be able to get it for a discount and turn it
to something good. And one more area
that is really.. We’ve talked about
Bass Pro a few times. It’s essentially dormant is all
the development or lack thereof around Bass Pro,
the Pinch District. I mean is that.. Do you have high hopes that once
Bass Pro is really done that development will sort of bleed
over in to that neighborhood? Because it really is
lacking right now. If you drive through there, I
mean people can remember when there were Tigers game at
the Pyramid and there’s bar. It was kind of.. That was an active neighborhood. It isn’t so much now. Well unfortunate side effect
of the Bass Pro development in years of working with that
is then what you describe, which is the Pinch
doesn’t know what to do now. It’s sitting there dormant. Nobody knows that to do. Everybody’s kind of waiting on
Bass Pro to come in and see how that affects the neighborhood. Until Bass Pro
really gets going, I don’t think we’re going to see
a lot in the Pinch until that happens. And the city’s announced plans
that after Bass Pro opens that they’re interested in doing a
master plan on the Pinch area to redevelop that. Okay. And just a minute left here. The Tennessee
Brewery is, you know, turned, at least temporarily,
in to a beer garden. Had some of those folks on. But it’s still under
threat of being demolished. Do you see any
progress or update there? Well despite all the good
ideas and fun times we had at Untapped, still no one has
stepped forward to meet the asking price that
the seller has. So as of right now, there is no
deal put together to save that building. I certainly still remain
hopeful that that will happen. But I’m far from certain. In terms of.. Last question. It’s a big question. In some degree, people
argue that the central business district, the office district of
Memphis has moved out east that it really is now
Poplar and Ridgeway. Do you.. I assume you disagree with that? Or is there an inevitable shift
out that way in terms of office and working people? I don’t disagree
that that’s happened. I disagree that that will
continue to happen over the next 20, 30 years. If you look at it from a longer
term prospective across America, more and more offices are
returning to Downtown areas. And so I think that that’s going
to happen to Memphis as well. Alright, you get the
last word on that. Thank you all for being here
and thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. CLOSED CAPTIONING
PROVIDED BY WKNO-MEMPHIS.

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