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Who Owns the Riverfront? Ownership and Property Issues along the Banks and Blufflands

What do we want to see along our riverfront property? Who should be allowed access to the riverfront? Who can decide these issues?

An interesting phenomenon that is happening in Memphis is occurring in many places along the Mississippi River. The land along the river is becoming a desirable place to live, and to office. In some urban sites, developers have purchased old flour milling buildings and renovated them into beautiful condominiums. Park and Recreation Boards are attempting to purchase the lands along the river in order to make parks.

In Memphis, the situation about what is to become of the riverfront has been of vital importance to the city and its residences. Historicallly, the Memphis Park Commission, which was established in 1900, oversaw the development and maintenance of a city-wide system of parks. In 2000, the Mayor and City Council disssolved the Memphis Park Commission and established The Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) which is a quasi-governmental body, and the City Council has voted to pay the RDC’s operating costs.

The RDC hired planning consultants to come up with a Master Plan. It was at public hearings in 2001 when it was mentioned that the historic Public Promenade was to be a subject of discussion in the development plans, and that a massive 50-70 acre dam -- a "land bridge" for commercial development -- that would fill the harbor stretching between two downtown streets. Harbor industries would be removed.Private development was proposed on the Public Promenade as well as in Mud Island River Park. Most of the parks which are now open to the public would be replaced. The RDC's estimated capital cost for this plan was $292 million. It would be the most expensive project in our City's history. Many public concerns were raised about the plan. However, the City Council unanimously approved the Riverfront Master Plan in 2002.

One issue to be resolved was what to do with the area the City's founders had reserved as a "Public Promenade" in 1819. Despite a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling against private development on the Public Promenade, the new Master Plan sketches out two highrises, leasable space, a minimum of 1,040 public parking spaces, and the remaining Bluff parkland replaced by a two-level concrete promenade with eating and shopping. The RDC estimated the cost of the Promenade phase to be $50 million.

A citizen organization, The Friends for our Riverfront, are calling for the river to be accessible to the public in Memphis. They state that cities around the country are rejuvenating their waterfronts to jumpstart downtown redevelopment. Where it’s been most successful, the plan has focused on the city’s uniqueness and the goal has been to make the city the most attractive, pleasant place to live. According to Mayor Richard Daley whose city Chicago has witnessed a spectacular renaissance, business will follow.

They have created plans which they feel would suit the people of Memphis. “It is the riverfront that shapes our identity as a City and gives us a pride of place. The public riverfront and harbor are irreplaceable. Rejuvenating them should be our goal, and it doesn’t have to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, if you’ve ever watched a sunset from the Bluff or big barges make the turn into our harbor, you’ll have trouble believing anyone would even suggest making Memphis a bluffless city…”

Elsewhere on the river, there are discussions about whether the blufflands should remain pristine or should there be development on them.

You can add your voice to the various discussions about riverfront ownerhsip and development. Find out more about the Memphis issues, and get involved.



One River Mississippi

















Memphis : Environmental Issues
June 24