What You Say You Want on the Public Promenade

It should come as no surprise that most Memphians continue to want an open, beautiful, exciting, green public riverfront. That’s what we’ve been asking for since the Waterfront Center conducted public meetings on the subject here in 1999.

We’ve read your responses to questionnaires about the future of the public space on the Riverbluff handed out when Mayor Joseph Riley spoke in Memphis (Sept. 2005) and compared them to your comments and suggestions at the Civic Forum to Envision the Memphis Public Promenade (February 2006).

Here’s a summary.

Public open space and parks ranked #1 by a landslide. As one of you said, we want a waterfront park with flowers blooming and children playing in this unique, irreplaceable crown jewel of our city. Over and over, you said green, talked about the views, and emphasized public use. You suggested removing the ugly parking garages that the City has built and wanted to restore the library, post office, and in one case the fire station which now sit on the Public Promenade. You said you’d like to see the Cossitt Library improved and see an area for events added. Almost all of you wanted an open view of the river. Greenspace was mentioned again and again, and you mentioned that Memphis should move very cautiously, especially if there is to be any retail development.

You suggested a greenbelt along the riverfront to connect parks from the northern end of Mud Island to the Ornamental Metal Museum which would focus on the beauty and history of the area and suggested it could be a walk through time with spots to learn about the Indians, French, and Spanish who held this high land at different times. You said lots of trees, beautifully planted gardens, lighting, fountains, and pathways – a place to watch sunsets. Adjectives like charm and well-designed fill the answers.

Some respondents were unclear about the exact location of the Public Promenade and the easement that currently protects it. For the record: the Public Promenade runs from Union Ave. north to the Pyramid and from the River up to Front Street. The RDC Promenade Phase of the Master Plan focuses on 4 blocks of that land, the 4 blocks up on the Bluff from Union Avenue north to the Mud Island Monorail station. These are the only four Blufftop blocks that the public has a right to use – the other land on the Bluff is privately owned and it can be privately developed. The public was given the right to use and enjoy the Promenade in 1819 when Memphis was laid out and lots sold for businesses and houses.

Real estate development was to occur around the Promenade, and that’s what several of you suggested: public market, sidewalk cafes, small shops, condos bordering the open Promenade, barges made into restaurants at the foot of the cobblestones, vendors and artists in the park, shops and cafes added to the historic post office and library, a place for events and receptions, water features, art as a focal point, good seating. Some mentioned that the University of Memphis is considering the post office as a home for their law school and saw that as a good opportunity to bring more people downtown.

One of you felt we had enough parks on the river and needed to make those we have prettier, cleaner, and more usable. Another mentioned encouraging people to use Mud Island.

One person suggested a park mixed with low-rise retail/residential development and another wanted a planned development of multi-use buildings, but those suggestions for private development were countered by many who strongly felt that the land should be for all Memphians – for the public good, not private investment.

That’s also what you told the RDC. They designed a dam, lake, and commercial high-rises.

Friends for Our Riverfront will continue the process to define what should be on the public space on our Riverbluff. We want your input and suggestions. After all, this space is for all of us, not just for those who can afford a luxury condominium in the proposed high-rises. Please click on Contact Us in the left-hand sidebar to give us your ideas and join in protecting and revitalizing this irreplaceable public space.