Beale Street Landing: What, Where, Why

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Work is scheduled to begin soon on a retaining wall that will allow construction of Beale Street Landing.
A recent article in the "Flyer" and an editorial in the “Commercial Appeal,” raised some serious questions and suggested Memphians take a closer look at the project before we spend $29.3million dollars on something we may no longer need or be able to afford.
Here is a "who, what, where" kind of look at the project.
Corrections and updated information (as of 11/11/08) have been added in red.

Where will it be?
Beale Street Landing will be built on the west side (or river side) of Riverside Drive, at the level of Tom Lee Park, and will stretch approximately from Beale Street south to the bluff steps at Vance Ave. It will cover a section of the original cobblestones that are now buried by debris, the northern end of Tom Lee Park, and new land that will be created by landfill. This space is not part of the dedicated Public Promenade, which is on the Bluff north of Union Ave.

What is it?

View of BSL from Mud Island. Click on image to enlarge.

Beale Street Landing will be a new, public, commercial riverboat landing and will include
· five “islets” on different elevations planted as park space with seating areas and water features, · wide stepped concrete areas descending to the river,
. a 480’ long floating dock,
· a circular ramp to connect with the floating dock,
· a grass-covered ramp under which will be a 13,000 sq. ft. glass-walled building for ticket sales, gift shop, and small restaurant,
· and an underground parking garage for 70 cars. The parking garage has been replaced by a "for pay" parking lot to be built in Tom Lee Park. The paved lot will cover about 2 football fields worth of parkland and extend down to Vance Ave.
At times during the year, as the river rises and falls, some of the islets and the parking garage will be underwater. A parking space for tour buses to unload will be built between the spiral ramp and the floating dock. The design for Beale Street Landing is by Javier Rivarola, Gustavo Trosman, and Ricardo Norton of RTN Architects, Buenos Aires, Argentina, winners of an international competition. Several local architectural firms are also participating in the project.

How much will it cost?
It's a public project, and the estimated cost is $29.3 million. Of that, $18.8 million will be paid for by Memphians in the form of general obligation bonds proposed to be issued in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The remainder, $10.5 million, is coming from the federal and state governments, partially earmarked in legislation for ferry boats and docks.

Do we need it?
Beale Street Landing was designed to serve as a commercial riverboat dock when plans were still in the works to build a 50-acre landbridge. The landbridge would have shrunk the harbor and removed the space where large boats now dock on Mud Island. (Click on image above to enlarge and see the harbor with and without the landbridge.) The landbridge is no longer part of the riverfront plan, so the question is -- do we now need a new commercial dock or should we consider less expensive alternatives like improving the landing we already have.

Who is in charge?
Beale Street Landing is a Riverfront Development Corporation project, but operation of the facility, after its construction, will be leased to a third party. Two under consideration are: the locally owned and operated Memphis Riverboats, Inc., which provides daily excursion boat trips in Memphis, and Delta Steamship Corp., which offers longer overnight trips and currently has approximately 60* landings in Memphis each year. According to their website, there were 16 landings in Memphis by Delta Steamship (now Majestic America) boats in 2008. Of those 10 were for passengers to join or leave cruises.

But there's a problem with that plan. Neither company seems likely to assume management responsibilities. Memphis Riverboats says the new landing will bring new problems, and Delta Steamship is not considering relocating in Memphis or assuming management of the facility. It is anticipated that these two companies will use the new landing, while a third company, River Barge Excursion Lines, which also offers overnight river trips to Memphis, prefers and will continue to land at Mud Island.

Where does it stand?
Last year, in the first of four construction stages, the Corps of Engineers dredged the channel to make it wide enough to accommodate the new landing and yet still allow boats to enter and leave the harbor.
The current second stage involves building a retaining wall and landfillfor the project.
Because Beale Street Landing will impact a historic site and federal funds will be used, the RDC is required to present a 106 review before beginning work. The 106 review is not yet available. The Landmarks Commission has voted approval of a certificate of appropriateness for new construction of the boat landing in the Cotton Row Historic Preservation District pending the results of the 106 review and the inclusion in the contract of a provision to store and replace any cobblestones damaged during construction.

With modification, the design was approved by the TN Historic Commission.
Money has been approved by the City Council for this second stage of the project.
RDC requests for money for future phases are in the Capital Improvement Projects budget for years 2008 and 2009. They will require approval by the City Council.
There is additional information about Beale Street Landing in newspaper articles in our library. To access the library, click on "Library" in the upper right-hand corner of the menu bar at the top of this page.