Whether we want it or not – Council votes to pay for boat dock

The Council Chamber was packed -- standing room only. But neither the size of the crowd nor impassioned pleas to cut Beale Street Landing, resonated with the City Council. The vote was 7 to 3, with one abstention, to spend $29.4 million of taxpayer money to build the new commercial boat dock.

Sue Williams, June West, Lynda Ireland, James Baker, Steve Sondheim, and Susan Caldwell presented persuasive arguments that the boat dock may not work, that federal approval has not been received, that the design has nothing to do with Memphis, and that the general public has many other higher priorities.

As Susan Caldwell said,
Beale Street Landing is not a small public project, and your vote today is important. $29.4 million is a lot money, almost half of what we paid for the Pyramid. And all of that is taxpayer money.

It has been estimated that each year it will cost $100,000 more just to operate the new boat dock. Where will that money come from?

The Med is gasping for breath. Swimming pools are closed. Students desperately need summer jobs. Everyday the newspaper’s front-page reports more crime. Neighborhoods cry out for speed bumps, parks, libraries, crime control, better schools, not for a new boat dock.

In fact, I have yet to hear one Memphian ask for a new boat dock.

My job is to recruit bright young people to work in Memphis. I can unequivocally say, that not one of them is making a decision on where to live based on a new commercial boat dock.

Two of the three commercial boat companies that dock in Memphis prefer landing on Mud Island and at the Cobblestones. The third is in financial trouble and has moved their headquarters to the West Coast. Whether or not we build a new dock, these companies will all continue to dock in Memphis.

I ask you to consider: What real community needs and future needs will be cut in order to build this project? What maintenance will be ignored? What libraries and parks will be closed?

Once built, this project will not go away.

I ask you to listen to the voices of those in your districts. If a new commercial boat dock is on the top of their list, then vote for this project.

But if they, like so many I’ve heard, think there are more important things to do with our money, better and more effective ways to improve the riverfront, don’t give a hoot about a new boat dock, and think we should first figure out how to improve Mud Island and fill the Pyramid, then I respectfully ask you to vote for a better future for our city and to remove this expensive new project from the budget.

Rickey Peete, who championed the project for years, has resigned, but Benny Lendermon, retired Director of Public Works for the City and now Executive Director of the Riverfront Development Corporation, the public-private body in charge of the project, argued that the boat dock go forward.

Councilmembers Brown, McCormick, Marshall, Lowery, Brittenum, Ford, and Swearengen-Ware voted for the project. Councilmembers Chumney, Jones, and Sammons voted against the boat dock. Councilmember Madeleine Cooper Taylor abstained. Councilmember Brent Taylor was not present for the vote.

The vote is not final until the minutes are approved at the next meeting, which is on June 19. If you’d like to let the Councilmembers know where you stand, you may e-mail them at this Web page.

See also: Gates of Memphis: 4 Problems with Beale Street Landing.