Letter-to-editor exposes riverfront land grab

In a letter to the editor of the “Commercial Appeal,” Mike Cromer reports on the Mayor's comments, dispels some myths about the riverfront, and let's us in on the City’s intentions. Here's the letter that tells who wins/who loses, if the City takes the Public Promenade by eminent domain.

Riverfront land grab pending
Saturday, January 17, 2009

At the Rotary Club luncheon Jan. 13, Mayor Willie Herenton was asked about the status of the riverfront. In response, he fibbed:
"The matter of ... the Overton heirs ... I don't know when that will ever be resolved satisfactorily, in terms of some of the real estate that the Riverfront Development [Corporation] is looking forward to for public purposes. That still remains an issue which we're still no closer to."

The truth is that the city hasn't held any meaningful negotiations with the descendants of the Proprietors (Memphis founders) in at least six years -- if ever.

Why? First, the city's lawyers have long known that the descendants don't have the power to agree to a modification of the terms of the Public Promenade easement.

Second, the city doesn't even want a modified easement. It wants to own the land outright, so it can lease or sell it to developers.

The city paid thousands of dollars to a powerful Washington law firm to research how to accomplish this goal. By May 2003, city lawyers had concluded that the way to do it was by eminent domain. In other words: They want to condemn the Public Promenade and eliminate the easement.

Why does Herenton (helped by this newspaper -- see "Time to move on the Promenade," Aug. 17, 2008) continue to perpetuate the myth that "Overton heirs" are obstacles to progress? Because taking property by eminent domain could inspire a public backlash.

The myth is part of a deliberate public relations strategy to demonize the "Overton heirs" -- the Promenade's supposed owners -- so that when the city goes to court to condemn the Promenade, the public has little or no sympathy for the heirs' loss. The city will claim, of course, that when the heirs wouldn't cooperate, officials had no choice but to take it by eminent domain.

But the descendants' "ownership" is the biggest fib. It's a legal technicality. As long as the property is subject to the easement, the descendants own nothing of any real value. The value is in the right to use the Promenade, which already belongs to the general public.

What Herenton hopes citizens never realize is that the city would be taking their property by eminent domain so it can sell, lease or even give the land to private commercial interests.

Michael Cromer

As Cromer points out, YOU, as a citizen of Memphis, own and benefit from an undivided interest in the Public Promenade as protected by the easement of 1819. And yes, it's your property that the City would be taking by eminent domain.

Click topics below for additional information:
Eminent domain scheme,
Legal issues.