Grizzlies Pop-Up Fitness Trail Opens along River in Tom Lee Park


When you see the smiles or catch a sunset in Tom Lee Park, it's hard to believe that in 1997, the City planned to allow residential development of this park.  Today it covers about 30 acres, much of which is landfill added in 1977 to stabilize the Bluff and create the grand expanse that holds Memphis in May events. The park was again expanded in 1993, and recently several acres were added for Beale Street Landing.

Thanks to the Grizzlies and BlueCross BlueShield, a wonderful, new pop-up fitness trail now stretches along the shoreline, and there's a beach volleyball court, too. It's on trial, so be sure to go down, check it out, and GetRiver Fit!

"What if we start Seeing Memphis as Green & Growing?"

That's what Ed McMahon, Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute and Director of Land Use Planning for the Conservation Fund, recommended in Memphis a couple of weeks ago. 

Conservation of our natural resources, economic development, and prosperity go hand-in-hand he told audiences, and a couple of events this week show how Memphis is heading in that direction.  

Thoughts about economic development have changed McMahon pointed out. Today people are attracted to a place by beauty, recreation, and a family friendly environment, and cities, developers, conservation organizations, and landowners see that protecting natural resources is good for development. Homebuyers pay premium prices to live near nature and open spaces. This is about creating a place where people want to live, a city that is growing. 

"The 1st step is to figure out where not to develop, for instance places like a shore line, steep slope, or floodplain. If you figure out where not to develop, that points out where to develop," McMahon said. Views are important, too; locally you can ask anybody with a view of the River or a golf course, and they'll second that.

Green & Growing - Events this Week:
* Opening, Grizzlies Pop-Up Fitness Trail on the Riverfront in Tom Lee Park - Wed., 5-7 p.m.
* Public Presentation, Greenprint Plan for the Region - Thurs., 5:30-7 p.m., Hooks Main Library
McKellar Lake Clean-up with Memphis River Warriors, Sat. 10 am
Greenway Soiree benefitting Wolf River Conservancy, Sat. 6-9 pm, Wolf River 

Click HERE for an article by Amos Maki for the Daily News that includes more information about Mr. McMahon's talk.  

"Take Me to the River"

Music, History, Memphis, Genius - and, of course, we love the title. This documentary pairs across generations such musicians as Al Kapone and Booker T. Jones to look for the answer to what makes Memphis music so special. 

Click HERE for a review by Chris McCoy in "The Flyer." 
The film is playing at Malco Paradiso. 

In honor of Elvis - on the Memphis Waterfront

It's Elvis Week & things in Memphis seem to go a tad crazy. It only seems appropriate to take a quick peek back in time to July 1980 when Elvis bought a brand new, powder-blue, 16' speedboat and took it out on the Memphis riverfront down at McKellar Lake.

The Memphis Press Scimitar reported the story of Elvis's 1st, and it sounds like only, time behind the wheel.  Click HERE for the story and more photos.

Thank YOU!

A big thank you to all of you who came down to TN Brewery Untapped's  Beer with Benefits and dropped your tokens in the bottle to support Friends for Our Riverfront. We just received a check for $223 from YOU!

We'd like to spend it on something for the riverfront that you care about - maybe a swing, hammock, tree, flowers, kites, popsicles for a hot day, map,…?   Please send your suggestions either via a post on Facebook or by email to

And for fun, a look back in time --

  • Your ideas and suggestions from the 2007 Outdoors Inc. Canoe and Kayak Race.  Click, HERE

  •  Some photos from TN Brewery Untapped.

2 Riverfront Projects on "Pork" List for Wasteful Government Spending in TN

A taxpayer watchdog group, Beacon Center, says Memphis is the worst example in the state of government spending gone wild - not a ranking to brag about.

The millions of taxpayer dollars being spent converting the Pyramid into a Bass Pro and the $40M spent  on Beale Street Landing were two of the projects the report singles out.

Click HERE to read the report.

Downtown Trolleys - Gone for how long?

Downtown trolleys, the ones that circle downtown and run along the riverfront, have been sent to the barn, replaced, at least temporarily, by big green buses. Fires on the Madison Ave. line have MATA examining the problem and promising to repair or replace the trolley cars over the next 3 to 6 months. 

The trolley cars were never known for speed or on-time reliability, and the new big green buses are air conditioned. But the buses are out-of-scale for our historic downtown. And charm? Well, they haven't any.

Thanks to State Representative Barbara Cooper, a public meeting was held Monday, July 14 to discuss when and if the trolleys will run again. MATA representatives were there to answer questions. 

If you missed the meeting, here's a quick recap and links for more information and email address for your input.  
Read more »

Greenways App - Free Download

The Mid-South Greenways app is a fantastic way to learn about the trails, bike lanes, and parks in the Mid-South and how to navigate between them. The interactive map shows both street and satellite views, and sometimes most importantly, where you are at the moment.

It's free and available for both iPhone and Android devices.

Download it now on the AppStore or Google Play store by clicking the corresponding button below.

"History Detectives" Share the Story of the Sultana

The steamship Sultana exploded in 1865, killing 1,700 of its estimated 2,300 passengers. It was the worst maritime disaster in American history, and it happened just about 10 miles N. of Memphis.

The side-wheeler was overloaded with former Union soldiers heading home from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps in Andersonville, GA and Cahaba, AL. They had boarded the ship in Vicksburg where the Sultana's boiler had been patched. The riverboat stopped briefly at the Cobblestone Landing in Memphis and crossed the River to Hopewell, AR before the explosion on April 27, 1865.

PBS "History Detectives" investigate the disaster, in the 1st episode of their new series. Click HERE to watch online. Free.

Beale Street Landing Opens with 3 Celebrations

Photo by Bianca Phillips @ The Flyer
2,172 days after construction started, fences are down and crews gone from the intersection of Riverside Drive and Beale Street. At a ribbon cutting ceremony, children were welcomed to Play Island, one of the landscaped "pods," signaling completion of the $43M Beale Street Landing project. 

A private reception was held Friday night for 250 people, among them were RDC staff, board members, and three of the project's architects from Argentina.

Photo by Micchael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal
Photo by Michael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal

On Saturday (6/28), all ages braved the thunderstorms for a community celebration from noon to 7 pm with food vendors, aerialists, hip-hop dancers, and all kinds of music.
Valerie's Wings

Here are some links to newspaper coverage of the events:

This Weekend the Riverfront is Open for Us

2 Fun Events on the River this Weekend - Public Input @ Work

Saturday (6/14) 
33rd Annual Outdoors Canoe, Kayak, & SUP Race  
10 am, Mississippi River Park (Riverside Dr. @ Jefferson, by TN Visitors Center)

Sunday (6/15)
Open Streets Celebration 
4 pm on Riverside Drive @ Tom Lee Park

Come enjoy our riverfront. 

Bring your paddle, bike, skateboard, walking shoes, a comfortable chair, the kids, & Dad.

For a long time citizens have been asking for a natural, open, green riverfront that we can use and enjoy. It's exciting to see some of those suggestions coming to fruition. 
Click HERE to read what you said back in 2007 at the 26th Annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race. 

Join us for a Sunset Stroll along the Mississippi

Join Friends for Our Riverfront
Celebrate National Trails Day 
with a 2-3 mile stroll on Memphis's beautiful Bluffwalk
Saturday, June 7
6:45 - 8:30 pm

Meet at Butler Park for free parking. This entrance to the Bluffwalk is just north of the TN Brewery (495 Tennessee Street). 
No pets, please; but, yes, be sure to bring your camera.

City Pay to RDC @ Highest Level in 13 Years - $2,974,000 Subsidy in City Operating Budget

The Administration proposed and the Council Budget Committee approved a 25% raise for the Riverfront Development Corporation next year, a raise that is, well technically, not a raise. The vote put $2,974,000 in the City Operating Budget to subsidize the RDC at its 13 year high. 

Here's how it worked:
(Click to enlarge.)

At budget time last year, the City Council approved $2,373,859 to pay the RDC to run the riverfront. A year later, the Council Budget Committee voted to pay the RDC $2,974.000 for the same job. The way we figure it, that's a 25% raise.

Now you see it; now you don't.

On April 29, the Council Budget Committee was told: "Basically the Riverfront Development Corporation is presenting a budget that is comprised of the aggregate amount that has been funded in prior years. There will be some who will say that there was an increase to last year's budget but as members of the Council will recall the initial request from RDC was the amount that ultimately ended up being funded through the budget adjustment as part of last year's budget adjustment and that amount is a total of $2,974,000."

The budget adjustment had taken place a month earlier, in March. The Council had amended the operating budget to pay the RDC an extra $600,000 to cover RDC shortfalls. That brought the aggregate payment to the RDC up to $2.974,000, the highest City subsidy ever paid to the organization. In approving $2,974,000 for the RDC next year, the City in reality will be paying the RDC an extra $600,000 for both years.

The chart below shows how much money the City has paid RDC on July 15 of each year starting in 2001.  These amounts are direct subsidies from the City to the RDC solely to run the riverfront and do not include any money for capital projects, any equipment loans, or any income to the RDC from rental and lease of public facilities and parks on the riverfront.

(Click to enlarge)
As they search for ways to avoid tax increases and places to cut the budget, the Council has voted to delay the final approval of all budgets until June 17. You can send suggestions and comments to individual Councilmembers or all Councilmembers via email, HERE.

The chart information is from the City/RDC Contract (2001), the City/RDC Contract (as amended 2006), and online City Operating Budgets

Memphis Ranks Low on Quality of Park System

The Commercial Appeal reported that Memphis ranks 53rd among the nation’s 60 largest cities for the quality of park systems. 

This doesn't have to be the case. 
You are invited to a community-wide discussion 
The Parks of Memphis: 
Planning for the Future 

5:30 - 7:30 p.m. 
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 
Benjamin Hooks Central Library (3030 Poplar Ave., on Bus Route # 34 & 50) 

Cities around the country are trying to figure out how to best manage and operate park systems, many of which include waterfronts. This will be the 3rd community discussion hosted by The Trust for Public Land, City of Memphis Division of Parks and Neighborhoods, and Hyde Family Foundation.

Riverside Drive on "test" Road Diet

The year-long experiment - to see how well Riverside Drive functions as a 2-lane road and how the addition of a bike and pedestrian path benefits the riverfront and downtown - is underway. 

From Beale Street south to Carolina, the 2 lanes closest to the River will be closed to cars and open as paths for pedestrians and bikers. The lanes to the east, closest to the Bluff, will be for car traffic. Reworked cuts and crosswalks will permit access to Tom Lee Park and its parking lots. 

Reducing the number of lanes on a road is a national trend to see if cutting lanes slows-down traffic and makes an area more walkable, bike able, and people-friendly. The cost is minimal, and the change is being monitored to make sure there are no unexpected, ill side effects. 

Riverside Drive's "road diet" was a recommendation from urban-consultant Jeff Speck to the City, but this "test" run differs from Speck's suggestions in a couple of ways, such as not including on-street parking and not keeping a center boulevard-style median. Here are Speck's recommendations for this southern section of Riverside Drive :
  • Reduce Riverside to 2 lanes of car traffic, 1 on each side of the median.
  • Replace what is now the most eastern car lane (nearest the Bluff) with cheap or free parallel parking to eliminate the need for parking lots in Tom Lee Park.
  • Replace the current most western car lane with a 2-way bike lane
  • Plant the median with shade trees to form a tree canopy.

For Jeff Speck's full riverfront report, click HERE

For more info. and to see the results of "road diets" in other cities, click "Road Diets - Loosing Width and Gaining Respect." 

For coverage in the Daily News, click HERE.

"Seldom Seen View of the Father of Waters"

The only thing constant about the River is that it is constantly changing - the water, the light, the perspective, the shoreline. Congratulations  to FfOR board member Jeanne Arthur, who captured this unusual, organic view.  The photo, "Seldom Seen View of the Father of Waters," won the 1st prize in photography at Dixon Gallery and Gardens in the 2014 Memphis Garden Show.

@ the Brewery Sunday afternoon with the Symphony

Up on the Riverbluff, Sunday afternoon, Memorial Day weekend, free, in a fabulous historic building, food trucks, local beer for sale, & Friends for Our Riverfront is bringing some musicians from the Symphony!
Illustration courtesy of Martha Kelly
Please join us @ TN Brewery Untapped 
Sunday, May 25, 2014 
1:30 - 3 pm
495 TN Street 


Beale Street Landing - FOR RENT

WMC TV reports a change at Beale Street Landing. It now joins River Terrace and Harbor Landing as the 3rd troubled riverfront restaurant to become a private banquet and party facility.

All three riverfront restaurants were built primarily with City money, are owned by the City, and are operated by the Riverfront Development Corporation.  Any income from the three goes to the RDC, not back to the City.

In addition, the City pays the RDC a management fee - for next year the Administration proposes to pay them $3M, which the City Council Budget Subcommittee voted to approve.

'Unexpected high demand' for RDC restaurant space - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

WREG looks @ Beale Street Landing Problems

"The world's most expensive souvenir shop," that's what WREG reports citizens are calling Beale Street Landing. The cost so far - $43M and most of that is taxpayer money, including the funding listed as grants.  The RDC says there was never an estimate for the whole project, and no one ever gave them an overall budget. Click HERE

Now with an opening date of some time late in June, "informed sources" are hoping but skeptical that Beale Street Landing can make it. The consensus: "it wasn't thought out very well.: Click HERE.

"If not the RDC, who?" - Some Management Options & Salary Comparisons

Mayor Wharton asked the question.

Now fresh out of Memphis Boot Camp and increasingly aware how important it is that we ask these kinds of questions and consider the possibilities, we've taken a quick look at how 3 Tennessee cities are managing their waterfronts and at how Memphis is managing our parks, greenways, and downtown.   

Comparing Management of 3 TN Waterfronts

In Nashville, the Metro Parks and Recreation Department is in charge of managing the new waterfront parks, greenways, amphitheater, and pedestrian bridge. The Department Director's salary is $129,662. The Assistant Director makes $102,500.

In Chattanooga, Rivercity Company, founded as a non-profit in 1986 to implement a 20-year, 22-mile blueprint for the Chattanooga riverfront and downtown, has completed much of its work on public amenities and is now shifting to focus on nearby downtown commercial redevelopment.  The original work was funded by $12M from local foundations and financial institutions. Rivercity's recent annual budget was $3.2M with $75,000 of that coming from the City. The director's salary with benefits is $241,919.

In Memphis, the RDC was set up in 2000 and, according to the Commercial Appeal, had spent about $75M on the riverfront by 2011. More than 98% of its funding has been public rather than from private sources. The pie-chart breaks the organization's expenditures into categories. 

Tax forms show a $1,456,911 RDC deficit in 2011 and a $623,754 shortfall in 2012.  The RDC President's salary in 2012 was $226,837 plus $15,781 from other related organizations. The compensation range of his top three assistants was $82,637 - $122,850.

Memphis - Other Management Options

Memphis Department of Parks & Neighborhoods now includes Park Services, Memphis Public Library system, Memphis Music Commission, Memphis and Shelby County Office of Reentry, Office of Community Affairs, and Memphis Animal Services. The staff oversees 166 Parks, 110 playgrounds, 25 summer day camps, 28 Community Centers and 4 Senior Centers, 17 swimming pools, 8 golf courses, 48 athletic fields with youth and adult teams, 130 basketball courts, tennis centre, May Soccer Complex, Skinner Development Center, Memphis Zoo, Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis Botanic Garden, and Pink Palace Family of Museums. The Director of Parks & Neighborhoods makes $118,879.28. The Deputy Director of Parks Operations makes $103,664.60.

Downtown Memphis Commission's goal is to aggressively promote commercial redevelopment downtown.  It is an improvement district funded through a special assessment of commercial property owners. The assessment generates approximately $2.8M annually, which is used by DMC to provide technical assistance, planning and promotional support, design assistance, public improvements, business recruitment, and management assistance. DMC has recently received the additional responsibilities of managing Beale Street and overseeing the Main to Main project. The DMC president's salary is $155,000. The 3 vice-president's salaries range between $80,000 and $110,000.

Conservancies have been set up to manage two Memphis parks: Shelby Farms and Overton. In both cases, the land remains publicly owned, and the Conservancy operates on a 10-year management contract. The 3rd local example, Wolf River Conservancy, is a non-profit land trust dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the Wolf River corridor and watershed for education and low impact recreation.
  • Shelby Farms Park Conservancy sets the vision, fundraises to meet operational needs, and manages Shelby Farms Park and Shelby Farms Greenline recreational trail. The Director's salary is $119,438. The Associate Director's salary is $83,854. The Park Manager's salary is $99,750.
  • Overton Park Conservancy  oversees the Midtown Memphis park excluding management of the zoo, golf course, Memphis College of Art, Brooks Museum of Art, Levitt Shell, and the fire department installations. In 2012 the Conservancy received $377,863 or 15% of its operating costs from the City. The Director's salary was $52,837.
  • Wolf River Conservancy as a land trust holds in excess of 1,110 acres extending from the River's headwaters toward the its confluence with the Mississippi River in Memphis.  The Executive Director salary in 2012 was $75,000.
The management structures above are just a few of many options. For more information on waterfront management and oversight systems other cities have established, click HERE,

Memphis Boot Camp was thoughtful, challenging, exciting. If you weren't able to attend, videos are now online. Click HERE