RDC asks for $200K more for Beale St Landing - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

RDC asks for $200K more for Beale St Landing

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The Riverfront Development Corporation is asking for an additional $200,000 for the already bloated Beale Street Landing project.

The request though is a tough sell.

There is the giddiness of unexplored potential.

"It'll be a mixture of things, so people can gather and experience the river and for the first time ever in Memphis get close to the water," Benny Lendermon said in 2007.

There is after 14 years the harsh realization Memphis will again settle for a lot less than the picturesque world-class riverfront it once dreamed of having.

"We cannot turn back. The question is if not RDC then who?," questioned Mayor A C Wharton.

This week hasn't been the first time critics have sounded off against the Riverfront Development Corporation, the non-profit organization chosen in 1999 by the city to guide the fortunes of Beale Street Landing and Mud Island as parts of a riverfront master plan.

It was a proposed wonderland of shops, restaurants, art galleries, walkways and docking for riverboats that initially was projected to cost a staggering $297 million when completed. On Tuesday FOX13 News asked Mayor Wharton to remind us why did the city opted to turn over the public property to RDC rather than try to develop it themselves years ago.

"The premise, and this was developed before I took over, was that if you allow them to operate as the private sector does, they would not get bogged down in some of the bidding practices and they could operate at a cost much lower than the city would have to expend," the mayor said.

However, the  opposition to what would have been the most expensive construction plan in the city's history was immediate, loud and foreboding. Even as the plan was scaled back to a mere $29 million in 2008.

"Once it's built, this project won't go away," said Susan Caldwell in 2008 who opposed the riverfront project. "Just like the Pyramid won't go away. We'll all be standing here figuring out what to do with it."

But, within a week two incidents brought home the futility of what's been a snake-bitten project. The announcement negotiations between the RDC and a new contractor to operate a restaurant in Beale Street Landing had fallen through, and RDC's presentation before city council members of a 2014 budget proposal asking for a four percent increase in their contract amount.

Listing their total expenses as more than $4.8 million, including salaries and benefits for permanent employees and seasonal workers wages that exceeded the total projected revenues of just over $2 million.

"When you have an amphitheater over there that only has six concerts, when you have a major banquet facility over on Mud Island that only has 10 or 12 events and the city pays for the repairs of those facilities; I'm not sure we're getting a return on investment we deserve," said City Councilman Harold Collins.
But, then Memphians have waited 14 years to get a return on what was the potential of riverfront development.

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