Progress in Small Doses

Consensus sought on cobblestone landing and stadium.

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Life goes on, even in an interim mayoral administration. There's small but significant progress to report on a couple of nagging issues.

A meeting was scheduled Tuesday, August 11th, with the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the Corps of Engineers to discuss the $6.6 million cobblestones revitalization plan. The project is adjacent to but separately funded from Beale Street Landing, which is under construction at the north end of Tom Lee Park.

The cobblestones, to the uninitiated, are big smooth rocks, some with chain links embedded in them, that date from the heyday of Memphis as a cotton port for steamboats. As the RDC says, they're "amphibious" and hard to walk on — not that that stops people from trying or from parking cars on them. The RDC plan, which is not, uh, set in stone, envisions stabilizing them, restoring them, and improving access.

Spending $6 million on cobblestones at a time when the city is cutting school bus routes instead of grass may seem odd, but there are many pots of money involved, and that is Memphis and the RDC for you.

"Access for whom?" is a question that likely came up at the public meeting. Recreational boaters would like to land their canoes and kayaks at the cobblestones, but fear they will be excluded from them and Beale Street Landing. Expect to hear a lot about riprap in the coming days.

One recent boating event did not go well. The powerboat regatta hosted by the RDC July 31st through August 2nd was plagued by bad weather and spotty marketing. There was also the matter of a barge, owned by the Memphis Yacht Club and used for parties and Memphis in May activities. A spokesman for the club says the RDC borrowed a blacktop barge, approximately 30 feet by 12 feet, for the powerboat people to use as a platform to take pictures and movies. It was moved to the south tip of Mud Island, a muddy sandbar suitable for landing a barge. But for some reason, possibly to get a better vantage point, the barge was moved by a police boat to the other side of the harbor, along the riprap and cobblestones.

There it sat, until wave action pushed it over some sharp rocks. The barge sprang a leak and sank. No one was aboard. As of Monday afternoon, it was still at the bottom of the harbor. The yacht club is trying to work out responsibility for salvaging it with the RDC, the powerboat people, and the police department.

"There are so many hands in this darn thing that it's hard to figure out responsibility," said the yacht club spokesman. "All we know is that it wasn't us. We know how not to sink our barge. We're probably talking $5,000 to float and fix the thing."

The incident illustrates the difficulty of balancing historic preservation and public access to the river and cobblestones for extreme athletes, little old ladies in tennis shoes, and recreational boating on a working river subject to sudden fluctuations in water level. Look at it this way: If we're debating over rocks, then things could be worse.

On another front, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is getting some $5 million in improvements to locker rooms, existing ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) seating, the media room, concessions, and women's restrooms.

It's not clear whether this puts the potentially expensive ADA issue to bed for good or not. Cindy Buchanan, head of the Memphis Park Commission, said "continuing upgrades over the next four to five years" will bring the stadium into compliance.

The ADA improvements add permanent companion seats to existing seats, which are more than adequate to meet demand, according to information previously provided to the city council by Buchanan and to the Flyer by officials at the University of Memphis athletic department.

The 61,000-seat stadium has 133 pairs of wheelchair seats and companion seats. That is well below the strict ADA 2-percent standard, but enough to meet demand. The U of M sold 48 wheelchair seats all last season and no more than 8 for any game. The most wheelchair seats sold in the last three years was 50 for the 2006 game against the University of Tennessee.

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