Beale Street Landing Has a Problem (Again)

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Beale Street Landing

American Queen

Sometimes a picture (two of them in this case) is worth 1,000 words. The pictures above were both taken Thursday afternoon. One of them shows Beale Street Landing absent the American Queen (that's a barge approaching it from the harbor). The other shows the American Queen, which was christened at Beale Street Landing in April but forced to dock this week at the north end of Mud Island because of low water.

This $40 million project simply cannot catch a break.

The Riverfront Development Corporation, which one year ago said in a statement about the timetable for completion of Beale Street Landing that "almost a decade of careful study and planning will soon pay off," said in another statement this week that "additional work must be completed to accept the American Queen at the lowest possible river stage."

At -5 feet on the Memphis gauge, the river is low but not as low (-10.7 feet) as it was in July, 1988, well within the memory of the staff and board members of the RDC. The flood of 2011 was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but this summer's drought is a several-times-in-a-lifetime event. In other words, it was foreseeable by the designers of Beale Street Landing. We can only wonder what the RDC means and what the cost will be of the "additional work" that is necessary.

This underscores two things, one of them good and one of them not so good.

The good is Greenbelt Park, the most popular, cost-efficient, user-friendly, and versatile park on the river. In June it was the site of the Outdoors Inc. Canoe and Kayak Race and the LUVMUD 5k obstacle course race. The American Queen was able to dock at the fishermen's boat ramp at the north end of the park and transport its passengers downtown by bus. The park is regularly used by walkers, bikers, and joggers who appreciate the shade, scenery, ease of access, and well-manicured sidewalk.

The not so good is the planned $6 million rehabilitation and development of Cobblestones Landing, which was put on hold because of Beale Street Landing. The river level fluctuation is an obvious engineering and design challenge at the cobblestones, which were underwater during the big flood of 2011 and are subject to erosion in low water.

The RDC and the City of Memphis secured approximately $6 million in local and other funds to preserve, restore and enhance the cobblestone landing. The process began in early 2008 but has stalled several times.

Still to be determined is the design and color scheme of the elevator enclosure that looks like a top hat on the grassy knoll at Beale Street Landing. An earlier rendering, now under reconsideration, is shown below.

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