If you only get one chance to make a first impression, then the $42.5 million Beale Street Landing could be in a tough spot this Saturday, when the American Queen steamboat with 430 passengers aboard visits Memphis from New Orleans.
They might need to be issued mud boots and blinders. The project, which the Riverfront Development Corporation says on its website (a response to its critics called "The Truth About Beale Street Landing") was supposed to be finished in the summer of 2011, is far from finished today.
The gift shop and main building opened last Friday, and the steamboat is scheduled to make its first visit of the 2013 season Saturday. Barring a massive cleanup, passengers will step on to the new floating dock and see several months' accumulation of trash trapped in the backwater around the dock and cylindrical ramp.
Jimmy Ogle, newly appointed general manager for Beale Street Landing, was at the park Sunday and Monday when I visited it and said he hopes at least some of the trash can be removed before the boat lands. His first thought was using john boats, but he says "we can't get them in there," so he hopes that long rakes might work instead.
The big logs that washed up on the banks will remain there for a while, said Ogle and Benny Lendermon, director of the Riverfront Development Corporation, who was also at the site Monday morning. Lendermon said the new completion date is November or December of this year, with a grand opening next spring.
An eddy in the river at the southern tip of Mud Island forces water and debris back toward the dock and ramp. Lendermon said the long-range solution is a screen or boom to block debris from reaching the landing. The former director of the city's division of public works has reminded Memphis City Council members, RDC board members, and the general public many times about the difficulty of building anything on a river with a rise and fall of 50 feet.
But the floating dock and cylindrical ramp aren't the only pieces of the project with problems. The restaurant is not open, and a walkway from the ramp to Riverside Drive that is supposed to have decorative tile is covered in plywood. The giant "pods" north of the building are under construction. And rebuilding of the cobblestones landing on the harbor appears to be at least a year or two away. The Memphis Queen line tour boats still tie up at the cobblestones, but they move to the new dock for boarding.
Appointing Ogle was a good move. He is as pleasant, resourceful, and knowledgeable an ambassador as any city could have. When he wasn't cutting up logs with a chain saw last week he was stocking up on square Kleenex boxes that resemble Beale Street Landing's multicolored, "pixilated-sunset" elevator shaft.
If you think anyone at the RDC was held accountable for the mess, think again. According to latest tax filings, Lendermon earns $230,549, up from $221,562 the previous year, and Dorchelle Spence was making $121,502 before her promotion from spokeswoman to vice president of the RDC two weeks ago. The RDC plans to hire an events coordinator to assist Ogle and Spence. Beale Street Landing is a tax-funded project, most of it approved by the council.