The Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) has actually done what your usual public/private "study commission" either fails at or doesn't even attempt-- actually propose both a sweeping vision and a coherent strategy for implementing it.
The RDC's vision, incorporated in a report which will soon be made fully public, is a distillation of several development ideas that have been bruited about in recent years -- as well as some new and intriguing ones. Without passing judgment on them at this point, we nevertheless commend the organization for the explicitness of its vision. Public response will help refine that vision and adjustments will no doubt be made before the first shovelful of dirt gets moved.
Some of the RDC's plans will disappoint those who have an attachment to the riverfront icons of the recent past -- the Mud Island monorail, the swimming pool, and the amphitheater in which artists of every stripe have performed.
But the fact is the swimming pool is not exactly a recreational mecca, the amphitheater has gone largely unbooked in recent years, and the Mud Island monorail looked both more glamorous and more useful in the movie version of The Firm than it has ever been in reality. If the land bridge imagined by Lendermon, Jernigan, et al. gets built, it should serve not only everyday purposes but as an access point for events and attractions on the reconfigured island.
The bottom line for the RDC's plans is the bottom line. "Make it pay" is the motto, say Lendermon and Jernigan, who imagine, among other things, a major corporation coming to roost on the newly reconstituted Mud Island.
The slogan may not be realistic to those among us who insist on maintaining things according to some idealized vision -- those who, for example, reacted so strongly years ago to a private chain's desire to build a convenience hotel that would front Main Street from the then-vacant grassy square adjoining the Morgan Keegan Building. In retrospect, that structure, though nothing to write home about, was one of the first signs that downtown could have an economically viable future -- sans benefit of artificial or wholly theoretical designs.
We think the RDC has made an impressive first move. What happens next is a matter for public dialogue.
Though there was obvious annoyance on the part of 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, who has waited his turn for a chance to run for statewide office, many were intrigued by the news this week that Tennessee's former governor might run for the U.S. Senate if incumbent Fred Thompson chooses to vacate it. Lamar Alexander came off as a bit of a loser in his futile second try for the presidency in 2000. Too bad, because he was something of a success as governor and as secretary of education. The fact is we rather cotton to the idea of an extended debate between the likes of Bryant and Alexander on the Republican side. Meanwhile, there's Harold Ford Jr. and several of his Democratic congressional colleagues on the other side.
Hmm. Could be an interesting political season after all.