If, on May 7th, the city council gives the go-ahead to the Riverfront Development Corporation's master plan without modification, the city of Memphis will start down the path of an expensive, poorly conceived project that will change it forever.
The cornerstone of the project is a land bridge connecting a major section of downtown to Mud Island and creating an artificial lake.RDC's rationalization for this is their conclusion that Memphians have an unfulfilled desire to come to the river. In reality they plan to create approximately 50 acres for some future unknown development and to open many downtown areas to the development of multiresident housing.
The RDC claims that the project will cost less than $300 million. Their estimate is presented as a detailed budget (with estimates down to the dollar level), when in reality it is at best a guess at the true cost. If inflation, the cost of closing and/or moving the many businesses and Coast Guard station located on the harbor, and the cost of bridging over the mainline railroad track are considered, the cost is easily more than double their estimate.
Memphis will lose its vital and active harbor. For 10 years, from the start of construction, the riverfront will be the site of a massive landfill. The fill required would be the equivalent of a large truckload dumped every four minutes, seven days a week, 24 hours per day for four years.Imagine the views from our newly completed Performing Arts Center and the newly landscaped Riverfront Drive during this massive construction effort. Instead of a welcoming waterfront, for years it will be fenced off to allow for construction.
The plan is built around the completion of the land bridge. In fact, 80 percent of the cost of the project (which I estimate to be at least $680 million) is related to closing the harbor and preparing for and building the land bridge. This results in new land that will cost an unbelievable $11 million per acre. To make the new land competitive for developers, Memphis will have to absorb most of this cost.
Memphis can provide land for growth at a much lower cost.
The impact on downtown is unacceptable. For years, the landfill will be under construction, just when we are beginning to attract new tourists and residents. Once the bridge is in place, we will be looking at a barren 50 acres while the newly filled land settles and developers are found. Special foundations and pilings will be required to overcome the poor ground conditions, further complicating and increasing the cost of construction.
Claims for new jobs created by the land bridge are pure speculation and don't account for the many jobs lost through closing the harbor. The funds used for creating this new land will be unavailable for other developments that have equal job-creation potential.
The environmental impact has not been evaluated. Permits are not in place. The potential requirement for an environmental impact statement is real and could further delay the project, increasing its cost. The creation and maintenance of a large artificial lake has unknown implications, including leaching of pollutants, accelerated algal growth, and groundwater changes.
The eventual result of the land bridge is likely to be the loss of Mud Island Park and Museum, the loss of The Pyramid, and the delay or loss of many other potential waterfront improvements.
There are many projects that would enhance the Wolf River harbor and make the waterfront a more attractive place to visit. These projects would not need to focus on creating more land for development and would not need to compete with the land currently unused in the downtown area.
The plan for a land bridge needs to be stopped now!
Thomas Kroll, a Harbor Town resident, is the retired president of an engineering and consulting firm.