Mud Island River Park may have a much needed makeover in its near future. The Memphis-based RVC Outdoor Destinations
, a national outdoor hospitality company, has submitted a proposal to the city to redevelop the existing park by creating a long-term public/private partnership. RVC would operate the city-owned park on the southern end of the island, including the River Park, Mississippi River Museum and Mud Island Amphitheater.
RVC is led by Andy Cates who submitted the proposal last week. The proposal is required by the Riverfront Development Corporation in their request-for-qualifications process.
"We’d like to lead a collaborative and locally driven process to create a world-class outdoor destination in our hometown, authentically Memphis and focused on our greatest natural asset – the Mississippi River," said Cates in a letter to Benny Lendermon, President of the Riverfront Development Corporation. "And, we’re ready to move forward and will put our money where our mouth is by investing our own capital, intellectual and financial, as well as attracting additional support both private and philanthropic."
The proposal calls for the creation of a nonprofit conservancy composed of a diverse group of civic and business leaders. The conservancy — modeled after the successful versions at Shelby Farms Park and Overton Park — would exist for planning and review, plus oversight of RVC.
Cates argues that the park is currently under-utilized, costly to the city, and in a state of decay. "After spending over $300 million (in today’s dollars) and costing the community nearly $2 million a year to operate, Mud Island is in desperate need of qualified help."
The $300 million figure is reached by combining the net value of the original work and the annual losses since opening. Excluding a single year, attendance has dropped annually since the park opened.
While a number of public and private ideas for the park have been suggested over the years, none have materialized, and no fresh investment has been made into the property for 15 years. "Benign neglect due to lack of funding, resources and political will is not an operating plan. Doing nothing is no longer an option," Cates said.
The public/private partnership would commit private and public capital towards improving and expanding redevelopment, while ownership of the park would remain with the City of Memphis. RVC would lend not just experience in operating such a partnership, but also experience in crafting outdoor hospitality destinations. They would also bring their pocketbook; the proposal says "RVC commits significant private capital as well as commits to raising significant charitable investment or public improvements."
The vision for the park is focused on getting both locals and tourists "on the water" through easy access to the river and harbor. From there visitors could enjoy boat and kayak rentals, plus guided fishing and eco-tours.
The proposed redevelopments would include extending Greenbelt Park, creating a new main entrance with easy access, and a reimagining of the sky bridge without a monorail. Renovating or demolishing the Harbor Landing Building is also part of the plan. Overnight lodging and team building resources are possible fresh uses for the structure.
If the Museum is retained, it will be smaller and more interactive, requiring updates to the existing dated exhibits. The Riverwalk will be upgraded with landscaping, shaded areas and concession opportunities.
The proposal calls for the Amphitheater to be overhauled, from the stage and sound equipment to the seating and concessions.
"This is a transformative project," Cates says. "We are thinking big thoughts on how to best redevelop the property to make a major impact."