City unveils early plans for riverfront redevelopment

Ideas for possible, future redevelopment of the Memphis riverfront were on display recently, as the City of Memphis and Chicago-based architecture and urban design firm Studio Gang presented concepts that would transform six miles along the Mississippi River.

“These are concepts that we will use in our continuing development of the riverfront,” said Alan Crone, special counsel to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and chairman of the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force. “It’s not a static project in that there’s going to be one riverfront project that is going to accomplish our community’s goals on the river. It’s an ongoing process.”

Studio Gang’s work was informed by more than 4,500 survey responses from Memphians and multiple public events. It was commissioned for the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force by the Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC), with the support of the Hyde Family Foundations and the Kresge Foundation.

Mayor Strickland and Riverfront Task Force members will now evaluate the concept, seek additional public consultation and determine which ideas are best for Memphis and feasible to execute.

“There are some things that are already underway. For example, the RDC is working on the cobblestone project to stabilize and restore the historic cobblestone field at the base of the bluffs,” said Crone. “The Hyde Family Foundations and the city are in the process of funding connections to make sure the various river walks, pedestrian and bicycle paths and trails are all connected, with the goal being to be able to walk or ride a bicycle from the Great River Crossing all the way to the Wolf River Greenway at the northern end of Greenway Park. Eventually we would like to extend those bike and pedestrian connections all the way to Martin Luther King Park on the south.”

The Civic Commons project, also known as the Fourth Bluff, to modernize and reinvigorate the Cossitt Library and Mississippi River Park is also underway. Improvements at Tom Lee Park and Mud Island are being considered but are still early in their formation according to Crone.

Activating parks and open spaces with pavilions, playgrounds, plantings and street-level retail are key components to invigorating less-used areas of the riverfront - making them more fun, exciting and interesting for users.

Studio Gang’s concept presents short-, medium-, and long-term investment ideas focused around three principles: 1) fostering positive encounters, civic pride and identity, and new understanding of the Mississippi River; 2) restoring natural conditions, native ecology, and a more dynamic relationship between people and the river; and 3) connecting assets along the river, the riverfront to the city (downtown and the neighborhoods beyond), and people with each other.

“We’ve been working on the riverfront for 200 years, and we’ll be working on the riverfront for well into the future,” Crone said.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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