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Behind the Headlines – July 26, 2019

Behind the Headlines – July 26, 2019

– Production funding for
“Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – The ongoing controversy
on the riverfront tonight on “Behind
the Headlines.” [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes with
“The Daily Memphian.” Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by three supporters of a group calling itself
Get Our Riverfront Right who have concerns
about the current plans for the riverfront
and the process that was taken to get there. They include Rodney Baber,
thanks for being here. – Good to be here. – Lyman Aldrich, who
was the president of Memphis in May
in 1977 and in 2000. Thanks for being here. Denise Bollheimer, thank
you for being here. And I’m also joined
by Bill Dries, reporter with “The
Daily Memphian.” So I’ll go to, I’m
gonna go to you, Lyman. You go way back,
you all go way back with Memphis in May in
different ways and we’ll, and with the riverfront and
with a lotta civic enterprises. You have your own
businesses and so on, so we’ll kinda talk
through your involvement in these things, but let
me, I’ll start with you. What are your concerns
about the plans that have been put
forward and the process, the sort of many-year process, depending on how you count it, that led to where we are today? – The many-year process,
you mean going back to when Memphis
in May was begun? – The process, the plans
that have been put forward by Memphis River
Parks Partnership that are in mediation
now between the current Memphis in May group
and that group. I think you all have concerns
about what those plans would do to the river,
what they might do to Memphis in May, and the
process they went through. – That’s right, when we
took a look at the plan for the first time
back in February, we were very concerned
after looking at it, and for two hours we spent
down there with Carol, and we all came away from there and afterwards we
met, and we said, boy, the Memphis in May
events cannot fit in that. When you see all the concrete, all the trees that
are put in there, the berms that are put in there, all the space
that’s put in there, and you look at overview
of all of the what it takes to put these big events in
there, and it would not work. And then you
immediately go to, well, if it doesn’t work,
what does that do to the economic engine
that we’ve developed over these 40 years
here and what does it do to the businesses
on Beale Street and Downtown hotels if
you’re not able to do those events the way they are. You don’t damage that
because it’s just like if it damages it,
then you can lose all the people that come in. You wouldn’t go to Mardi Gras if it was not in
the French Quarter. It’s the same kinda thing. – So you’re worried that
literally it will push Memphis in May out of the
park and off the riverfront. – The way we saw it, yes.
– The way you saw it. – The way we saw it. – And you mentioned Carol,
that’s Carol Coletta, who’s the head of the Memphis
River Parks Partnership. Rodney, I’ll go to you,
I mean, your concerns. – Well, based on the
first meeting we had, we went down and looked at
the scale model and all that, and we came up with the
conclusion that wouldn’t fit. And so we just started
a process of discovery trying to figure out as
much as we could about this and started realizing
there were issues with it that we felt like we
needed to deal with. And so we’re here
now with those really pretty much out on the table,
but the lack of management of the Corps of
Engineers situation, putting out a thing
would not allow permits to be issued in June because
they were gonna start construction then without
really having done the work with the Corps of
Engineers to figure that out. And even the Corps
of Engineer problem, there’s a significant
issue with doing what they’re trying
to do down there with the state of the park
and what it represents and the way it abuts
the bluff and all that. And it was put down there
not as necessarily a park, but really because
it served a purpose. So we had that issue and
then the economic issues and all of the things
that came out of it that really concerned me. – And so I’m clear,
your involvement with, you were involved
from the earliest days in Memphis in May, right? – Yeah, I was,
Lyman had a meeting at the Chamber of
Commerce basement, and I was invited to
that, and that was back in July of 1976 for
the ’77 festival. – Right, right, yeah,
and we’ll come back to all these things,
but I wanna make sure, just kinda get your
opening thoughts in. And Denise, we chatted a
little bit before the show, and you said for you, it’s not
merely about Memphis in May. It’s a bigger issue that
you have concerns about. – Absolutely.
– You speak to that. – Well, I guess if you
thought of the riverfront and Downtown as sort
of a mining town, just as an example, it just
sounds a little stretched, but if you thought about it,
you’d realize that everybody in a mining town is
dependent on the mine. And so you’ve got merchants,
and you might have hotels and restaurants and
lots of other businesses and courts and on and
on and on and families, and when we went to,
we saw this model and we said it doesn’t
fit for Memphis in May, I started realizing, and
somebody sort of made a good analogy that this is
like the canary in the mine, that it’s not just
about the canary. It’s about messing up the
livelihood of the town, that if you look at it
and say the mine would be shut down maybe 18
months, what does that do to everybody?
– You mean for the construction
of the park? – Right, exactly.
– Yeah. – And what would that
do to Memphis in May, and could it get back to the
way it used to be with that. So it’s not just
about Memphis in May. It’s my tax dollars
and your tax dollars that potentially are being used, and even the donors, I’d be
concerned about the donors and their money going into this when it maybe is not the
best use of the funds. I mean, what, this morning’s
paper, one of the papers, said we’re already 100
people that have homicides and we’re only mid-year? Well, so–
– But how does that relate to what’s going on
at the riverfront? – Because we have– – I mean, no one, and I
don’t mean to make light of the homicide rate
and the crime rate, and we’re actually about
to do a bunch of shows we’re gonna try to
do about crime– – If we have money,
if we have people with $60 million of donor funds, maybe we should be
trying to do something to enhance law enforcement
and preventing homicides. Let’s take 10
million, 20 million and maybe put it
in the riverfront. Nobody is saying don’t
enhance the riverfront. What they’re saying
is, is that much money for one single park the
smartest use of the funds. – And again, I’ll, ’cause
we’ve done a number of shows on the riverfront, and
so I’ll sort of channel some of the opinions of people
on the other side of this, that, I can hear the mayor and
I can hear the mayor’s office saying these are
not tax dollars. There’s are not the
property tax dollars. This is all through a
TDZ and it’s through redirected sales tax
money and growth Downtown. You have to do a
tourist-related, you can’t put TDZ
money, they will say, and this is true, towards
things like police. That’s just the way
it works, and so– – Right, I understand.
– Right. – But where it really
comes down to money is that if that’s
supposed to sustain us for 10, 20, 30 years,
where’s the maintenance fund coming from?
– Yeah. – Where is the security? Where are the operating
funds, on and on and on. So the $60 million or
whatever it happens to be is maybe the initial cost,
but it really is not our cost. – Right, right, and one
of those things, too, and I’m gonna turn to Bill now, but just so people know
who don’t follow this as closely is that the
River Parks Partnership and Memphis in May, because
they’re in mediation, there’s a media, they’re
not really allowed to talk to the media, although they
do push the edges of that. But that is some questions,
and we’d love to get Carol Coletta back on, we’d
love to get Jim Holt back on, the current president
of Memphis in May and talk about some
of those issues. So we’ll kinda, we’ll talk
around the edges of ’em as best we can given
mediation’s still ongoing. But Bill, let me get you in. – Lyman, in your
view of this plan for Tom Lee Park, is
it that Memphis in May cannot fit into that design as
it is now or that it can’t fit into it under any configuration
or reconfiguration? – Well, it won’t fit
in it as it is now. In our opinion,
it won’t do that, and we don’t know the
other configurations. When we did our analysis
after we met down there the first time and did a
lotta study on this thing, we said, yeah, there’s some
improvements need to be made. When we did a very
long memo and sent it to the administration
about yeah, we are for some of the changes that
can take place, but that’s not the whole thing. Right now, you’re in mediation, so you’re to the
point where you’ve got Memphis in May, and you have
MRPP, which is taxpayer funded, and then you have the
mayor and then you have, and the judge, you’re
gonna turn that part of the riverfront over to a
decision made by four people. It should be made by the
whole entire community because you’ve got 6 1/2,
what, 6 1/2 miles of riverfront that are there? That’s what all oughta
be under a plan, and the community
oughta be involved with making those decisions. – But what, I mean,
they will push back and say that there many
community meetings, there were surveys,
there was a whole lot of outreach that was done. I mean, did you go to
those community meetings? – Quite frankly, I
didn’t know of ’em. I’ve been living back Downtown
now for about 2 1/2 years. – Okay.
– And I did not know of those.
– Okay, Bill. – We’ve had, I think
when Studio Gang put this plan together, Rodney, they took a dozen
plans on the riverfront that had been done in the past over I think maybe
a 20-year period. We’ve had a lotta
riverfront plans. In your mind, is that the
basis for kind of looking at what we need going forward? – Well, the issue with
this whole thing to us is that it doesn’t really work with the whole six-mile program. I mean, right now, Mud Island
does not have a plan, okay? So we’ve got that entity
that could use some help, and then we have the
other smaller parks that are out there and
MLK which is much larger. But the total plan of
what we need to have on the river is what we
see that has not occurred that we think we need
to get involved with because we don’t need to be
piecemealing this thing off. I mean, if we come up with
an agreement on Tom Lee, that’s great, okay, but
that doesn’t deal with, I mean, what do we
do with Mud Island? I mean, it’s an
opportunity to do whatever we want to with it, it’s
another, not a blank page, but it’s another asset
that we can deal with. So our involvement with it
is more about the whole way this thing was handled,
the fact that we have a product now that’s
just Tom Lee Park which we don’t
believe will work. But it’s bigger than that. It’s about the whole process
and what they’ve come up with at MRPP to deliver to the city, and that’s where
we have a problem. – Denise, as you
know, before it was the Memphis River
Parks Partnership it was the Riverfront
Development Corporation. – Right, right.
– Do you think there is consistency between the work that RDC was doing and
what MRPP is doing? – Well, of course,
I wasn’t involved in any of those
meetings, of course, but I do know that the RDC
knew what the requirements of Memphis in May were
as just one issue, and I think the RDC
was trying to deal with the entire riverfront. So in that sense, the RDC
has maybe the same tasks, but they would do
it different ways. But where I think it
seems like the MRPP, the Memphis River
Parks folks, they, it was almost like they
looked at Tom Lee Park in isolation as opposed to
looking at all tax-funded parks and the whole
riverfront, you know? I’m concerned about
what happens even beyond Bass Pro on the north side. We’ve got a new
convention center going, we have a new hotel coming up. There’s all sorts of other
places on the riverfront that maybe we should
be concerned about, not just Tom Lee Park. And I know the RDC
was not complained, I mean, not just concerned
about just Tom Lee Park. – What we, well, go ahead, Bill. – What do you think
about what’s been done by the partnership on
the RiverLine Trail, Mississippi River Park
with the River Garden? What’s your view of
what’s happened there? – I personally think
that that’s a good start. I don’t particularly
like some of the signs, or I don’t particularly
like the furniture, some other things,
but I like the fact that there’s some shady areas. I like the fact that there
are some places for events. I like the fact that
those parks that had not gotten attention over many
years are getting attention. So the Civic Commons area and
Tom Lee Park are important, but what about all
the other parks, particularly Mud Island
or the fact that we have things that are already done
like Beale Street Landing and the splash pad or
even Martyr’s Park. I mean, the trees
were just enormous where you couldn’t even
see the river there, and I think maybe they
finally got around to cutting something
so that it just wasn’t a scary place to go on a walk. I mean, there’s a lot
of people that say I’m not gonna walk
on those pathways because there’s just too much
there for people to hide in. – One of the things,
though, that I’ve heard, I mean, I’ve been at
presentations that MRPP has done about a whole, what
you’re talking about, a vision for from MLK Park
to the south of Downtown all the way to Mississippi
Park, and you know, the linking. I mean, Carol Coletta
at this public meeting I was at talked about linking. One of the first steps was
that you could get from one, I mean, something
people talked about for 100 years arguably, that you could get from
the north end of Mud Island down to MLK, and much
of that now is linked, and that they do have
a vision for then going to MLK and increasing its use and maintenance and
so on and so forth. What about doing Tom
Lee Park first precludes future development
of Mud Island, future development of MLK? I mean, don’t they have
to take it one at a time? – Implementing it one at a time versus planning it one at
a time is another thing. I mean, if you said
to the hotel people, to the restaurateurs, to the Beale Street
Merchants Association, to lots of people
Downtown, they have no idea what that plan is, and yet they, you know, it’s almost like
taxation without representation. We just celebrated July 4th, and that’s what
that was all about. You know, you’ve got a
lot of private meetings, gag orders, private mediation, and did people at Founders
Pointe have a say in it? Did somebody bring
in the hotel people and the restaurateurs to
be in these discussions? Somewhere along the way,
there should’ve been something that
brought people along, and in the absence
of information, people start making
up information. – Again, and with just the
way we’ve sort of structured these shows, I’ll
say that the people on the other side of
this issue would say that there were many
public meetings and many, you know, they asked for input. And that input included,
I wanna come back to something you said,
Lyman, and it is one of the things that gets
the park plan supporters most riled up is that they
spoke with Memphis in May. They had multiple meetings,
that Memphis in May had plenty of input
into counting spaces for Barbecue Fest and
counting up people and so on. Where is the disconnect
that Denise alluded to between what the park
supporters are saying, and now you do have
some, lots of people from the Memphis in May
side saying we weren’t, they never really took our
plans into consideration? – There are two sides,
and Memphis in May said they weren’t in
a lot of the meetings that I am told that
meetings that they had. So they have, they’ve
been gagged on that side. I don’t know if you
all have been able to talk to them, or
I know you’ve had– – It’s been–
– Carol on the other side. – Yeah, it’s been–
– Yeah, ’cause they’ve been gagged, so you’ve
seen one side of the story, but you haven’t seen the
other side of the story. – Well, no, we can’t
talk to Carol Coletta about certain issues, either. I mean, it’s been a
very, it’s been a, from a pure media point of
view, we hate mediation. – Right.
– You know, I mean, this is, I mean, just
selfishly, you know? ‘Cause we can’t get, Carol
can talk about some things but not others, Jim can
kinda talk and so on, so– – So it’s you’re back
to transparency again about what’s happening
on the whole riverfront. And you gotta get it
down to a decision by four people for
what’s gonna happen in the Tom Lee Park which
affects all of us here, affects a lotta jobs
on Beale Street. When they had to
move Beale Street, the barbecue out to
Tiger Lane, what, when they had the
flood, what, six, seven years ago?
– 2011. – You talk to some
people on Beale Street, you talk to JoEllen
Sullivan, she said they lost 50, 5-0, percent of their
revenue that year for that. I mean, those are
jobs, those are people that could be really
hurt by all of this, and that’s why you need
to have a transparency where everybody comes
together on this to see that plan that
was presented in January or February or whenever
the heck it was. – I will say, I mean, seriously,
I’ve heard very few people who like mediation,
who like this. I mean, I get that the
mayor and the mayor’s office feels like this is a good way
to get the parties together and have privacy, but what
I always hear from people is that mediation is
extremely frustrating because of this
sort of hamstrung communication that people get. One thing I wanna come back
to that you raised, Rodney, was there are some people who, you can see it in the
comments on our site, I’ve heard from
people who will say, you know, the park, Tom Lee
Park is fine the way it is. It doesn’t need any changes. I think I heard you say,
no, there’s room and need for improvement, just not at
the scale and the process. Is that a fair representation
of what you said? – Absolutely, we’re
totally open to some of the infrastructure things. They’re talking about
they’re gonna change it into more of a golf
course-type sediment situation so it drains better, and
electrical stuff will be put in so they don’t have to
load that in every year. And I mean, why
wouldn’t we want that? I mean, that’s not the issue. The issue has been, and
back to your former point about I’m in the
investment business, and I follow companies to
see what they’re doing, and you would not have a
really well-run company lay out a plan that
just listed one part of what they wanted to do. They would give you an
entire mission statement, this is the new effort
we’re gonna put in, and we’re gonna do this
over a period of years, and this is gonna be wonderful. And then the board of
directors buys into it and it says yes,
let’s go get that. But if you just gave
the board of directors one thing at a time– – And that to you,
is that Tom Lee, as Denise was saying,
there’s really, there’s a detailed plan on Tom
Lee but at most vague plans from the point of view on–
– Yeah, we, there’s nothing on Mud Island, they said
we don’t have a plan. So that’s the real issue. If we keep rubber-stamping
out things one at a time, we end up with the
challenges we have like Beale Street Landing
not being functional for us, and those, we need
to finally step up and get all this
stuff figured out, and MRPP’s responsibility
was to do that. And they haven’t done that,
that’s the main issue. – Seven minutes left,
I’ll go to Bill. – So I’m gonna try to get
behind what’s happening in mediation in an
indirect way here. We’ve heard that there
have been at least a dozen changes to
the partnership’s plan for Tom Lee Park that may have
come up before mediation, may have come up during mediation,
varying accounts on that. Do any of you know specifically
what those changes are? – Zero. – It’s secret. – It’s the people–
– They’re keeping that secret. – Well, and Memphis in May,
they won’t even talk to us. I mean, we have no
idea what changes. We do know that
minimum requirements for the Memphis in May
items were given to someone, but as of like February,
it’s my understanding even the Memphis in May
architect that was involved in laying out the park
for the music fest and the barbecue, that
her first view of it was after the big
model was created. So that sorta says
they might have been in seven meetings
that are sort of nice, but when it comes down
to the brass tacks and getting details
down on paper, I question whether they
were really involved. – Lyman, you’ve
talked a good deal about what a moneymaker
Memphis in May is, and on the path
to becoming that, it doesn’t look
like it did in 1977. – Thank goodness. [group laughs] – And Tom Lee Park doesn’t
look like what it looked like. – Right.
– It was a much smaller park when this all began,
up until about 1990. So does the festival
also continue to change over the years, or is
it set now in what is a successful formula that you
think we shouldn’t mess with? – Well, you don’t wanna mess
the events that are there and they’re drawing
all these people at 218,000 room
nights back in 2018. That’s a huge amount of
business coming into this city. So you don’t wanna
mess with that. And you can do it around
the fringes of Tom Lee Park as long as it doesn’t mess up that golden goose
everybody talks about. So yeah, things can change. You can add other dates
in different places, and you can do that to add
more economic activity. But we’ve had such a hard
time in this community bringing in jobs for 40 years. I mean, we’ve been on
a dismal, why do you, as Dr. Ganuski at the the
University of Memphis says, why do you wanna mess with
something that has been doing this sustainably
over a number of years, bringing in the kind of
money that it is bringing in? You work around that. – So is that an
argument for no change at all to Memphis in May? – No, we’re not saying
not change at all. Our group is not saying that. No, there can be some
change, but you don’t wanna, you wanna do it so
that it affects the way the character of the event is
where people around the world are gonna say, I’m not
gonna go to Tiger Lane. I’m not gonna go out to
another park to do that. I’m here because the river’s
here, Beale Street’s here, and hotels are here.
– Even for a year. Because I mean, I
don’t know, I mean, Pitt Hyde was on
of the Hyde Foundation, big supporter of all this, other people have been
on who’ve said at most, moving it for one year during the construction of this phase. – All right, let’s
look into that. In the Empire State
Building in 1931 or ’32 in New York without all of
the technology we have today, do you know how long
it took to build the Empire State Building? – (Eric)
13 months. – 13 months, and they’re talking
about a flat piece a land, it’s gonna take 13, 14 months
to do a flat piece a land? You wouldn’t ask, you
wouldn’t change seats in the Liberty
Bowl and say, okay, you’ve gotta go to
Rose Soccer Complex. – So you wanna see it phased,
if there is construction– – Of course, of course.
– Phased in a way that the concerts
and such can go on. – Right. – Go back to you, Bill,
there’s three minutes here. – The partnership has
announced during mediation that they intend to
start some kind of work around the Beale
Street Landing area where the nexus with the
cobblestones is in October. Is that a concern? – I’m not sure what
they’re gonna do with that. I mean, they’ve had problems. They’ve taken cobblestones
away and that they don’t maybe have
anymore, and I don’t know what the condition is of that. I haven’t been able
to hear from anybody what exactly they’re gonna
do with the cobblestones. I just don’t know
what their plan is. I’d like to know that. – Right. – Well, cobblestones, Memphis
is about the only city in the whole United
States that still has their original landing,
cobblestone landing. So it’s something
that’s precious, and I think it’s fabulous
that they are trying to improve that area. The thing is is don’t
do like the RDC did and start working without proper
Corps of Engineer approval, somewhere to, you know, if we
have tax-funded organizations, not just MRPP, they
should be considering what the rules are and
to keep people informed. I mean, we can’t even
pass judgment on it because we don’t have any
information as taxpayers. – We’ve done shows
on the cobblestones or that have mentioned
the cobblestones, and it’s about putting
a landing at the bottom, I don’t know where it stands
with the Corps of Engineers and so on, but there’s a
landing and a pedestrian walkway and trees down among
the cobblestone to create some shade is
what they’ve proposed. Just with a minute left,
the reducing Riverside Drive from four lanes to two lanes, is that a concern of yours here? Do you wanna take that? – Definitely. I mean, we’ve looked
at other cities that have riverfront
parks and things. You’ve got St. Louis, you
have Chicago and so forth. You know, they did not
shut down their expressways or their major roads in
order to make a park. They instead said let’s
have pedestrian bridges, let’s have pedestrian
controlled crosswalks, what about creative crosswalks. I mean, they’re doing
it like in Rochester, or in England where they’ve
even made fun crosswalks where the stripes look
like keyboard on a piano. So let’s get smarter about
how to have a four-lane. – Okay, we’ll leave it there,
and that’s the last word. Thank you all for being here,
and thank for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

1 thought on “Behind the Headlines – July 26, 2019

  1. Very good segment and much needed. Tom Lee Park belongs to the citizens of this community and the taxpayers should definitely be asking questions. Thank you WKNO for the opportunity.

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