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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
Memphis officials unveiled plans Thursday to temporarily close part of Riverside Drive in the summer for a pop-up recreational space next to Mississippi River Park, one of several ideas proposed as part of a project to transform the Interstate 40 entryway into Downtown.
The city and its partners are working to bring in a number of basketball courts and an area for food trucks in front of the park formerly known as Jefferson Davis Park, next to the Welcome Center, Riverfront Development Corp. President Benny Lendermon said. The Memphis Grizzlies Foundation and a Civic Commons grant would cover the roughly $150,000 cost of the pop-up space, which would be the summer counterpart to the park's Fourth Bluff Ice Rink and would coincide with Memphis in May.
The concept was unveiled Thursday evening as part of an open house event explaining the Gateway Project at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in the Memphis Cook Convention Center. A very small number of people unaffiliated with government cycled through various booths, each about a piece of the project that could help transform one of the more prominent entryways into Downtown.
The Gateway Project ties together several projects already in the works along the Interstate 40 corridor and in Downtown, including the $1 billion capital expansion on the campus of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the renovation of the Cook Convention Center, improvements in the Pinch and Uptown districts, and possible redevelopment along the riverfront and of Mud Island River Park.
The city has yet to receive approval from the Tennessee Building Commission to use Downtown Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) funds for the riverfront and Mud Island work. The convention center and Pinch District are already qualified public uses for TDZ funds.
Among the renderings adorning placards at the event was one showing the long-awaited pedestrian bridge connecting Bass Pro Shops to the rest of the Pinch District. Paul Young, director of Memphis Housing and Community Development, said the city is lining up a design firm for the bridge, which he estimated would cost between $3 million and $6 million. The city is considering moving the bridge closer to the entrance than originally planned and may also add a trolley stop.
City officials already announced plans to add colored lights under five I-40 underpasses, but Frank Ricks, a principal of architectural firm LRK, said another possibility is adding a device that allows pedestrians to control music, allowing them to harmonize with the hum of the traffic passing overhead.
Randy McPherson, a Germantown resident and Shelby County Schools employee, attended the event to hear how the Gateway Project would affect the Pinch, where his son plans to move. The ideas, the renderings, all sounded good, even though they might take years, he said.
"If you could snap your fingers and say, 'We've got that,' that would be wonderful," he said.
He added: "It's hard to look at these renderings and not appreciate the good from restoring these communities."
But the project has its detractors, including Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar, who wondered at the event whether the Gateway Project was a "bait and switch" allowing the Pinch District languish while city officials cultivated pet projects. He said the project is a "distraction" from larger issues like public safety and blight.
"Anytime you create a pot of money and let politicians play with it, it's a bad idea," he said.
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