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Building a better riverfront
Building a better riverfront
Posted on 05/21/2018

By Leah Kraus, Digital Content Coordinator

When you imagine the ideal Memphis riverfront, what does it look like? For Carol Coletta, the new president and CEO of Memphis River Parks, it all comes down to making the riverfront worthy of the mighty Mississippi River. 

“The riverfront and downtown skyline telegraph the ambitions of the city to the rest of the world,” Coletta said.

Essentially, she wants the six miles of riverfront to look welcoming, and be able to be used in a variety of ways year-round. Coletta and her team at the newly rebranded Memphis River Parks, in conjunction with the vision cast by the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force, are getting to business quickly. She says people will notice changes starting this summer. Goals include:

  • Freshen up the look of the riverfront

  • Turn Beale Street Landing into a community hub

  • Make Tom Lee Park a space where people can gather every day of the year

Mud Island is also included in the concept, with a potential goal of turning it into an “eco-hub.” The concept includes new plantings and structures that would help transform the island into a place where people of all ages could learn about science and enjoy nature while never straying from Downtown.  

As for Tom Lee Park, the concept includes the possibility of a skate park, playground, and rock climbing wall. There would also be pavilions that could be used for a wide range of events.

Coletta understands she’s up against numerous challenges. “We’re building the plane while flying the plane,” she said. The riverfront is still in use every single day and that can make the job of renovating it difficult. She says the Mississippi River, in itself, is also a challenge. When the river rises, it’s tough, but it’s tougher when it recedes, because of all the mud it leaves behind.

Mayor Jim Strickland has sparked the new look at the riverfront, casting a vision of what’s possible with the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force. In July 2017, Studio Gang Architects, which was contracted by the Task Force, released a set of concepts of what’s possible along the riverfront. “It is crucially important that we create a riverfront that reflects the community as a whole and showcases Memphis to the world,” Mayor Strickland said at the time. The mayor’s goal is to cast a common vision to be accomplished through public-private partnerships, and to not use general fund dollars on the projects.

Coletta has also paid close attention to what other cities have done with their riverfronts. In San Antonio, colorful umbrellas, under which people eat and drink, dot the River Walk. Morgan’s Pier in Philadelphia offers a riverside beer garden for people to enjoy. Detroit boasts a riverfront adventure center complete with suspension bridges and waterfalls. 

The biggest question: how does Memphis take its riverfront to the next level?

Click here to visit Memphis River Parks and learn more about the design.

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