Sunday, September 15, 2002

The Incredible Morphing Downtown

On September 12th, the Commercial Appeal reported on the continuing changes to downtown, especially an apparent reneging on a contingency of approval of the new NBA arena.
Fourth Street won't become a park or plaza to connect Union
Avenue and the new NBA arena, as was proposed a year ago.
But it will be widened, realigned and dressed up north of Beale to
reconnect behind AutoZone Park.

As city officials refine year-old ideas and complete a
comprehensive rezoning proposal for south downtown, several
Fourth Street and Union Avenue businesses that escaped being
torn down for the arena again face the prospect of being
disrupted or forced to relocate.

"You've got to think about how people will go and come and
where parking areas are and the net effect on foot traffic," said
Darrell Eldred, deputy director of General Services. "Realigning
Fourth has to be part of the driving force (and) getting the
streets to function properly."
Properly, of course, is defined by what the City wants to make the downtown into.
A 4-acre park, to be paid for with a future special taxing district,
was offered last August when Mayors Willie Herenton and Jim
Rout announced the much-debated site for the arena.

The park was intended to placate proponents of a Union Avenue
arena site, by visually and physically linking the city's gateway
street to the chosen site two blocks away, south of Beale. Rout
and others had urged selection of a Union site between Fourth
and Danny Thomas to speed investment and improvement there.

"Now it's more of a straight line to tie into the Fourth that
extends north of Union," said Pete Aviotti, special assistant to
Herenton. "We're proposing a wider right-of-way, to give us
pedestrian, streetscape atmosphere with a lot of planting of
trees (and a) four-lane street with a median in the middle."

City officials must have streets ready to serve the arena when it
opens in two years, Eldred said. Some people may disagree with
the realignment, but the new route is a practical consideration,
he said.

No funding source has been set for Fourth Street, Eldred said,
and no funds were ever pooled for the park concept....

"Tying AutoZone, Beale Street and the arena together is a very
important component of this plan," said Louise Mercuro, interim
director of the Office of Planning and Development. "It's important
that the Sports and Entertainment Zone be redeveloped as a
vibrant, attractive area."
Or, in other words, they lied.

This "making it up as we go along" attitude implied in the story is false. There are very clear plans, and the City officials know it. Some have been on file downtown for quite a while and others have been discussed in private with banks and developers for years, without question. The downtown is slowly being turned into a weird, Disney-esque Manhattan. It's been going on since the Eighties, at least. As was shown when the whole arena idea was first pushed, the City leaders and developers will say and do whatever they need to to get their way.

The regular folks be damned.

Until next time.

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