Mayor outlines proposed plans for Memphis Riverfront

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 9:55 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - If you build it, the paddlewheel travelers will come.

Mayor Jim Strickland said the city needs two new docks in downtown Memphis to accommodate the expanding number of riverboats that want to visit the Bluff City.

“Cruising up and down the Mississippi River is a growing industry,” the mayor told Memphis City Council members Monday. “We have two steamboat companies who do the touring, and Viking is about to enter the market.”

Strickland said the riverboat business is big business, and Memphis could be an even bigger cash cow in this tourism segment if the city expands its infrastructure to support the boats and the passengers they carry.

“People are willing to pay $5,000 each to go on a cruise up and down the Mississippi and Memphis is their second favorite stop after New Orleans,” Strickland said.

At the top of the mayor’s legislative agenda, his annual funding wish-list for state lawmakers is the expansion of the existing dock at Beale Street Landing, where riverboats currently dock when they pull into town.

“The dock that some people thought was a waste of money to build has actually turned out to be too small,” said Strickland. “It can only host one boat. We need to enlarge that dock and we need to build a docking facility at the north end of Mud Island.”

In addition to the docks, Strickland talked about other riverfront improvements. He said a private company wants to build a Ferris wheel downtown. A City of Memphis rendering showed the amusement ride next to the Tennessee Visitor’s Center, within walking distance of Bass Pro Pyramid. Water lovers will likely love the next plan the mayor pitched to council.

“We are proposing to damn up the north end of the Wolf River Harbor on Mud Island and clean that water, and we’d have a huge lake,” he said. “It would be for boating, swimming, and recreation, and it would help develop the east side of the shore.”

Sunset Lake, as it’s referred to in city renderings, would extend for half a mile behind Harbor Town.

Strickland said funding for the docks alone would be $25 million.

“Quite an ambitious plan,” said Councilman Martavius Jones. “My question, Mayor? What’s our plan if Nashville says no?”

“The boat companies are interested in paying some of that cost, but not $25 million,” Strickland replied. “We have to get the docks done in Memphis in the next year or two if we’re going to maintain a presence of those boats here.”

With the state of Tennessee looking at a $2 billion surplus, the mayor said now is the time to make Memphis’ monetary requests.

“We couldn’t afford that out of our budget,” he said to the council. “You’ve seen what our budget is. It’s time, I think, to ask big of Nashville.”

Also at the top of Strickland’s priority list is fixing a funding formula that he said moves too much local sales tax revenue into state coffers.

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