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New plan for Memphis riverfront parks in works

- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - In the wake of financial woes, officials in Memphis are working on a new plan for managing parks and other recreation along the Mississippi River.

Without such a plan, the Riverfront Development Corp. faces budget deficits for years to come. It has a projected budget shortfall this year of $377,000. Last year, it had a shortfall of $444,000.

Talks in recent weeks have included representatives from RDC, the Downtown Memphis Commission and Mayor A C Wharton's office.

Memphis CAO George Little told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1evkQz6) that he expects the discussions to result in a new operating agreement proposal that could go before the city council by next month. The proposal will affect 10 riverfront parks and Mud Island River Park.

Little said details are still being worked on, but he ruled out options like closing Mud Island. Officials are looking at ways to cut costs and generate more revenue.

"There simply isn't enough funding to support (RDC's) mission," Little said. "The current model simply is not sustainable."

RDC President Benny Lendermon said the groups are trying to reach a consensus on how the riverfront will be managed and he will pay for it.

"We do all need to get on the same page," he said

The city subsidizes the nonprofit RDC, which has operated the parks under contract since 2000. The agency has spent more than $100 million to maintain and improve parks and other riverfront facilities.

The arrangement has saved the city money, but cost overruns, delays and controversies have plagued some recent projects. The RDC has also gotten criticized over how much executives are paid.

Little says that overall RDC "has done a good job" of managing the riverfront.

"The city has no interest in taking back over the management of the riverfront parks," he said

Much of the problem stems from reduced revenues and increased costs.

One focus of Cox has been Mud Island, which Little said was another drain on the RDC since it doesn't generate enough revenue to cover costs. The park won't close but Little said changes are needed.

"The only thing we're not considering is casinos," he said, noting the legal barriers to that option. "Short of that, I think all other possibilities are open to discussion."

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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