Jimmy Ogle Steps Aside, Robert Montgomery Steps In for History Walking Tours


Robert Montgomery (right) listens intently to Jimmy Ogle (left) on one of Ogle’s last downtown history walking tours.

For about 40 years Jimmy Ogle has been involved in Memphis entertainment and recreation, much of it centered on downtown Memphis. With a memory honed on sports statistics, he seemingly remembers almost everything he has learned about the city. For more than a decade, he has shared his knowledge of the history of Memphis in his “Jimmy Ogle Talks and Tours.” A major feature is his free downtown history walking tours which he has held each spring and autumn.

Ogle’s downtown history walking tours have been filled with facts and fun. Even if you are on a particular tour you have been on before, Ogle is likely to surprise you with new information. He says he has about 150 hours worth of Memphis history in his head so it is understandable he can cite new tidbits every now and then.

There are a number of people with great insight into Memphis history and they contribute mightily to the knowledge of the city’s heritage. Ogle will cite them from time to time as a source for some of his information or recommend a book written by one of those historians. Although Ogle became the official Shelby County Historian in 2014, he used to deny he was a historian, saying was a story teller, telling the story of Memphis. With his focus on recreation for much of his career and his personality, Ogle made history fun even for those who may have struggled with history courses in college.

There are probably few things that could draw Jimmy Ogle away from the city he apparently loves and a city that loves him. One of those things is sharing more time with his grandchildren. So Jimmy Ogle, the quintessential Memphis history buff has moved to Knoxville to have more time with his grandkids. He is concluding his downtown tours with some special ones which are being video recorded on behalf of the Downtown Memphis Commission. Ogle will be back from time to time and says he may occasionally host a tour. He has been identified as a true asset to the city that will be missed.

Ogle’s footsteps will not be left unfilled, however. Robert Montgomery, a Blue Suede Brigade member, has been designated to continue the downtown walking tours and Ogle is turning over boxes of resource material to Montgomery to help him prepare. Montgomery has also been attending and closely listening on these final tours Ogle has been giving.

The Blue Suede Brigade is a contingent of about 30 people working for the Downtown Memphis Commission who provide directions and other helpful information to tourists and residents alike as brigadiers walk or bicycle downtown. In recent years, the Brigade has also taken up some security responsibilities and they now wear shirts or jackets that have “public safety officer” printed on them. They are not police. One might say they are more like extra eyes on downtown ready to summon police if needed, or medical assistance if there is an instance which calls for that.

Montgomery has shown an extraordinary interest in the city and its history, especially for a 26 year old. It seems many begin to value history later in life but it would appear  Montgomery has gotten a head start. He is a graduate of Evangelical Christian School located in the Memphis metro area and attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

This writer has attended several of Ogle’s tours and has wondered if anybody would continue them after his departure from the city. If someone did, would they have the zeal for Memphis and its history that Ogle brought to his talks? It was hard to imagine who could do that. Montgomery may well be the guy. At his age he obviously does not bring as much first hand knowledge of the recent decades in Memphis as Ogle does. Ogle has passed along those boxes of material from which he drew a lot of his information and perhaps best of all, Montgomery can call on Ogle has a resource. The only problem may be that if he asks Ogle a question he may get a spoken dissertation on the subject. Ogle can stop talking but maybe the only time he has done so was when he strained his voice and the doctor told him not to say anything for three days. Fortunately for listeners, Ogle’s oration has proven quite interesting to hundreds, perhaps thousands, that have attended his history events.

Jimmy Ogle surely will be missed. Robert Montgomery is getting ready and appears more than willing to take up the slack in Ogle’s absence. Memphians can look forward to the continuation of the downtown history walking tours.

It’s been quite a ride, uh, walk, Jimmy. Carry on, Robert.


Progress and Festivals Close Streets Downtown

road-closed-sign[June 3, 2019 – update: in the article below it is reported the trolleys will be staged overnight in Civic Center Plaza. Last week, an official of the Memphis Area Transit Authority said they will overnight on South Main. It is therefore unknown to this writer where they will be overnight during the street closing. It has also been learned that two more closings of Main Street will be requested for the renovation construction of the Convention Center. Dates of those closings were not immediately available from the MATA.]

May 11, 2019 – Every year, Riverside Drive is closed for parts of the month of May to accommodate Memphis in May festival events. Although government administrators seem to dislike it and repeatedly try to narrow the driving lanes and slow the speeds, Riverside drive is a major downtown north-south thoroughfare. So, when May ends and the street opens once again many are relieved that they have eleven months before the next significant road closings downtown.

Those drivers may be in for a surprise if they drive in the northern section of downtown, even if they drive those stand-up scooters, or probably even if they walk.

On June 3, 2019, a portion of Main Street is scheduled to close for six weeks while the skywalk between the Sheraton convention center hotel and the convention center is demolished and a new skywalk built. That closing of Main, from Winchester Avenue to Exchange Avenue, will cause the trolley service operated by the Memphis Area Transit Authority to stop at the temporary station in front of the convention center. Trolleys will have to stop their northward trip there and begin southbound from that spot. MATA will provide those rubber wheeled “trolley” buses to get passengers around the closed block and to the normal turn-around station at A.W. Willis Avenue and Main Street. During this phase, the trolleys will park overnight in Civic Center Plaza in front of City hall, so if you get there before they begin their daily service, you can see or get a photo of the current rolling stock of Memphis trolleys in one place.

The Main Street closure will probably have minimal affect on private automobile traffic as Main Street is a pedestrian mall south of Exchange, so it’s not a through street.

Front Street and the Interstate 40 off ramp to Front are much more traveled, however. On October 6, 2019, Front Street between Poplar Avenue and Winchester Avenue and the Interstate’s off ramp to Front Street are scheduled to be closed for eight months. Renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center includes new construction of meeting rooms on the west side of Front Street in the area which now is an open area underneath western part of the center, as well as changes in the street level facade on the east side of Front Street. The thoroughfare is scheduled to reopen by May 1, 2020. Yes, you got it, the plan is to reopen Front Street just in time for the annual closing of Riverside Drive for the Memphis in May events.


Those overseeing the renovation of the convention center say they know they will get complaints about the road closings, perhaps passionate complaints. It is said, however, this the cost of progress in Memphis, as they say, Memphis has momentum and they want those traveling on the streets to endure the inconvenience for the final outcome of an improved convention center and improved city.


Will Third Try Be the Convention Center Charm?

mcc-rendering-westNovember 10, 2018 (updated/corrected November 11, 2018] – The City of Memphis is asking for bids for the renovation of its convention center. It is the third time this year.

As reported here earlier, the process has had a few hiccups along the way. The bids received in round one and two have simply exceeded the City’s budget for the renovation.

After the first set of bids from two contractors were received, which would have put the project well beyond the budget, the architects went to work to provide “value engineering,” meaning substituting less costly materials and some relatively minor design changes.

The second bid solicitation was divided into six categories, a base bid and five options for additional construction. In the second round of bids three contractors participated. Bid opening was November 1. The lowest bid for the base and all the options came in at $173,382,000. The next lowest bid was more than $10-million higher.

There were widely disseminated media reports that the renovation project, based on these bids, would come in under the budget of $175-million. Those reports were apparently based on a lack of understanding of the project. There are about $25-million in “soft costs” that the project will require. Soft costs are things like architect, lawyer, and consultant fees, of which there are obviously considerable. Add those soft costs to the lowest construction bid for the base all options and the total expected cost of the renovation project would be $198,382,000, once again, nearly 25-million over budget.

Soliciting rebids, even multiple rebids, for major projects is not uncommon, according to architects and construction consultants.

The reason the second round of bids had those five options was in case the total exceeded the budget. The Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners and the City could then pick and choose the options, with hopes of finding an acceptable combination that would come in within budget.

The choices of options, however, were narrower than seen at first glance because there is considerable agreement that three of the options are critical to the future of the convention center. Figuring only those three critical options in the lowest bidder’s proposal and including the soft costs brings the anticipated cost down to $188,674,000. That is still $13.6-million over budget. Using only those three critical options in the other bidders’ proposals brings the project, based on their bids, more than $10-million over the lowest bidder’s.

On this third solicitation for bids, released yesterday, two of the less important construction options have been dropped: a renovation of meeting rooms on the third floor where convention center staff offices and some smaller conference rooms are now located, and a “media mesh,” a large electronic sign, on the side of the building.

On top of all this, one of the November 1 bidding companies has filed an appeal with the city, claiming its bid was the only one that met the documentation requirements. That bidder, by the way, had the highest proposed cost of construction.

Architectural and construction consultants say that the rebidding process, if it goes successfully with this third round of bid solicitation, will not likely affect the August, 2020, substantial completion date of the project.

The new bids are due into the city November 20, 2018.


[In an earlier version of this story the date the bid solicitation was released was also given as the date the bids were due in to the city. The actual date the bids are due is November 20, 2018]

[Update: Bids were accepted and a contract was awarded. Construction began in December, 2018, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of August, 2020. You can find further details about the Convention Center renovation in the postings by mainstream news sources in Memphis and at the Memphis Tourism web site.]

Memphis Convention Center Call for Rebids Released

mccc-brochure-artSeptember 18, 2018 – The rebid solicitation for the renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center was released today by the City of Memphis. Bids are due November 1. Assuming a satisfactory bid is accepted, construction is expected to begin by December, 2018, and completed by the autumn, 2020.
Bid documents for the project are available through mccrenovaton.com, including a brochure type of description, suitable for general interest reading, of the planned renovation entitled “Memphis Convention Center Expansion and Renovation Update.”

Convention Center Renovation Plans After “Value Engineering”


The proposed renovated west side of the Memphis Cook Convention Center with meeting rooms which are now listed as an option after a “value engineering” effort to reduce costs.

August 2, 2018 – Some additional information about the planned Convention Center renovation has come to light. As reported in our July story, after the lowest bid for the renovation came in $24 million more than the budgeted amount an effort was launched to cut down on the expenses without significantly reducing the quality or scope of the project. Those involved called the revisions “value engineering.” In our previous report, the estimated savings was still being calculated by a consulting firm. That figure came in at $35 million. The Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners was told that now the estimate base cost was $113.6 million with four optional packages. The Commissioners made it clear they wanted three of those four alternatives included, but that would raise the expected cost to about $185.7 million. The elements left out of the “base bid” but which commissioners clearly wish to include are meeting rooms in the west section of the convention center (on the west side of Front Street), a new loading dock for big trucks, and meeting rooms in the South Hall.

Another feature which was originally discarded in the value engineering effort was the pedestrian bridge between the Sheraton Hotel and the convention center. It turns out, however, that bridge belongs to the Sheraton and the owners of that facility want the bridge to stay, so it is now back in the plans and is included in the base bid.

The one optional package that appears to be still left out is the renovation of the third floor to provide more meeting rooms.

According to a person knowledgeable about the planning, the city will be looking to see if an additional $10-15 million can be found so that the renovation plan will not be “compromised.” Another person involved in the talks simply says, “we’ve got to figure out something” to get the additional funds. The $175 million budget was planned using hotel/motel taxes and money from the Downtown Tourism Development Zone. It was unclear if the additional money could be developed out of those sources or if other public funds could be used.

Path to a renovated Memphis Convention Center: a bumpy beginning to a smooth landing?


Artist’s rendering of the Main Street side of a renovated Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The Memphis Cook Convention Center is among the major magnets to bring people to Memphis. Like can happen to those traveling to the convention center,  its renovation has had a few bumps along the way as it begins the journey toward its destination.

Public projects in Memphis have a checkered past in terms of being completed on time and on budget. For example, the last expansion and renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center was completed in 2003, was millions over budget, a year and a half late, and resulted in several lawsuits. More recently, the Riverfront Development Corporation’s Beale Street Landing came in $16 million over the original price tag.

A proposal to largely update the look and some of the functionality of the Memphis Cook Convention Center started as a $55 million project which was to be completed in September, 2019, in time for the celebration that month of the founding of Memphis 200 years earlier. With an increase in the hotel/motel tax and using Tourism Development Zone revenue to finance it, an expanded vision for a major renovation developed with a price tag of $175 million. Architects, construction managers, and consultants were hired. Then it was learned that the proposed method of contracting for the work, a construction manager at risk, in which the manager would be responsible for any cost overruns, could not be used for the project under Tennessee law. That caused a bit of a delay in the planning as the Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners reworked the format for a more traditional construction contract.


Artist’s rendering of an interior space in a renovated convention center.

Some of the key elements of the more extensive renovation included more breakout meeting rooms with higher ceilings to accommodate large screen displays, a lot more glass to provide natural lighting, the removal of the mezzanine level, new LCD lighting, an overall enhanced internal appearance, and redesigned “back of house” facilities and passageways for staff only use. A major aspect of the original $55 million concept remains, although altered somewhat, and that is covering the outside of the building with a metal skin to make it look more modern and similar to the attached Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

Among those working to assist the convention center’s board in planning and estimating the cost were the principals of two of Memphis’ leading architectural firms in addition to the primary architects, LRK of Memphis in conjunction with the world wide convention center designer TVS of Atlanta. When the bids went out, the estimates, expressed with confidence, was that construction costs would be about $136 million and a total cost meeting the proposed budget of $175 million.

Then the bids came in. There were only two firms bidding and the lowest bid was $199 million.


Artist’s rendering of west side of a renovated convention center.

The consultants’ primary explanation for the high bids was that there were several large projects either underway or out for bid at the same time the convention center renovation bid was solicited. That, they said, resulted in a very tight construction market and led to other companies not bidding on the project because they were either already at capacity or could be if they won contracts for other developments for which they had put in bids.

Scott Fleming, an architect consulting the convention center board says “every construction project I know of is struggling with budget. It’s a bidder’s market.”

Back to the drawing board, literally. The architects went to work to alter the plans to find cost savings. The city and convention center commissioners decided to rebid the project. They hope that the construction market will have loosened a bit and more construction firms will bid on the project, the competition possibly lowering price. It has been said that a construction project with only two bidders can increase the cost 25%. The new request for bids is expected to go out in mid September.

Last month representatives of the TVS architectural firm presented proposed cost saving changes to the renovation design. They were awaiting a cost estimate to show how much difference the changes are anticipated to make.


Renovated and additional meeting rooms are an important aspect to the convention center’s future. Load bearing columns will remain in some rooms but the design calls for seating in the center providing a clear view to the front with walking areas provided outside of the columns.

Among the major changes: painted drywall instead of brick in several interior locations within the convention center, elimination of the aerial walkway between the Sheraton Hotel and the convention center, substituting wood laminate instead of solid wood in numerous locations, using a perforated metal instead of wood for some decorative features, changing the lighting design, including eliminating cylindrical lights which could be lowered or raised to enhance an event in the main exhibit hall, reducing the outcropping of a meeting room which will extend from the front of the building, changing the finish on the exterior, and discarding a planned large video screen sign for the west side of the building. The cost of cellular phone signal boosters is being removed from the renovation budget but is expected to be included through separate funding. In all, the design firm found more than 200 “value engineering opportunities,” meaning places where changes could save money.

Tom Marshall, one of the consulting architects, says “we are greatly pleased with the level of quality maintained” in the revamped plans. After seeing an artist’s renderings of before and after the cost cutting plans, another participant in the meeting said, “I can’t tell the difference.”

Responses to the new request for bids are due November 1, and if a bid is satisfactory it is expected to be awarded by mid November. Construction would begin shortly thereafter.


Improving the appearance where Front Street goes under part of the convention center as well as providing modern meeting rooms on the west site is part of the plan.

The estimated cost is still unknown and the actual bids for the renovated renovation plans are, of course, unknown. What is known is that the expected completion of the project, September, 2020, is now a year later than the original target date. Although portions of the convention center will remain open during construction, the timetable change also means some other events which the convention center might have hosted will have to be redirected to other local sites, turned away completely, or if already contracted, cancelled. Convention center commissioners were told that the overall cost of lost business, including possible penalties, could reach one million dollars. Kevin Kane, President and CEO of Memphis Tourism (the Convention and Visitors Bureau recently rebranded as Memphis Tourism), says “it will be worth the pain… They’ll be talking about us like they talk about Nashville.” He was speaking of Nashville’s convention center which opened five years ago to widespread acclaim and costing more than $600 million.


Your choices: an unexpected swim, flattened by a train, arrested by homeland security?

We expect to complete the bridge and have it open to the public in July or August of 2014, so the bridge itself will actually be completed at that point…We’re still on schedule and we’re going to stay on schedule.
          — Mike Carpenter, Project Manager, Main Street to Main Street Multi-modal Connector Project, April, 2013

Harahan Bridge

Harahan Bridge

If you were to believe today what Mike Carpenter said 16 months ago, you likely would be in a world of trouble. While the Harahan Bridge pedestrian and bicycle path was to have been finished by this month, it has not even started construction. If you were to try to walk it, your first obstacle likely might be homeland security which is quite protective of that bridge. If you got on the bridge without being arrested and tried to walk where the “Big River Crossing” path is supposed to be, you would have to pick your way very carefully and even then you might well end up falling into the Mississippi River. A somewhat safer route might be the railroad right of way, but then both homeland security, railroad agents, and possible a locomotive would be coming at you.

A suggestion, do not try to walk across the Harahan Bridge and, regretfully, do not believe much of what you hear from government and quasi-government officials.

It is sad but one would guess not wholly unexpected that the project is this far behind, despite Carpenter’s assurances it would stay on schedule. It seems government activities often run late and more expensive than announced.

It is because the Harahan Bridge portion of the Main Street to Main Street walkway and bicycle path received bids that were millions of dollars over the initial estimates that a year after the route was promised to be open construction has not started yet. The design engineers thought it would cost something like $16.7-million. The lowest bid was closer to $21-million. So it was back to the drawing board, or probably more accurately, the computers, to redesign the bridge pathway to lessen the cost. In the meantime, Carpenter moved on to work at the Plough Foundation and Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris took over the difficult job of Project Manager. Meetings with prospective contractors have been held and tomorrow, August 8, 2014, there will be an opening, not of the walkway but of the new bids.

A combination of federal, state, and local, and private dollars are being allocated for the “Main2Main” project, which was expected overall to cost $35-40-million. One of the leading private sector proponents of the effort is Charlie McVean of McVean Trading & Investments. He has flatly said that the money will be there for the construction. The project entails more than just the bridge, though that’s the major expense. It includes repaving much of the sidewalk areas from North Main Street in Memphis and creating the pedestrian and bicycle path from there to the bridge, and then a new path from the west side of the bridge in Arkansas to Broadway Boulevard/Avenue in West Memphis.

Many think this is a very cool project. It may take an extra cool million, or maybe several more cool millions of dollars to get it done. It will be very interesting to see what the price is and what we actually get for that money if the pathway is completed as planned.

(Public bid opening: August 8, 2014, 2 p.m. Memphis City Hall, Council Chambers)

Update: August 10, 2014-Two firms submitted bids for the Harahan Bridge portion of the Main Street to Main Street project on Friday, August 8. The proposal contained 3 primary alternatives and some options within those, the bidders were able to choose which alternative(s) upon which they bid. This observer does not know the specifications of the various alternatives. The base bids ranged from an apparent low of $17,469.742.10 to an apparent high of $19,362,042.04. Again, this observer does not know what flexibility the city may have, but it may be that it can select the lowest and best bid based on criteria which includes the alternative  plan it deems most desirable.
Update: August 12, 2014-Project Manager and Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris says although the bids were about $4-million lower than the first round the gap between funding available at the time of the bid opening and the low bid is about $2.5-million and that construction will not begin until the gap is closed. Private donors will be asked to make up the difference, several of which have already said they stand ready to assist. He said even so it will be some time before a contract is executed as engineers and others examine the bids for validity and insure conformance with specifications. Nevertheless, Morris says while he has always been cautiously optimistic, “[F]or the first time I really think this project is going to happen.” A contract is anticipated within 90 days and construction should be complete in 18 months. Morris says he looks forward to the pedestrian and bicycle path across the bridge to be open in the spring of 2016.

Commission Chairman says City is Financial Time Bomb

havey-james-county-commissionIn this one, commissioners, I am hoping that we consider that the city is a walking time bomb. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t file bankruptcy in some imminent time … In terms of how they operate I don’t have a whole lot of faith.
— James M. Harvey, Chairman, Shelby County Commission, December 11, 2013

At the Public Works Committee meeting of the Shelby County (Tennessee) County Commission, December 11, 2013, a resolution proposed the county transfer ownership interest in 14 public library properties in Memphis to the city. Discussion ensued about the one public library that remains in the unincorporated portion of the county, located perhaps a few dozen feet from the City of Memphis border. The subject of also transferring that property to the city came up. James M. Harvey, Sr., Chairman, Shelby County Commission, expressed concern about the city possibly closing that library if it were transferred to the city and made the above comments.

Chairman Harvey may or may not have great insight into the finances of the City of Memphis. The city is struggling with financial issues, as indicated by the state comptroller expressing concern in 2013 with some aspects of the city’s debt and accounting practices, and with the upcoming proposal to address the estimated underfunding of the city’s pension obligations. The County Commission, however, does not directly deal with the city’s budget. To what extent Harvey is informed enough to make a valid analysis of the city’s future economic situation is not known.

Nevertheless, Harvey is chairman of the county’s legislative body and when a person in that position indicates there would be a lack of surprise if the City of Memphis filed for bankruptcy, it may warrant the attention of the public.

Harvey has a background in finance, according to the biography posted on the county’s web site. It says he is a residential and commercial property investor and manager and the president of Fidelity Mortgage and Funding Inc. Harvey is listed as being a member of the Certified Loan Brokers Association, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, theTennessee Association of Mortgage Brokers, and the National Federation of Independent Business. He worked for United Parcel Service for 18 years and attended the University of Memphis and Shelby State Community College.

Walk/Bike Path Over Harahan Bridge Funding Gap

Harahan Bridge

Harahan Bridge

A bit more was learned about the status of the Main Street to Main Street project at the Downtown Memphis Commission board meeting November 21, 2013, where Project Director Paul Morris gave an update as he did the day before at the CCRFC meeting (see below).

Here’s some of what Morris had to say about the funding aspects after the bridge bids came in $5-million higher than expected.

“In addition to trying to lower the cost we’re also trying to raise more money.
The goal is by February we will reduce the cost and raise enough money that they will match. If they do not match, we will not move forward with the project.  That’s obviously not our intent and we fully expect to move forward with the project because we have a lot riding on this as a community. “

“Here’s the bottom line. When the mayor presented the budget to the City Council that was approved for this project, the bridge construction cost  was estimated to be about $16-million. Even with that the mayor indicated that there was about a $4-million gap because of the funding sources available at that point and how much the bridge was going to cost. So that’s a $4-million gap. What the mayor pledged to the City Council was that before we ask you to put a single dollar of discretionary capital money into this project, which by the way the City Council has not done, it’s a City of Memphis project but there is zero discretionarly city capital money in this project. There’s storm water funds from the city which are pledge legally only for drainage downtown, like fixing the flooding in city hall and things like that but so far the city has not put any capital money into the bridge. He said before I ask you for any capital money we’re going to exhaust other sources of funding, we’re going to raise some of that $4-million before we come ask you for a portion of that.

“So we already started with a $4-million gap. When the bridge bid came back at $21-million that’s another $5-million gap. That’s a total of $9-million in gap. So with that bid, which is unworkable, which we’re going to have to reduce, we’ve got a $9-million gap. What we’ve got to do is reduce that number and raise additional funds from different sources. It’s a $9-million gap from what we have locked in and the initial bid we got. But that initial bid is no longer operative. We have rejected that bid, we’re redesigning.”

A board member then pointed out that with the Plough Foundation pledge of $1-milliion, contengent on the rest of the funds necessary to complete the project were raised, the fuding gap would be eight million dollars.

“That’s right.  I should also say that we got an additional allocation of a million dollars from West Memphis that was about two months ago or so…We’ve also raised other private funding, not to the million dollar kind of level, but significant other additional funding. We’ve also many good conversations with private funders who have agreed that they will contribute significant sums of money to this project but they and we have agreed that we would come to them when the bids came back and tell them what the amount we need is so that they can give us a pledge that will get us over the hurdle instead of just giving us some money without knowing if they were going to get us over the hurdle or not. The private fund raising efforts, while I am helping with that and other in the city are, are being primarily led by Charlie McVean and his team.
I should also say the Community Redevelopment Agency recently allocated an additional almost $400,000 to this project…”

A Bridge Too Far – Harahan Bridge Pedestrian Project Faces Major Issue – Alternatives Formulated

Harahan Bridge

Harahan Bridge

Too far in the red, so much so that not only are design modifications being researched, additional funding sought, but alternatives to the original bridge walk concept are being formulated. Bids for a major portion of the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project, that for the development of the walking and bike path across the Mississippi River on the Harahan Bridge came in far higher than anticipated. The estimate for the bridge work was $16-million but the bids came in at $21-million, according to Project Director Paul Morris.

On November 20, 2013, Morris briefed members of the Center City Revenue Finance Corporation on the status of the project. He said  he is “guardedly optimistic” that a combination of modifications to the design of the bridge pathway and success in seeking additional funds will lead to the project being successfully completed.

The Main Street to Main Street project is an effort to both fix up existing infrastructure and build anew a pathway for pedestrians and bicycles from North Main Street in Memphis to Broadway Avenue in West Memphis, Arkansas, which is that city’s main street. As of August, 2013, the estimated cost for the entire project was $37.3-million.

Work began last week at the northern end of the project in Memphis. According to Morris, the downtown Memphis portion of the project is fully funded, bids came back on budget and construction began last week. Construction will be on a block by block basis so not to cause too much disruption at any one time.

Morris reported that bids on the bridge portion of the came back “way above” budget. “You never know what something is going to cost until you go and ask someone who can provide it to you for an actual price,” he said. When that was done, the bids for the bridge portion of the project came in at $21-million and that was “too much.” As a result, the design of that portion of the project is being reviewed for improvements and cost savings.

One of the areas of change may be the requirements imposed by the Union Pacific Railroad. The Harahan Bridge has been a rail bridge only since 1949, when automobile traffic was routed over the then new Memphis-Arkansas highway bridge. Naturally Union Pacific wanted to insure that conversion of the bridge to include pedestrian and bicycles did not disrupt its operations. Morris says some of their demands were quite expensive but that Union Pacific has said it would be flexible in working with the design firm to help lower the cost and is, in fact, currently  demonstrating that flexibility.

Morris went on to say that “while we tried to create the most efficient design the first time, they are now finding ways to make it more efficient and not sacrificing quality at all but just making it a better product.

The redesign of the bridge portion is expected to be complete and new bids sought in late January or February of 2014 with expectations the gap will narrow between the estimated cost and the original bids.

In addition to design changes for the bridge work, Morris says proponents of the project are trying to raise more money. Morris told the group, “we are also vigorously working on going to the private sector and other sources to raise more money.” Last week, according to Morris, the Plough Foundation pledged $1-million towards the project after being approached for help. “They determined that this project really was a catalyst for the whole community and part of the advancement of Memphis…”

In expressing his guarded optimism for the project, Morris went on to say that “… we are hoping we will be able to finish it and we think that we will. I don’t even want to talk about the alternative right now but we are coming up with Plan B and Plan C but we’re sticking with Plan A right now to finish the project.”

It might be noted here that there is an existing pedestrian sidewalk on the Memphis-Arkansas bridge. That bridge is the southern-most of three bridges located together and does not afford the better view of downtown Memphis as would the pathway on the Harahan Bridge, which would be the northern-most path on the three bridges.

Funding sources at the time of the original bids went out for the project include various federal programs contributing a total of $18.9-million, Tennessee state funds of $2-million, Shelby County $1-million, City of Memphis Storm Water Funds:  $6-million, CRA Tax Increment Financing  $2-million (funds are generated from excess tax collections in the specific geographic area known as Uptown and may only be used for infrastructure in that area),  Center City Revenue Finance Corporation $2-million and private contributions of about  $1-million.