This isn’t particularly timely – an announcement was made in late October. I attended the meeting at which it was unveiled and discussed, but other stories seemed to rise to the fore, a month passed and the story got buried in my photographs. I kept intending to bring them out, but it just never happened.
I’ve decided to bring it up now, because we’ll soon enter a new year and this is one of a number of projects that will begin to take shape pretty soon after the fireworks, dropped crystal balls and champagne have been put away. Sprinkled over the next three weeks we’ll look at some of the renderings and what we might expect.
The portion of Suttree Landing Park that is soon to be developed sits to the east of the Gay Street Bridge. The entire site measures only about five acres and the uses for that small portion of river-front land number more than one might expect for so small a parcel. One area is designated to remain undeveloped, a pavillion and a playground are included, picnic tables, kayak rentals, small protrusions into the river and a new road to run along the river. The site will be crossed by a bike path. That’s a lot going on.
As for its usefulness, that appears to be limited initially. As Jack Neely’s typically excellent Metropulse article pointed out, the Gay Street Bridge is great for pedestrians, but once across the river, erstwhile urbanites will have quite a difficult time crossing Blount Avenue, walking along Sevier and getting to the new park. It will be accessible by car, but how many people will drive there is yet to be determined, of course.
As it stands, initially, it appears to benefit primarily one person: Mike Conley. He owned the former industrial property on which the park will be built, so he made money when he sold it. But he also owns the property immediately adjacent to the park, meaning when development appears feasible, he will be the largest beneficiary.
It’s worth noting that he is also the person whose family owns the Pryor Brown Garage and the city block upon which it sits. This is the same building he and his family wish to demolish in order to establish a full city block of surface parking. Fortunately, for now, the city has blocked the demolition attempt.
Still, even though it may be more of a neighborhood park at first, it represents a significant piece of south waterfront development and it could spur other development on that side of the river. It most certainly will be expanded over time and hopefully will eventually be a part of an attractive waterfront that extends westward from the park to a redeveloped Baptist Hospital site and beyond.
Improvements are promised to the roads connecting the park to Sevier Avenue, but that is a ways out. This initial phase will cost about eight million dollars and that money is already allocated. The next phase, which will include public restrooms and more, will (with a little luck) be offered for bids in August. You will find more details (and updates as we go) on the city’s official south waterfront website.
If nothing else, it improves the view from the north side of the river. With a little additional effort, it easily could become a pedestrian destination for downtown residents, and certainly any residents at the new developments on the Baptist Hospital site. One can imagine a fun urban afternoon: a stroll across the Gay Street Bridge and down to the park. Rent a kayak and play on the water before returning to the park for a picnic and the walk home. Sounds pretty nice.