Rusty Bloodworth remarks
Greetings from our West Tennessee region which spans across the Mississippi River into Arkansas and southward into northern Mississippi. Middle Tennessee’s initiative to create a statewide regional roundtable has been bearing a lot of fruit in our area. To build regionalism, several of our lead organizations (ULI Memphis, Community Development Council and Livable Memphis) felt that it was important to choose a common initiative that all of our communities could get behind. We worked with the recently formed Office of Sustainability to pitch a broad based greenways project to
This came on the heels of a wildly successful Rails to Trails project called the Greenline that runs through the heart of our metro area.
Much to our glee, Shelby County has received a $2.6 million HUD Regional Planning Grant to develop the first regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan. We are about a third of the way through the initial process of identifying a regional network of greenways, blueways, bike paths and open spaces to connect four West Tennessee counties, Crittenden County. Ark. and Desoto County Mississippi into one cohesive and continuous network of trails that will eventually exceed 400 miles in
Over 80 partner organizations are involved as well as ten municipalities. An incredible, interactive web-based map has been created, and the project is moving forward at warp speed.
Simultaneously with the Greenprint effort, a grassroots spin off of the Greenline rails to trails project spawned a regional vision of connecting walking and bike trails from West Tennessee to Arkansas across the Mississippi River using the active but aging Harrahan Bridge that carries rail traffic between the two states.
The heart of the project is an 18 million dollar pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the side of the bridge which almost a 100 years ago carried primitive automobiles. Boyle Investment Company, the firm I have been with for more than forty years, is making a major donation to the project.
Other efforts are ongoing to connect this project to the existing and active Greenline that would carry visitors and residents to our world class green hub, the 4,500 acre Shelby Farms. Shelby Farms lies in the heart of Shelby County and is administered by a public-private Conservancy.
Working with Cumberland Region Tomorrow and the Surdna Foundation, ULI Memphis has also been advancing closer collaboration between the various municipalities in our region. Historically, there has been little positive interaction between the larger municipality of Memphis and the surrounding townships. Further, Memphis is bordered by three states, confounding cooperation. But it is a new day in our region, and a Surdna grant is helping us convene mayors from all three states. An important meeting of Mayors will be held at our new Kroc Center in just nine days, and the meeting is being led by mayors from all three states. We are especially grateful for your Mayor Ken Moore and his willingness to lend a hand at a follow-up meeting in June. We have great hopes for this initiative.
On the regional transportation front, someone has pointed out that the West Tennessee region “has the fastest, most agile and arguably the most connected airport on the globe.” This is partially due to the main FedEx hub being located in Memphis. From 1993 to 2009, Memphis had the largest cargo operations by volume of any airport in the world. Our airport fell into second position worldwide in 2010, following Hong Kong; it remained the busiest cargo airport in the United States. Plus, the region is served by five Class I railroads, a distinction few other major cities in the nation can boast. Coupled with river and barge traffic, this makes the area around our airport of special significance. Our chamber is leading a drive to revision this critical area as an Aerotroplis – a high-powered, multi-modal logistical center of national significance, and a visioning plan is near completion.
Finally, in collaboration with Cumberland Region Tomorrow, The City of Memphis and with help from the Knoxville region, ULI Memphis, our Community Development Council and Board of Realtors have been pushing forward a Complete Streets agenda to serve all municipalities in our region. I am happy to report that Mayor Wharton signed a Complete Streets policy a month ago, and we are working on the development of a Design Manual with the hope that it can be a model for other municipalities in our region.
Summing up, we are excited about the opportunities for regionalism in our area, and congratulate all of you here in Middle Tennessee for all you are accomplishing to move your region forward.