Funds Sought for Aerotropolis

August 19, 2009

City Council postpones action on $2.3 million to spruce up airport gateway

By Wayne Risher

The city's main gateway to Memphis International Airport is poised for a $2.3 million face lift under a project proposed Tuesday to the City Council.

The project was touted by Greater Memphis Chamber officials as a sure-fire way to turn a negative into a positive for people traveling to and from the airport on Plough Boulevard.

The council delayed action for a month after some members balked at spending that much money on something they'd just heard about.
"I understand we need to do something at the airport. This just got on the table today," said Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware.
Councilman Joe Brown wanted assurance that there's money for other purposes, like restoring operating hours at city community centers, before he signs off on the beautification.

Others were more supportive. Councilman Kemp Conrad wanted to move the matter to a vote so work can begin. Conrad said beautification money could come out of savings realized when bids for a new animal shelter came in lower than anticipated.

The project, designed by Ritchie Smith Associates landscape architects, calls for tree planting, irrigation, decorative street lights and other work on about two miles of Plough Boulevard from the airport to Interstate 240. It proposes about $500,000 for entry features that would replace a relatively low-key landscaped area welcoming travelers to Memphis.

The Plough project is part of a series of improvements and studies being sought by promoters of the city's airport-related assets, branded as America's Aerotropolis. An Aerotropolis steering committee also wants transportation agencies to look at reconfiguring I-240's Airways interchange.

The Aerotropolis initiative emphasizes the airport's prominence in the Memphis economy, where one in three jobs are directly or indirectly related to the airport, and the importance of maximum connectivity among airport and other modes of transportation: highways, railroads and river.

"The Aerotropolis is all about connectivity, and getting cargo and people in and out of Memphis," said chamber chairman Tom Schmitt, president and CEO of FedEx Global Supply Chain Services.

Organizers also are concerned about sprucing up the streets and business districts around the airport.

Chamber president John Moore said Plough Boulevard should be a source of pride for locals and a welcoming experience for out-of-towners.

"The best thing we have to offer now is either no memory or a bad memory," Moore said. "We want it to be the best it can possibly be, and this is the place to start, right in our backyard."
Some airports have public art on their approaches, but Smith said that's not practical on Plough. His idea is to add light poles and fixtures with a sculptural quality.

Councilman Reid Hedgepeth said he'd prefer to see trees and irrigation on Airways Boulevard before Plough gets new lighting. He suggested approving $1.6 million for Plough Boulevard and having the Aerotropolis committee come back with a definitive plan for landscaping Airways.

Jim Covington, Chamber vice president of logistics and Aerotropolis development, said the steering committee would tap grants, foundation support and other sources for whatever the city doesn't fund.

-- Wayne Risher: 529-2874

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AEROTROPOLIS

What: Aerotropolis is an urban grouping of aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises, extending 15 to 20 miles from an airport.

Where: The reach of the Memphis Aerotropolis covers Shelby County, northern DeSoto County and eastern Crittenden County.

Other examples: Closest rivals globally include Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt

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Copyright, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used with permission.