RDC officials told Tom Charlier of the Commercial Appeal in October, 2004 that they would try to avoid eminent domain, calling the approach "very convoluted." Judge for yourselves. Here are some relevant portions of the Executive Committee minutes.
Apparently, the first mention of condemnation was on March 1, 2001:
The Master Plan should include an option in the event that the Overton Heirs do not participate. Condemnation to [sic] may be necessary.
It was mentioned in passing, as if just a possible last resort. By the spring of 2003, the tone of discussion had changed dramatically:
[May 27, 2003:] Mr. Stokes expressed concern that RDC not loose [sic] focus on its major priorities - the Overton Heirs Property, the RDC contract with the City, and the Hyneman property between Harbor Town and Mud Island Park. He asked that the staff report on these three items at every Executive Committee meeting...
Mr. Lendermon reported that the two major issues in regard to the Promenade are the legal strategy and the public process. The City of Memphis, through City Attorney Spence, is taking the lead in and paying for the legal strategy. Shaw and Pittman, a firm with a national reputation for public purpose litigation, is designing the legal strategy for acquiring the land along the Promenade.
Please note that "public purpose litigation" is a lawyer's term for "condemnation." Mr. Lendermon continued:
In regard to the public process, since condemnation issues will be involved, public relations must be carefully planned....The Urban Land Institute Report, to be released the end of July, will be used as a very positive launch for the public process. This will be closely followed by a series of public meetings, facilitated by Carol Coletta, to receive citizen input. By the first of July a contract with an urban-land-use design firm will be in place, to formulate preliminary plans in conjunction with the meetings. The public process will be limited at this time to the area between Union Avenue and Jefferson Avenue. Chris Peck, the new editor of the Commercial Appeal, has committed the paper's involvement in the public process with good coverage of possibly a follow-up reader questionnaire.
The following month:
[July 17, 2003:] Mr. Lendermon reiterated that Shaw-Pittman's legal division, with a national reputation for handling condemnation matters, was researching the legal issues; to underscore the public use of the promenade public meetings are planned to develop the use and design of the Promenade portion of the Master Plan. Preliminary meetings have been held with representatives from the University of Memphis on relocating the Law School to the Post Office....
Were the "public meetings" really intended to "receive citizen input"? Or were they just part of a strategy to "underscore public pupose" which is necessary for any successful eminent domain action? The answer becomes clearer the next month, when the RDC's communications consultant speaks up:
[August 21, 2003:] Ms. Colleta who will coordinate the public meetings for the project outlined the plans for the process. In anticipation of condemnation proceedings, the first step will be to meet with the lawyers to understand what the final product must look like in order to demonstrate that the Promenade property will be used for public purpose. On receipt of the Urban Land Institute report, which highlights the importance of the Promenade to riverfront development, three public meetings will be held:
1. A walk around the site laying out challenge and inviting questions and discussion.
2. A workshop where participants will help design the answers
3. A presentation to the public of a final product
You might have noticed that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) figured prominently in all these discussions. Why? Because when the ULI report finally came out, it specifically recommended developing the Promenade and even suggested use of eminent domain. In politics, that would be called "political cover".
We don't doubt that the ULI panel strives to be as independent as it possibly can. But you have to remember where consultants get their information: the client. As we learn from the following passages, the RDC provided the ULI's briefing materials, recommended the Memphians for ULI to interview, and had "involvement" in the selection of the ULI panel. From the minutes:
[February 5, 2003] Urban Land Institute Review: Ms. Spence outlined the process for the ULI review of the Master Plan. The Committee noted the importance of a complete briefing before the Committee's meeting with the ULI as well as the need for continued involvement by the Committee in the process of selection of ULI review team members and materials sent to the ULI review team.
[March 4, 2003:] Mr. Lendermon presented a proposed list of persons to be interviewed by the ULI panel. The Committee proposed several other persons. Mr. Lendermon reminded the Committee of its next meeting to be held with the ULI panel, on March 25.
[September 4, 2003:] Report & Media Coverage: Copies of the Urban Land institute report were distributed. Mr. Lendermon reported that it looks good, is well written and a valuable piece as we move forward. The panel responded to the specific questions RDC asked of them and RDC plans to follow these recommendations. They also made recommendations in areas in which they had no background information, which RDC will consider. However, some recommendations are in areas in which RDC has no control. Ms. Spence reported that Deborah Clubb is writing a major story on the ULI Report for Sunday, September 7, Commercial Appeal that should excite additional media coverage. A walk around meeting of the Promenade will be held ar 5:30, September 10, led by representatives from Cooper Robertson, facilitated by [RDC's public relations consultant], where the public can see first hand the area the Report cites as a major priority for immediate development. The lawyers who are handling procedures will be present for the walk around but will make no comments at that time.
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