BOTCH: Riverfront Steering Committee (Part 1) Now McGowen with MLGW? | Written by: Joe B Kent
Local & National News | August 10, 2023
Can Doug McGowen clean-up MLGW or is this another botch in the making? After McGowen’s leadership, under Mayor Strickland, of the mysterious Riverfront Steering Committee, it’s anybody’s guess.

This is a #JustMyOpinion feature from the community and written by Joe B Kent!

The City of Memphis established the McGowen chaired Riverfront Steering Committee (RSC) to oversee and manage several publicly funded Riverfront projects, but RSC never held public meetings. And, to make matters worse, there are no RSC minutes, committee roster or Riverfront development progress reports publicly available, raising transparency concerns. McGowen has since left the City and RSC for MLGW.

The following are the project costs paid by taxpayers: Tom Lee Park ($40M), Cobblestone Landing ($11M), Boat Docks ($20M), Cossitt Library ($7M), Brooks ($12M) and Mud Island ($10M). That is $100M in public funds for Riverfront projects that were/are supposed to be overseen by the RSC, but few know who the RSC is or when it meets. Given McGowen’s military background, as a get- it - done type of administrator, transparency can often fall off, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

Under McGowen, what is known is that the RSC accommodated, arguably, a bogus civic broker in Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP), with a potentially conflicted McGowen, previously serving on the MRPP Board. If McGowen operates as a thoughtless “Top Gun”, following the orders of the failed local Memphis establishment, MLGW will result in yet one more local public botch. After all, McGowen has already championed two MLGW contractual decisions that deserve scrutiny. Those contracts include a 5yr $227M tree trimming contract and a $18M supplemental customer service contract 1.

The 5yr contract comes after McGowen stated, on the record, that it takes only 3yrs to trim all the trees in the City of Memphis for MLGW purposes 2 , all while significant customer service challenges were reported during the last storm. Why a 5yr contract when it takes 3yrs to cut the trees? Anyway, no need to get hung up on MLGW, as the following is more about McGowen’s RSC, on the heels of the recently announced $1.4M in Memphis in May (MIM) TLP “damages” 3 .

Most in the public, have never heard of the RSC, while instead hearing about MRPP. And why the community has never heard of RSC, is because RSC has never publicly functioned or formally reported out to the public. And when asked to mediate, as any public property owner must with project work, RSC under McGowen, only rarely availed themselves to such required public work.

McGowen left for MLGW at the beginning of 2023, without consummating a final agreement between MRPP and Memphis in May (MIM) for TLP use. As a result, as a last-minute wipe up for McGowen, the City Council urged Jim Holt of MIM to execute an agreement with MRPP. This urging came with the testimony from McGowen’s successor, City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer, Chandell Ryan, who stated that the City doubted that park damage would exceed $350K or 70% of the City’s agreed participation in the damage deposit. The former would leave MIM without any exposure, to what would ultimately turn out to be a returned $250K MIM deposit. 4

After a pattern of MRPP broken promises and bad faith negotiations, Holt seemed to know, during City Council deliberations, that MIM would eventually get the MRPP shaft, but in the public interest, Holt signed the MRPP TLP agreement anyway. 5 Turns out, Holt was right. MRPP presented MIM with a $1.4M bill for MIM TLP “damages” on August 3rd. This $1.4M is a massive unrealistic jump, from MIM’s past exposure of a $50K damage deposit for annual TLP damage use. The $1.4M MRPP “claimed” MIM damage liability, effectively breaks the back of the City’s most successful festival.

Carol Coletta, now MRPP President, made clear her thoughts on MIM in TLP in a 2011 interview. Coletta said, “I’m all for Memphis in May remaining downtown, but if it were mine to do, I’d move it out of Tom Lee Park.” 6 Why would the RSC allow for any compromise of the City’s most successful festival? Looks like another huge public botch, possibly massaged with a bit of McGowen coziness on Coletta’s MRPP Board.

Many say TLP is a botch, with clutter disrupting the once pristine river view. Others say it’s a more useable park, with MRPP mediation agreed to - barrier protected slotted parking ditched - for limited, hard to navigate parallel parking. This broken MRPP promise further sacrifices public safety, in a city known for dangerous unskilled drivers.

But before we depart the dispute between MRPP and MIM, with no RSC available, there is another dispute brewing, this one by Friends of the Riverfront (FOR) over Brooks Museum. 7 For years, Friends voiced public interest over the Riverfront, but when McGowen’s RSC was set up, there was no seat at the table for Friends or the public for that matter. Sound familiar?

This dispute is to be continued as is this blog, while asking why all the secrecy and will MLGW be just one more public botch?

Check the Facts

1 Memphis City Council Minutes. June 13, 2023. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from
2 Memphis City Council. July 11, 2023 at 5:48:45. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from

3 Daily Memphian. August 3, 2023. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from

4 Memphis City Council Executive Committee. February 7, 2023. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from
5 Memphis City Council. March 7, 2023. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from
6 Memphis Magazine. December 31, 2011. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from
7 Daily Memphian. Brooks Museum Faces Mediation Over Planned Site, July 19, 2023. Retrieved on 8/4/23 from


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