City of Memphis working to make Mud Island aquarium a reality

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - City of Memphis is working even harder to make an aquarium on Mud Island a reality after a state commission signed off on the expansion of the downtown tourism development zone (TDZ) on Tuesday.

It means that the city can use sales tax revenue in an existing downtown area to help develop Mud Island and the riverfront.

Without it, they probably wouldn't have gotten the projects off the ground, and even with it, it's not a certainty.

"There's no city in the country that can claim our position on the Mississippi River bluff like the city of Memphis can. We see this as an entryway to the state of Tennessee," Paul Young, director Housing & Community Development for City of Memphis, said.

The riverfront and Mud Island have been added to an existing TDZ, which is made up of Bass Pro at the Pyramid, the Pinch District, and the Cook Convention Center.

Excess sales taxes in those areas can help fund the Mud Island aquarium, the Brooks Museum's potential move to the corner of Union Avenue and Front Street, and an overhaul of Tom Lee Park, with $10 million in TDZ funds budgeted for the aquarium and $20 million budgeted for the museum.

Now, the city will begin feasibility studies.

"We already have renderings. Now, we move to the next stage to see if it is financially feasible for these projects to take place," Young said.

Young admits the aquarium is an ambitious concept that would require significant private investment.

The same is true with the expansion and move of the Brooks Museum out of Midtown and to downtown.

In a city sometimes thought of as famously unchanging, it appears it's time to buck the trend.

"Whether or not an aquarium happens, there will be improvements to the public realm on Mud Island. We want to improve the visitor experience," Young said.

A city analysis said a new aquarium could net about $30 million in sales tax revenue over a roughly 10-year period.

The aquarium would cost roughly $125 million to build and the Brooks Museum--$84 million.

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