From this morning's paper:
What can I say? I'm speechless.
Staging a Colosseum Makeover
April 1, 2007
Memphians on trips and vacations have long enjoyed the many diversions available away from the Bluff City -- sightseeing, eating, swimming, drinking, snorkeling, relaxing, walking.
Walking? Well, most of the diversions. An oft-cited complaint from Memphians traveling abroad is the lack of parking in their favorite destinations.
But in an agreement being worked out between officials in Memphis and Rome, this could be a problem relegated to the dustbin of history -- along with an underused part of the Roman Colosseum.
Sources close to the landmark deal, who requested confidentiality, say a tentative plan to convert part of the historic Roman structure to parking has been agreed upon by officials in Memphis and Rome.
The plan was hatched in early 2005 by local business leaders after a recent trip to Rome turned inconvenient. Sensing an opportunity, they enlisted the support of the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County, who quickly put together a blue-ribbon working group of local business, political and cultural leaders. A study was commissioned which predicted a 21.7% increase in visits of Memphians to Rome if the parking situation improved. The study also pinpointed the Colosseum, centrally located and mostly underused, as an excellent choice for a new parking facility.
That was all the working group needed to hear. They immediately began discussions with elected officials in Rome, hoping to have a deal in place by the end of 2006. But the talks hit an immediate roadblock. Citing strong citizen opposition, the Italian delegation was reluctant to convert the landmark Colosseum to parking.
"This was a make-or-break time for the deal" says one source close to the discussions. "If we couldn't get Rome's Mayor and other influential politicians on-board, the deal wasn't going to happen." The working group knew that the whole plan was in danger if they didn't act -- and act decisively.
They flew the Roman officials to Memphis in William Tanner's private jet for further discussions. After a week of wining, dining and meetings with officials of local government, the Romans were persuaded.
"It makes sense", says local developer James Sheltie. "Rome becomes a much more sought after destination if the parking situation improves. This is a win-win for the citizens of Memphis and Rome." In fact, in an internal Regional Chamber survey, 50% of Memphis businessmen polled said they would return to Rome if the parking situation improved, 25% indicated that they would return either way, and 15% stated that parking had soured them on Rome permanently (the other 10% were undecided).
The plan calls for a small percentage of the Colosseum to be demolished to allow entry and exit for the new parking facility. While Roman preservation groups have vigorously opposed the plan, officials note that over 70% of the existing structure will be retained. "This is a great plan that addresses both convenience and history. Over 70% of the existing building will be there for the citizens of Rome and Memphis to enjoy indefinitely" says the working group's land-use consultant Zee McGarrett.
Others note ominously that if this plan doesn't go through, complete demolition could be the next step for the Colosseum. "The Mayors of Rome and Memphis have made it clear that convenient parking for Memphians is a major priority of both cities. I don't think that's going to change" says one source close to the plan.
Demolition is to begin next month, with construction of the parking facility to follow immediately afterwards. Parking in the new structure should begin in early 2008.
What can I say? I'm speechless.