All The Colors

May 22nd, 2014

The big sweeping view is gorgeous, the building itself with its walls of glass and a grassy hill for a roof is unique, the winding ramp is part sculpture and part practical solution to accessing a river that rises and falls 50 feet every year.

The Memphis fleet of excursion paddlewheelers come and go with their idle and curious cargo, the massive American Queen comes home from its well-heeled voyages, and you can take it all in from your table inside or out, or from your seat at the bar or on the hill above, or from the rail or the walks or the overhangs anywhere.


As I looked at the scene and the scale of it, I saw something that made it all work. Amid all of that, I saw a single red canoe turned upside down midway along the long dock awaiting its single paddler’s return.

Every single one of us can get to the river.

As published in The Daily News, May 23, 2014, and in The Memphis News, May 24-30, 2014




“What do you see in that?” she asked, pointing up.

I said that I saw all of us in the pinks and blacks, the browns and tans, the darks and lights. I saw our earthiness in the oranges and yellows, our politics in the reds and blues, and I saw our seasons, our water and skies in there, too. I said I saw all of that, all together, in all the shades in-between.

Might have been overthinking it. Might have sounded as much like BS as reading it just felt like. After all, I was just looking at a lot of colors.

“Hmm,” she said. “Well, here’s what the designers saw.”

She explained they’d photographed the river at sunset, then pixelated the image, then isolated and counted the pixels, and what we were looking at were all the colors they saw in the water and their relationship to each other.

Might have overdone it. Might have sounded like an esoteric exercise in justified billing. After all, they were just looking at a lot of colors.

Dorchelle Spence, vice president of the Riverfront Development Corporation, and I were standing at a copper-topped bar in the unfinished Riverfront Bar & Grill, beneath a wall of colors in varying sizes and shapes, a couple of Memphians looking out at our Mississippi River – not from high above somewhere, but from close-up, the river approachable and accessible just below.

The many colors on that wall also wrap the elevator shaft on the roof deck, and uniquely and intentionally mark the new Beale Street Landing and, in many ways, Memphis. Different. Funky. Controversial. A lot of color. Inspired and challenged by the river.

From here you’re looking at what made Memphis, and the view is magic. That might sound like a bit much, too, but until you’ve seen it, your view is dated.

Some would turn justified concern about cost overruns into unjustified and uninformed rage with no sense of the value of bringing the river to us, of cleaning up and showing off and sharing our front porch on America’s river, or of the perseverance necessary to make us proud in spite of ourselves.

Some would claim to protect the riverfront our founders gave us when their stewardship gave us parking garages on our promenade, twisted weeds and ankles on our cobblestones, rusted metal barricades in our way, and a river only accessible before now to those with private boats in little pastel-painted boathouses.

I’ve seen how sad our riverfront was before the RDC, the decay of Downtown before the Downtown Memphis Council. I’ve seen how stale Shelby Farms was before the energy of the Shelby Farms Conservancy, the slow rot of Overton Park before the new growth of the Overton Park Conservancy, the threatened Wolf before the saving grace of the Wolf River Conservancy. 

Things are looking much better today.

I’m a Memphian, and if you don’t like the view from that bar when the restaurant opens in late June, the drink’s on me.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.



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