Memphis cleared to expand Downtown tourism zone for aquarium

Memphis won state approval Tuesday to expand its Downtown tourism development zone for a $125 million redevelopment of Mud Island to include an aquarium.

The State Building Commission approved the city's request for a modification to its TDZ, adding Mud Island and the riverfront as "qualified public uses" — meaning the city can pay for improvements in those areas with the state sales taxes captured by the zone.

“Today’s approval is a major step forward in our momentum and in building a world-class riverfront — one that both Memphians and visitors to our city will enjoy,” Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement.

In addition to the aquarium, the city hopes to bring the Brooks Museum to a new Riverfront Cultural Center at Riverside and Monroe, and connect the center to the island via a pedestrian bridge. The initial total price estimate was $225 million.

Carol Coletta, president of the Memphis River Parks Partnership, formerly known as the Riverfront Development Corp., said the Building Commission's decision was a "big win" for the city against "tough odds," a reference to state lawmakers animosity against the city following its sale of two parks that led to the removal of their Confederate statues.