River Reveal

Now that the region’s riverfront vision is on record, what’s next?

With designs for a dramatic overhaul of Downtown Evansville’s riverfront now revealed, the question shifts to when such big-dollar concepts could become reality.

This much is clear — change won’t happen fast.

Sasaki, a consulting firm hired by the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership to draft a vision for the shoreline in Evansville, as well as in Newburgh and Mount Vernon, Indiana, says potential funding sources include federal grants, state resources, and private donations.

Officials unveiled several dynamic design concepts to show those potential contributors on May 21 during an E-REP event at Old National Bank.

Rendering provided by Sasaki

“Regional residents have expressed their desire for a stronger connection to the river for almost a century — since Evansville’s first master plan in 1928,” says Lloyd Winnecke, CEO of E-REP. “We celebrate the beginning of a transformative journey toward more vibrant and connected riverfronts across our region.”

The plans are prominent and bold. A centerpiece idea for Evansville is a multi-level park at Dress Plaza where the Four Freedoms Monument would relocate.

The proposed Great Bend Park in Downtown Evansville would offer a performance stage, paved and grassy gathering areas, and a winding pedestrian path that becomes an above-ground canopy at one point.

Other components for Evansville include basketball courts and other sports facilities near Sunset Skatepark, plus restaurant and retail spaces.

Sasaki officials conducted a public input process in 2023, and they say the most requested element for the riverfront was dining and drinking establishments, followed by musical or theatrical performance venues, family-friendly event spaces, and farmers or pop-up markets.

The plan creates room for amenities like those by narrowing Riverside Drive to a two-lane, tree-lined road with parallel parking availability. Officials say flood protections are prioritized in all designs.

Conceptual drawings for the other two communities were not shown, but Sasaki views improved pedestrian connectivity along the riverfront as a priority for Mount Vernon, while Newburgh would see enhancements to Water Street and existing riverfront elements such as its Lock and Dam area.

The consultant and E-REP officials did not place precise cost estimates or timelines on any of these riverfront ideas, saying only that it would need from five to 20 years for them to fully take shape.

They also mention that design concepts might change over time. As one example, Evansville’s Mickey’s Kingdom Park could stay put or be rebuilt at another riverfront site. Sasaki says there are no current plans to remove The Pagoda or any other riverfront buildings.

Officials say public input gained last year was integral to the riverfront vision presented for Evansville, Newburgh, and Mount Vernon, and the goal for all three communities is more utilization of the riverfront by individuals and families, as well as for community events of various sizes.

Rendering provided by Sasaki

Sasaki has designed riverfront projects across the U.S. and internationally. None are cheap — during the May 21 reveal, Sasaki officials said the cost of a Cincinnati, Ohio, project is more than $100 million.

The consultant has worked in the New York City and Chicago, Illinois, areas but has also done projects in communities more comparable to Southwest Indiana, such as Davenport, Iowa.

Dollars spent on the riverfront visioning process up to this point — about $1 million — have nearly all come from the state’s READI initiative, which supports economic development in Indiana communities.

Josh Armstrong, chief economic development officer with E-REP, says one reason Sasaki was selected was the firm’s experience in identifying potential funding sources.

He says Sasaki will remain involved in Southwest Indiana’s riverfront development vision, and the parties are developing a contract for the consultant to craft schematic designs, which could be used in applications for various grants.

Anna Cawrse, principal landscape architect with Sasaki, says the next steps involve fleshing out designs in greater detail.

Rendering provided by Sasaki

“We have a big vision, but we can start getting into what are the benches (that should be used), what are the types of paving material, what are the plants, how do we want this to feel,” Cawrse said during the public reveal. “That’s what will really help us get into this next phase, especially as we start looking for additional funding. So that will be the next two years of work.”

Related Articles

Latest Articles