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Friday, June 21, 2024

Work in Progress: Ohio Riverfront

Southwest Indiana is on the precipice of visible change. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Ohio Riverfront. Read about more projects in the June/July 2024 Evansville Business feature story.

The Riverfront

Full implementation could take many years, even decades. But Southwestern Indiana officials say the Ohio River shoreline in Downtown Evansville, and extending east to Newburgh and west to Mount Vernon, is in for a transformation.

Aware of what’s been accomplished on riverfronts in other communities — officials hear constant praise for what Owensboro, Kentucky’s Smothers Park offers — the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership, in partnership with the Downtown Evansville Economic Improvement District, hired worldwide design firm Sasaki to author a vision for a 50-mile stretch spanning the three communities.

During a public process last year, Sasaki heard from thousands of residents about their dreams for the riverfront. The consultant listened to that feedback and on May 21 unveiled bold new concepts in the Ohio River Vision and Strategic Plan that would bring dramatic change to the riverfront’s look and feel.

“The Sasaki team and their partners have listened to the input of our region, and they’ve come back with a ‘wow’ plan,” says Lloyd Winnecke, CEO of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership.

Let’s start in Evansville. Sasaki’s designs create Great Bend Park, a space centered on the Four Freedoms Monument, which would move north to a spot between Main Street and the river. The public space around the monument is at multiple levels, with a performance stage and grassy and paved grounds — all circled by a multi-modal trail connecting riverfront amenities.

Rendering provided by Sasaki

Great Bend Park includes waterfront food and beverage business opportunities, plus sports courts near the existing Sunset Skatepark. West of Great Bend Park, the multi-modal trail forms a canopy path above the river, with an amphitheater and “floodable” green space beneath it.

Want to experience the river up close? You can, at the bottom of grand stairs and terraces, where Sasaki’s design suggests a “play beach” as well as access to kayaks and jet skis.

The changes would have significant impacts on Riverside Drive. Now a four-lane road with a median, Riverside is seen as being a two-lane, tree-lined boulevard, with parallel parking available between Court and Walnut streets.

Evansville Mayor Stephanie Terry, in a prepared statement, says the vision authored by Sasaki “re-establishes the riverfront as a central part of Evansville’s identity and offers us a chance to activate that space by investing in and improving how we use it.”

Changes seen for Mount Vernon, meanwhile, include improved pedestrian access connecting the riverfront with Downtown streets and businesses. In Newburgh, riverfront concepts from Sasaki include redeveloping “underutilized” sites along Water Street and enhancements to Water, Jennings, and State streets that will “support investments made in private property to complete the downtown experience.”

Winnecke says Sasaki’s design concepts would allow area residents to experience Ohio River settings in multiple ways: alone or with a group, quietly or festively.

Rendering provided by Sasaki

The road to this new-look Ohio River shoreline will not be linear, officials say. Unlike a building project with a well-defined construction schedule, the revamped riverfront could take several years to fully materialize.

“One of the beauties of this is, it’s not like, here’s the plan and you have to do it in this order,” Winnecke says. “There’s not necessarily going to be a specific sequence laid out. It will be determined by individual communities and how funding sources become available.”

In total, Winnecke says, “it’ll be a 20- to 25-year plan,” adding that the Ohio River vision “is transformative in thought. It will push us to think bigger, dream bigger, and to think this region deserves greater activity on a riverfront from Mount Vernon to Newburgh.”

Terry, in her prepared remarks, says, “Sasaki has pitched this as a 20-year vision for the riverfront, so that is the best estimate as far as a timeline for full completion. But the question of when people can start to expect to see these changes come to fruition … that part’s a little more complicated.”

Funding from the state’s READI program, which supports economic development in Hoosier communities, is in place to “identify and create schematic designs for the first phases” of the riverfront development, Terry says. “Those schematic designs are needed as we seek funding to begin work on implementing those first phases … we’ll be looking at identifying and acquiring a combination of federal, state, local, and private funds to move forward with making parts of the vision a reality.

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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