An in-water recreation park for kayaking and tubing, a river-themed children’s play space with climbing apparatuses, and an expansion of the People Trail along the East Fork White River between the Second and Third street bridges are all part of a preliminary design concept unveiled for the Columbus Riverfront.

The vision for the riverfront was outlined for residents during a three-hour open house Wednesday at the Hamilton Community Center & Ice Arena, where Hitchcock Design Group presented its recommendations to a crowd of about 50 people. The Naperville, Illinois-based firm was hired by the city last December at a cost of $299,000 to create a design for the project.

The Columbus Riverfront concept, which also includes several overlooks of the river, was developed as a result of input during a public open house and a survey that generated more than 600 responses, said Richard Hitchcock, president of Hitchcock Design Group.

“It’s been something we’ve been exploring for a long time in what can we do to make it better,” Hitchcock said. “This is a fabulous community with a wealth of assets.”

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Also used to formulate the concept for the 19.4-acre site along the river were local demographic and tourism information, as well as interviews with residents, visitors, representatives of community organizations and business owners, Hitchcock said.

The design includes a network of connections that helps expand the People Trail, including a looping system of shorter trails on the west bank of the river, Hitchcock said.

Anticipated cost of the project has not yet been determined, said Heather Pope, redevelopment director for the city.

However, money for the project would come from the city’s Central Tax Increment Financing District, with public/private partnerships sought as well, she said.

The conceptual design will be presented to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission during a 6 p.m. meeting Nov. 30 at Columbus City Hall. A final concept plan is expected to be presented in mid-January, said Randy Royer, principal with Hitchcock Design Group.

The in-water recreation park would also be a major attraction for residents and visitors, said Scott Shipley, president of S2o Design, based in Lyons, Colorado, which has developed more than 30 in-stream recreation parks that feature rafting and kayaking.

The company, which subcontracts with Hitchcock Design Group, is among the entities working on the riverfront project.

In-water recreation parks have grown in popularity and have also resulted in economic boosts to cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Reno, Nevada, Shipley said.

“We focus on the family aspect of it,” Shipley said.

Shipley said the Columbus Riverfront would be a gateway into the community, and that he believes an in-water recreation park would be a popular attraction.

“It’s really the perfect recipe for people,” he said.

Columbus resident Dennis Tibbetts said he liked the overall design proposed by Hitchcock.

The Sierra Club, of which Tibbetts is a member, is working to help clean up the river to make it more attractive and usable for swimming, he said.

“We have all the ingredients. All we have to do is put it together,” Tibbetts said.

Judie Lahr, who has lived in Columbus for more than 50 years, said she is excited about plans for the riverfront, calling it an important asset for the city to utilize.

“We have to keep Columbus vibrant,” Lahr said. “I think the river’s very underutilized.”

Lahr said an improved riverfront would attract out-of-town visitors and be another destination for her to enjoy when spending time with her three grandchildren when they visit.

“I think it’ll attract all kinds of people to Columbus,” she said.

Columbus resident Chuck Lunsford, who served as president of the Hoosier Canoe Club in the 1980s, said he’s looking forward to more people being able to use the water for recreational opportunities. But whether the overall project comes to fruition remains to be seen, he said.

City Councilman Tom Dell, who also attended the open house, said one of the things he likes about the conceptual design is that the river will be made accessible to all individuals to enjoy.

Dell said part of the project’s focus is to make sure it is compliant for patrons under the Americans with Disabilities Act as overlooks are created.

In doing so, that will help improve the overall quality of life as well, he said.

“It really gives our residents an experience of the river they’ve never had before,” Dell said.

Columbus Riverfront design features

  • In-water recreation park allowing kayaking and tubing
  • East bank sidewalks that expand the People Trail along the river with connections north and south of the Second and Third street bridges
  • Looping trail system on the west bank that showcases views of the river and downtown
  • Vehicle access and limited parking on the west bank for maintenance, emergencies, loading and accommodation of disabled individuals
  • River-themed children’s play space that includes climbing apparatuses
  • A riverwalk, in addition to swing sets, for people to enjoy views of the river

Source: Hitchcock Design Group

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com