City leaders say they support a proposed plan to revitalize the Columbus Riverfront and hope to set priorities and determine how the estimated $8.6 million cost can be covered as discussions continue.

The latest details about the Riverfront project along the East Fork White River between the Second and Third street bridges were shared Thursday evening during a joint meeting with members of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission and Columbus City Council.

The proposal calls for several overlooks of the river, connections to the People Trail system and an in-water recreation park.

Extension of the People Trail, which carries a price tag estimated at $1.9 million, would be used for walkers and bicyclists, said Richard Hitchcock, president of Hitchcock Design Group of Naperville, Illinois, hired by the city as a consultant for the project.

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“It would be a great place to walk along the river,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock also told commission and city council members that the low-head dam in the river, which has structural and erosion issues, also needs to be dealt with.

Taking out the dam, also seen as a danger risk to river users, and installing an in-water recreation park are estimated to cost $2.36 million, while a shoreline stabilization on the east and west banks are estimated to cost $3.47 million, Hitchcock said.

City officials expect to fund the Riverfront project through a combination of tax increment financing funds, state and federal grants, and public/private partnerships.

“We’ve identified $600,000 in grants that are particularly attractive,” Hitchcock said.

Project benefits

The Riverfront project could attract workers and visitors to Columbus and spur additional economic development activity, he said.

“This is a dream project,” Hitchcock said. “This will be iconic. It’s that powerful.”

The project also drew praise from George Dutro, a redevelopment commission member, during Thursday’s meeting.

“It just seems to address all the hopes and dreams everybody has been talking about,” Dutro said.

An in-water recreation park planned along the Columbus Riverfront featuring kayaking and tubing would also be a popular amenity for the public, said Scott Shipley, president of S2o Design. The Lyons, Colorado-based company has developed more than 30 in-stream recreation parks that feature rafting and kayaking.

Columbus’ in-water recreation park would be smaller than others that his company has developed, Shipley said, but three different drops in the river would give users an opportunity to experience it in a different way.

Taking advantage of the East Fork White River in Columbus will be beneficial, said Bruce Gray, who lives near the Driftwood River.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful thing that could happen here,” Gray said. “We need to do this for future generations and we need to get rid of low-head dams.”

A river-themed children’s play space with a looping system of shorter trails was suggested on the west bank of the river, but Hitchcock told city officials that the estimated $8.6 million project doesn’t include any development on that side of the river.

Those elements remain part of the plan, however, redevelopment director Heather Pope said.

“It’s something that would be a great addition to our riverfront,” she said.

However, construction of an overpass at the State Route 46/State Route 11 intersection is a concern regarding potential development of the west bank, councilman Frank Miller said.

The project is contingent on obtaining regulatory permits from agencies such as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said Randy Royer, principal with Hitchcock Design Group.

“In order to get the permits, the (low-head) dam has to go,” Royer said.

Questions on funding

Commission member Al Roszczyk asked Hitchcock how Columbus’ project compares to others from a cost standpoint.

“They come in all shapes and sizes,” Hitchcock replied, with some municipalities using bonds to finance their projects.

City Councilwoman Laurie Booher said she is in favor of the project, but stressed she needs more details about how it will be funded before making a final decision.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop also said he is excited about what the future holds, saying the project could add to the vibrancy of the community.

“This is our opportunity to control our destiny,” Lienhoop said.

Miller said he has questions on funding, however, which will be decided by the council since costs are likely to exceed $500,000.

While not in favor of using bonds to help finance the Riverfront development, Miller said he would be open to using TIF funds “as long as we explore everything else first.”

“I think the project should happen to whatever degree we can fund (it),” Miller said.

Councilman Tom Dell said he didn’t think support through a public/private partnership would be an issue.

“We can get the community buy-in because we’re (improving) the quality of life,” Dell said.

But more work is ahead for the redevelopment commission and city council as the two bodies will need to determine priorities for the project moving forward, he said.

“We will have to work together in the way we want to proceed,” Dell said.

What's next

A final Columbus Riverfront concept plan is expected to be presented to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission and the Columbus City Council sometime in mid to late January.

Riverfront improvement costs

People Trail connection: $1,946,000

East and west bank shoreline stabilization: $3,474,000

Dam removal and whitewater installation: $2,369,000

Amenities (Riverfront plaza and overlooks): $815,000

Total: $8,604,000

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