The Columbus Redevelopment Commission has accepted an $8.6 million concept plan for the Columbus Riverfront project.

The final proposal, with components mirroring a similar presentation in December, calls for several overlooks of the East Fork White River downtown, connections to the People Trail system and an in-water recreation park.

Redevelopment commission members voted unanimously to accept the plan from Hitchcock Design Group during a Monday night meeting at Columbus City Hall. Redevelopment commission member Don Trapp was absent from the meeting.

The Columbus Riverfront project encompasses the area between the Second and Third street bridges.

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Richard Hitchcock, president of Hitchcock Design Group, and Randy Royer, a principal with the firm, presented details about the project, which was developed after the city hosted a public open house and pored through more than 600 responses from residents to an online survey.

The city hopes to improve the quality of life for Columbus residents and increase tourism, said Heather Pope, redevelopment director for the city.

“It’s been a long, exciting process,” Pope said. “It will be exciting to see it turn into a showpiece.”

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

However, the project remains contingent on several approval steps that are required by city ordinance.

Any expenditure of more than $500,000 by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission requires subsequent approval by Columbus City Council.

Columbus City Councilman Tom Dell said a timetable has not yet been established for when the project will go before the council for financing approval, because firm figures on construction costs and how the project will be funded still need to be determined.

A river-themed children’s play space with a looping system of shorter trails had been proposed on the west bank of the river, but Hitchcock told city officials in December during a joint meeting of the commission and Columbus City Council that the estimated $8.6 million project does not include any development on that side of the river. To include the children’s play space would add another $800,000 to the cost, and that component was not considered Monday, Royer said.

The project also is contingent on obtaining regulatory permits from state and federal agencies such as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pope said.

Hitchcock was asked during the meeting about the process of obtaining all of the required permits tied to the project, which includes the removal of a low-head dam in the project area.

“As we get closer and closer, we’ll get more confident,” Hitchcock said.

The Naperville, Illinois-based firm was hired by the city in December 2016 at a cost not to exceed $299,000 to create a riverfront design.

Pope said the city plans to continue working with Hitchcock in developing construction documents for the project. A contract is expected to be considered by the commission at its Feb. 19 meeting, Pope said.

In addition, the city is expected to begin the coordination and regulatory permitting process by May, Pope said.

Hitchcock said developing the area along the Riverfront should also be an economic driver for the city.

“There’s no question this will be a catalyst for activity,” he said.

The project is one that redevelopment commission member George Dutro said he supports.

“I’m very excited about this project,” he said. “How we pay for it, I don’t know, but it’s worth pursuing.”

Columbus resident Russ Poling said he favors a connection to the People Trail among the first phases of the project.

“I think this looks real good,” Poling said.

What's next

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission could consider a contract during its Feb. 19 meeting to hire Hitchcock Design Group to assist the city with construction documents tied to the Riverfront project.

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