Supporters of a proposed $8.6 million Columbus Riverfront project will have a chance to learn next month whether there’s enough backing on the Columbus City Council for the idea to move forward.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission voted 5-0 Monday to approve a contract with Hitchcock Design Group for up to $496,900 to create schematic drawings and conduct design development work for the project along the East Fork White River between the Second and Third Street bridges.

Any expenditure of more than $500,000 by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission requires subsequent approval by Columbus City Council. However, the council will be asked to approve the expenditure even though it falls short of the $500,000 threshold during its 6 p.m. March 6 meeting in an effort to be transparent, said Heather Pope, the city’s redevelopment director.

“We’re doing this so that everyone is on board with the project,” Pope said.

With the overall cost of the project far exceeding $500,000, the council would have eventually had to sign off on it.

Pope said she and Royer will make a Riverfront presentation to the council March 6, when the funding request will be presented. If approved, the money will come out of the city’s Central Tax Increment Financing District, Pope said.

The work by Hitchcock, which would be done in two phases, is needed to obtain necessary permits from regulatory agencies so improvements can be made in the area, said Randy Royer, principal with Hitchcock Design Group.

The Naperville, Illinois-based firm was hired by the city in December 2016 for initial work on the Riverfront development project at a cost not to exceed $299,000. The $8.6 million concept calls for several overlooks of the East Fork White River downtown, connections to the People Trail system and an in-water recreation park. The project is intended to improve the quality of life for Columbus residents and increase tourism.

The final concept plan for the Riverfront was formally accepted as a resolution during Monday’s meeting as a formality after the commission accepted the plan in January.

Permits necessary

The Riverfront project remains 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, Royer said. That process is expected to take 6 to 12 months, he said.

Hitchcock already has had preliminary discussions with those agencies, which Royer described as positive so far. The city will have to apply for permits within each respective agency, he said.

“They will review (the designs) and decide whether we will get permits,” Royer said.

Phase I of the $496,900 project will involve creation of schematic design drawings, while Phase II will involve design development work and obtaining construction permits from different agencies, according to Hitchcock’s proposal to the city.

Pope also said she is hopeful that the city will be able to obtain the necessary permits.

Commission member John Dorenbusch said community meetings conducted on the Columbus Riverfront indicate support for the project, adding that the work with Hitchcock should help move things along.

“It’s a logical next step,” he said.

City Councilman Tom Dell said he supports the commission’s decision to seek council approval, saying the next steps ahead in the project will ultimately determine what can and can’t be done on the Riverfront if the permits are obtained.

“This is the only way we can do that,” Dell said.

Dell also said he agreed with the notion of being transparent about the project, adding that the public will also have an opportunity to ask questions during the March 6 council meeting.

“If we just stop now … I don’t think that’s the right approach,” he said. “We’re making sure it’s all upfront and why.”

What's next

Columbus City Council will be asked to approve an expenditure of $496,900 for the Columbus Riverfront project during its 6 p.m. meeting March 6 at Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

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