City leaders have authorized the Columbus Redevelopment Commission to spend nearly $500,000 on design development work for the Columbus Riverfront project.

Columbus City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the commission to spend $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. The funding for this component of the project will come out of the city’s Central Tax Increment Financing District.

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

However, the council was asked to approve the expenditure — just under the approval threshold — in an effort to be transparent and make sure “everyone is on board with the project,” Heather Pope, the city’s redevelopment director, had said prior to the meeting.

The latest Riverfront contract will be with Hitchcock Design Group, of Naperville, Illinois, which was hired by the city in December 2016 to do preliminary work on the project.

Hitchcock’s $8.6 million concept plan for the Riverfront calls for several overlooks of the East Fork White River, connections to the People Trail system and an in-water recreation park. The project is one that is expected to draw residents and visitors to the area, said Randy Royer, principal with Hitchcock Design Group.

An in-water recreation park would provide recreational opportunities such as kayaking, tubing and canoeing while making the river safer with removal of the low-head dam that currently exists, Royer told the council.

The design development work created by Hitchcock, to be done in two phases, is required to obtain necessary permits from regulatory agencies to make improvements on the river, Royer said. Permits will be sought from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

People who commented during the meeting were generally positive about the Riverfront project.

Earl King, a member of the Hoosier Canoe and Kayak Club, said his group supports the Riverfront project. King said removing the low-head dam would relieve the city of a substantial hazard that currently exists.

“It would be a good thing moving forward,” said King, who lives in Greenwood.

Columbus resident Eric Hayes said an improved Riverfront would boost tourism in the area.

“It would be an awesome project once complete,” Hayes said.

But another Columbus resident, Chuck Doup, questioned Royer about whether there might be issues between the Riverfront project and the railroad overpass project, expected to begin in 2019 at the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection.

“What would happen if they came into conflict?” Doup said. “How would they be resolved?”

The likelihood of the two projects conflicting would be slim, Royer responded.

Besides the regulatory approval, funding sources will have to be identified to make the project a reality, said councilman Tim Shuffett, who said he supports a public/private partnership.

“That’s exactly what we need to make this happen,” Shuffett said.

What's next

Hitchcock Design Group, based in Naperville, Illinois, will begin its work immediately to create schematic design drawings during Phase I that is expected to take three months. Phase II will involve design development work and obtaining construction permits from different regulatory agencies.

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