JEFFERSONVILLE – Iconic.
Nationally – even globally – significant.
A destination for millions of visitors each year.
Wednesday morning, officials with the River Heritage Conservancy shared their bold vision with community leaders for a new 400-acre urban park in Southern Indiana, saying the world-class endeavor will transform the north shore of the Ohio River and help shape the region’s identity in the eyes of the world.
“Today is just a tip of the iceberg of what you’re going to hear,” said Kent Lanum, Ogle Foundation president and chair of the RHC, which bills itself as a not-for-profit organization “dedicated to the creation, maintenance and preservation of an exceptional, world-class, linear parkscape on the north shore of the Ohio River in Southern Indiana.”
Lanum said the new, yet unnamed, park will "transcend geo-political boundaries and politics, as well as improve the quality of place for generations to come."
He added, "So let me be clear, I don't believe that's an over-statement. I do believe it signifies what's going to become a unifying venture across borders and, in decades to come from now, I believe that it will truly be a destination for millions of people each year when they come here to our region."
COMPLETING THE URBAN RIVER CORRIDOR
Project officials said this new park will be located at the foot of the Falls of the Ohio area – filling in the last gap along the urban river corridor. It will tie in with the Ohio River Greenway and expand upon it in ways that honor the area’s rich historical and cultural significance while tapping into the land and river's robust natural resources.
The new Ohio River park project site lies within roughly 400 acres of brownfields, industrial parcels, landfills, wetland woods and river camps at the intersection of the Ohio River, Silver Creek and Ohio River Greenway where Louisville, Clarksville and New Albany meet.
RHC officials say the new park site is 30 minutes of 1.2 million residents and will connect communities in the region with “a wild, historic and neglected section of the Ohio River.” Ultimately, the destination park will have the opportunity to reach 6 million people within a three-hour drive.
The new park is expected to “reinvent, reinterpret and reactivate a section of the Ohio River that has, for more than a millennia, functioned as the heart of the Ohio River Valley,” according to information presented by the RHC.
OLIN of Philadelphia was introduced at the event as the architect of record.
RHC executive director Scott Martin said OLIN was unanimously chosen out of the 50 proposals received from across the country. OLIN is best known for its landscapes at Bryant Park in New York City, the grounds of the Washington Monument and the J. Paul Getty Center Gardens and Grounds in Los Angeles.
For the next nine months, OLIN will work with the RHC to receive input from community members regarding their desires for the park, while the architect firm adds in its own vision for that space.
'DON'T HOLD BACK'
Martin said he is excited to be working with OLIN because of its expertise and prominence in the world of landscape architecture, urban design and planning.
He said the RHC has encouraged OLIN to dream big. “We want them to be bold – don’t hold back,” he said.
The possibilities are vast for the park’s offerings and opportunities, Martin said, so the RHC wants community feedback on the desired amenities to create an “unparalleled park with unparalleled experiences.”
The RHC encourages the community to take a survey on their website at riverheritageconservancy.org
The survey lists potential offerings. One covers “adventure tourism” that could include zip lines, an aerial park and a whitewater course. Another is equipment rental that includes kayak, canoe, bikes, fishing gear and paddle boats. There is an even an opportunity to weigh in on overnight accommodations, that could include tent camping, cabin camping, a lodge and RV camping.
Other options on which participants can share their opinions include special events, public art, retail, educational programs, play areas for children, gardening and wildlife habitats.
Martin expects OLIN to have a plan ready to go by the fall of this year. Once approved, he said they will move forward quickly in the development of that plan. No timeline for that work exists yet.
Along with receiving public input in the coming months, OLIN also will research regional conservation and park, trail and recreation systems, as well as learn more about the unique cultural resources within the site.
Additionally, Lanum said RHC is negotiating with public and private landowners in the area to permanently set aside land for the future park.
A FIVE-YEAR JOURNEY
According to information provided by RHC, the organization began working with natural resource managers and the philanthropic community at the beginning of 2018 to “build consensus around the adoption of one unifying landscape plan for open space downstream of the Falls of the Ohio.”
However, it’s been a five-year journey to get to this point, Martin said.
“You really have to look all the way back to the Greenway Commission – they had the original vision of linking it all together,” Martin said. “We stand on their shoulders. We’re just the next iteration.”
He also praised Lanum and the Ogle Foundation, who got the ball rolling in 2014. Thanks to their foresight and commitment, Martin said, this grand idea for an iconic park will become a reality – and it will not be a burden to taxpayers.
“Right now, it is privately funded by private donations,” Martin said. “The philanthropic community and business leaders have really come together on this.”
The Ogle Foundation has already committed more than $2 million to get this effort off the ground, Lanum said, adding that other private donors have stepped up as well to help make this park a reality.
The park eventually will become a public-private partnership, but Martin said those details will be worked out as the plan unfolds and the project moves forward.
Martin said he has anticipated this day and is elated that the RHC’s vision is now public.
But, he also knows that a park of this magnitude will quickly raise the profile of the RHC in the community’s eyes.
“You know it’s a double-edged sword. You can get a lot done when you’re not really totally visible,” he said with a laugh. “But, any park is only as good as its public engagement, so you need to do this as well. So, it’s exciting to be able to talk about it.”
'THE BEST GAME IN TOWN'
Martin said the RHC already has received positive feedback from government officials for this endeavor in both Indiana and Kentucky.
“All of the local governments and the state governments that we’ve been working with on this project have just come on board,” he said. “They’ve asked, ‘What can we do to help?’ and that’s been very encouraging.”
Martin said the new Ohio River park will be a game-changer for the entire region.
“There is a hunger for an iconic landscape and there is a hunger for a quality special place that fits this quality special place we have on the north shore of the Ohio River,” Martin said.
“The landscape over here is more interesting and the shore line is more dynamic. So, from a park view, this is the best game in town.”