New Albany To Expand Riverfront Transformation With 63-Acre Park
The western reaches of New Albany’s Ohio River shoreline have long been a no man’s land used for industrial purposes, but city officials have major plans in the works to transform some of the property.
In the coming months, they’ll remove much of the iron and concrete that remains in the area near the former QRS Recycling site along Floyd Street to make way for a large public park. Mayor Jeff Gahan said the new park, called River Recreation, will incorporate 63 acres of green space and a new boat ramp.
“People are going to be surprised, because up to this point, they've seen a fence and some vacant property, but I don't think people realize the view they're going to have here,” he said. “I think they're going to be amazed at what a wonderful space this is. And it's going to happen soon.”
Gahan said the plans to reimagine the property started about 25 years ago, with the formation of the Ohio River Greenway Development Commission, a collaborative effort by Clark and Floyd County communities to develop the riverfront. But much of the work until this point focused on the downtown and eastern portions of the city, including the Loop Island Wetlands.
Now that the city owns about 2.5 miles of property along the Ohio River, that same sort of transformation can be extended westward. In 2017, the city agreed to pay QRS owners $2.5 million over 20 years. Gahan said the QRS site is unique, because its view of the river comes after the bend just east of the Sherman Minton Bridge, which will also undergo renovations starting this month.
The first step will be to remove the remaining structures on the former industrial site, along with some concrete pads. Next, the property will be graded and transformed into a meadow.
“The west end is heavily residential, which is why this is so important that people keep in mind that this shoreline development is for residents,” Gahan said. “We're not trying to create a commercial site. We're not trying to create some private shoreline. This is a totally public shoreline for people to enjoy, primarily folks a rock’s throw from here.”
Brian Hampton, owner of the Floyd County Brewing Company in New Albany, said he’s been pushing for a revitalization of the city’s west end since opening his business. The brewery is currently on the outer reaches of downtown on Main Street, just west of the city’s major commercial and tourism hub.
By bridging the gap between the downtown corridor and the underdeveloped western stretch, Hampton said the city can attract more visitors and improve quality of life for current residents.
“If we want people to get down there to the core of New Albany, they have to get off the exit ramp and make several turns,” he said. “And depending on which way you're coming, you've got to go through some pretty rough areas before you ever see it. We really need to focus our efforts [coming] from the interstate towards the core of downtown.”
Renovations Coming To Ohio River Overlook
City officials aren’t focused solely on bringing new amenities to the riverfront. Parks director Alicia Meredith said there are also plans to give a facelift to the existing riverside overlook and outdoor amphitheater, east of the planned River Recreation Park.
Meredith said while the mission of River Recreation is to introduce free public space to the west, there are commercial opportunities at the overlook. She said the area is iconic since it’s the first thing visitors see as they cross the Sherman Minton Bridge.
“When we do develop that, it's going to encourage people to visit our shoreline and want to reserve things there with us, whether it be concerts, or movies or festivals — a lot of those things that we do, but they're just a little bit smaller,” Meredith said. “We would have the ability to offer some dinner cruises or even weekend cruises up and down the Ohio River.”
The current overlook along the flood wall includes a two-story concrete structure with a fenced perimeter. Gahan said the city is considering a couple of different designs to light up the structure to make it an “accent piece” for downtown, though it will no longer include the upper deck.
Much of the work on River Recreation Park and the boat ramp is expected to be finished by the end of the year, and the overlook could take shape by the end of 2022. The final cost is not yet known, but funding is coming from the city of New Albany and Caesars Foundation.