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May 22, 2013

Group wants to connect downtown Terre Haute with the Wabash River

TERRE HAUTE — Fairbanks Park is underutilized.

The Wabash River is peaceful and inviting, but there is some concern about its cleanliness as well as pollution levels. Also, people can’t get on the river unless they have a boat.

The government campus — which includes  Terre Haute City Hall, the courthouse and security center —  is an auto-oriented, “concrete jungle” that needs more green space and landscaping.

Third Street is a major barrier to all three — particularly for walkers and bicyclists.

Those were some of the comments expressed during meetings Tuesday aimed at learning about people’s perceptions and experiences related to the river, park and government campus. The public meeting, conducted by Art Spaces, Inc. and J3 Concepts, was called “Turn to the River — a Community Conversation.”

It’s part of an effort to re-connect the downtown with the Wabash River.

During an afternoon session, 16 people attended, and in the evening, 14 attended. A few others went to an open house in between. The public brainstorming sessions took place at the Girl Scout Program Center.

The sessions focused on the present, not future possibilities, said Jennifer Hale of J3 Concepts. She and Jason Saavedra led the meetings.

Those attending got in small groups and  discussed how they use the river, Fairbanks Park and government campus; they also talked about any barriers they encounter. Later, they shared  their thoughts and ideas.

A similar meeting scheduled for Aug. 27 will focus more on future possibilities, Hale said. J3 Concepts hopes to have a draft plan next spring and a final document by July 2014.

While it won’t have to be approved by any governmental body, the plan will serve as a community vision for re-connecting the downtown and river, Saavedra said.

It also will make recommendations on potential action items, as well as what groups could carry them out, he said. The plan also will provide information on what projects currently are under way related to the Wabash River.

Among those attending the afternoon session were Sister Dorothy Rasche, who oversees Connecting Link in West Terre Haute. The future of the river and West Terre Haute “are intricately linked together,” she said. Improvements and potential development could benefit West Terre Haute economically, she said.

Judy Brett, who also attended, said that as a child, she read about the Wabash River in historical novels and fell in love with the river.

When she came to Terre Haute in 1968, “I was astonished at how the Wabash River was disrespected,” she said. “I am thrilled that is being reversed now.”

Among the things she’d like to see is a family restaurant along the river. Overall, she just wants to see the river become “a beautiful focal point in our city.”

Brett uses the park and river a lot, attending band concerts in the summer and the annual herb fair. She takes her grandsons fishing on the river and sometimes meets friends for lunch there.

Bev Cristee, who serves on the Art Spaces board, believes the park needs a few more amenities to attract more people, such as a splash park for children and some type of restaurant or food outlet.

“I’d love to see the government campus beautified through landscaping and that kind of thing,” Cristee said.

She wants people to make greater use of the park and the river.

Thomas Baer, who has a home on the river near Fort Harrison Road, attended because he is interested in how the riverfront might be developed.

He’d like to see more recreational use of the river and beautification of the area to make it a “destination.” He does not want to see any major commercial development along the river in that area between Fairbanks Park and I-70.

Paul Stanley, who also attended, believes the initiative is about “being the best you can be, and our community is beginning to awaken to the fact we can do better than what we’ve done so far.”

There has been a lot of movement in recent years to make it a better, more attractive place to live and do business, he said.

Turn to the River is timed to coincide with 2013 Year of the River, an educational initiative spearheaded.

Anyone who wants to provide feedback but was unable to can fill out a survey by going to  www.wabashvalleyartspaces.com/

The survey is located under News & Events  where it says, Join the Conversation — Help Terre Haute “Turn to the River.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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