News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

September 1, 2013

Turn to the river: City officials, arts groups planning firm are studying how to connect downtown to Wabash

TERRE HAUTE — People who are somewhat familiar with Wabash Avenue from Seventh Street westward to the Wabash River looked with fresh eyes at the route recently.

“Many people said they’d never paid attention to the density and the parking lots,” recalls Jennifer Haley, a partner in J3 Concepts, the planning firm working on the community plan to reconnect downtown with the river.

The walk from the Max Ehrmann at the Crossroads sculpture at the corner of Seventh and Wabash streets was used to highlight the possibilities in how public art and design can enliven the spaces between the downtown district and the river.

“Many people were not aware that the city owns a grassy lot along the river where Wabash Avenue now ends,” Haley said. “There used to be a bridge there. It has a lot of opportunity.”

Pathways that connect downtown with Fairbanks Park — south along the river — are being proposed. For example, a group of college students has looked at how to extend the river bank under the current highway bridge so that a pedestrian pathway could connect areas north of the highway with the city park.

Mary Kramer, executive director of Art Spaces Inc., said the Turn to the River project is about more than putting up sculpture or public art to decorate the city.

“It’s about how people perceive things and find things. It’s more than art,” she said. “Maybe it’s capturing rainwater in interesting ways and filtering it before it is used in gardens or becomes run-off directed to the river.”

A recent public meeting on the community plan came up with some interesting input from local people on how art can connect the river and downtown. Since 2013 has been designated as the Year of the River, Art Spaces is trying to bring attention to a waterway that has been mostly ignored by the community in the modern era.

The planners have already met with groups such as landowners and government officers along the riverbank. Representatives from the Will Center have given input about public access for the handicapped or mobility challenged population. An upcoming meeting is planned with international students who live in Indiana State University’s housing area near the river.

All of the feedback from such meetings and community contacts are critical to the plan being worked out. Kramer said that even past plans — and she has found several for the downtown area — can be integrated into the master plan to show how others envision use of property and public spaces to create a more vibrant downtown.

By early next year, J3 expects to have a plan to present to the mayor and city officials for additional input, before the final plan is presented to the public.

Among possibilities in the plan are a pedestrian bridge over Third Street, Kramer said. Whether that bridge is designed as utilitarian in purpose, or as an artistic gateway to the downtown, can be included in the plan.

The planning of Turn to the River is being funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with matching funds provided by the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment, City of Terre Haute Arts Grant, Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Ivy Tech Community College.

The next public meeting on the project is being planned for next spring.

Kramer said that anyone wanting to submit input on Turn to the River can contact Art Spaces through its website at www.wabashvalley or by calling 812-235-2801. J3 Concepts can be contacted online at

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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