News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 6, 2013

Businesses look to reconnect City with river

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Some downtown Terre Haute stakeholders brainstormed and dreamed big as they talked about possibilities to “re-connect” the downtown with the Wabash River.

On Tuesday, the Downtown Terre Haute Design Committee met with representatives of Art Spaces and a planning firm, J3 Concepts as part of an initiative called “Turn to the River.”

After gathering much feedback from stakeholders and the community, J3 Concepts will develop a comprehensive plan that looks at ways in which public art and design can play a role in reconnecting the downtown and the river.

The project will involve a public survey and public meeting, and a final plan will be completed by summer 2014, said Jennifer Hale, of J3 Concepts.

A draft plan also will be presented to the Terre Haute City Council, possibly early next year.

On Tuesday, the planners wanted to hear from members of the DTH Design Committee.

Those attending threw out such ideas as riverfront dining, shops, a marketplace, fountain/sculpture and interpretive area. Other ideas included a splash park and skating rink.

The area under study includes the City Hall/governmental plaza, Fairbanks Park and   surrounding areas. The general area includes Third Street to the east, the Wabash River to the west and an area between Cherry and Poplar streets.

Those are not strict boundaries; instead, they are intended to help guide discussion, Hale said.

Wieke Benjamin talked about creating an “educational experience” that includes the history of the city; it would be a place where families could take their children. She also mentioned creation of a performing arts area, which could appeal to different age groups.

Public-private partnerships will be the key to success of any plan, she said.

Benjamin also believes it will be important to find a safe way for people to get across Third Street to go from downtown to the riverfront; one possibility is a pedestrian bridge over the highway. “Third Street is so dangerous,” she said. Semis “keep thundering through red lights.”

Janice Board emphasized the importance of establishing standards up front that would outline what kind of development could occur.

Board also asked about ways to encourage more boat traffic along the Wabash River and how that could be accomplished.

Todd Nation suggested having a boat docked on the river that could serve as a restaurant.

He discussed the need for improved pedestrian access for those who want to cross the river to go to the Wabashiki wetlands area.

Ben Orman praised the efforts of Art Spaces and J3 Concepts for the groundwork they are doing. As they go forward with the process, “We will be your cheerleaders,” he said.

The planning project is being funded through a $25,000 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Art Spaces must provide a $25,000 match, and part of that funding is coming from the city.

Nine people attended the two-hour brainstorming session Tuesday.

“I’m really excited about the level of engagement,” said Mary Kramer, Art Spaces executive director. The planning process ties in well with 2013 Year of the River.

“People are very excited about what’s happening,” she said. As planners meet with stakeholders for Turn to the River, “The ideas keep expanding.” It’s the job of the planners to “rein them in” as they prepare an actual plan, she said.

Kramer also noted, “We are in conversation with Riverscape. This is not a plan to take over other plans. This is trying to figure out how design and public art really can play a role here,” she said.

Several meetings have taken place with small groups of stakeholders, and more are planned.

Any stakeholder group that would like to meet with J3 Concepts can contact them at 812-645-4610 or info@J3planning.com, said Jason Saavedra, a J3 partner/principal.

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