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Scioto River Greenway Plan Moving Forward

Walker Evans Walker Evans Scioto River Greenway Plan Moving Forward
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Exactly two years ago, a planning effort was under way that would help determine the types of projects and initiatives would help set the stage for the continued growth of Downtown Columbus over the course of the next decade. A set of 12 ideas were born out of the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan, with much attention being paid to one in particular: The Scioto River Greenway.

“This project really rose to the top of the list as a priority for the community,” said Columbus Downtown Development Corporation President and CEO Guy Worley. “It’s such an exciting, city-changing project that will be transformative for our Downtown.”

In a nutshell, this plan calls for the removal of the low-head dam located just south of the Main Street Bridge, which would convert the Downtown portion of the Scioto River into a cleaner, narrower and more natural free-flowing body of water. The project also calls for landscaping the river banks to make them accessible to the public for fishing, boating and recreation, and provides new amenities, including bike trail connectors, walking paths and additional green space.

Two years ago, this project was a mere idea. Today, local leaders, including Worley, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, Columbus City Council President Andrew J. Ginther, Franklin County Commissioners President Paula Brooks, Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer, and several other community leaders issued a joint announcement about the feasibility, cost and timeline of the project as determined by a recently completed engineering study.

The study determined that the removal of the Main Street Dam would cost about $325,000 and would narrow the Scioto by half its width, from an average of 520 feet down to around 260 feet wide. The narrowing would create approximately 33 acres of new greenspace in Downtown Columbus along the river’s edge.

“Thirty-three new acres of greenspace in a Downtown is practically invaluable,” said Amy Taylor, chief operating officer at The Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. “There are economic benefits, as it will enhance the potential of the Scioto Peninsula and completely change what can happen over there and the investments that can be made.”

The total project cost is estimated at $35 million, with the majority of dollars being budgeted to developing the parkland along the river, installing infrastructure, relocating utilities, and reshaping the river banks to their natural state. CDDC is being tasked with taking the lead on this project as well as the public/private fund raising effort.

“We talked to a lot of federal agencies during our research and they’re all excited about this project,” said Worley. “Frankly, we didn’t really have anyone against it — from environmentalists to economic developers to private developers to city planners to the EPA — all of the regulatory bodies that look at these projects were very supportive.”

In particular, the US Environmental Protection Agency is interested in enhancing the water quality of this portion of the Scioto.

“Right now the water quality is not meeting EPA standards,” explained Erin Miller, environmental steward at the City of Columbus. “With the dam removed and the river restored, it will meet their water quality goals.”

Taylor added that the water quality improvement has the potential to reintroduce native fish species and mussel species that currently thrive in other parts of the Scioto, but not through the Downtown portion of the river.

“The Scioto River and the city are married to each other,” said Alex Silbajoris, chairman of The Friends of the Scioto River advocacy group. “Run an image search on the term ‘Columbus skyline’ or ‘Columbus Downtown’ and see how many images include the river. The important thing to consider about Columbus history is that it’s not over; the story is still being written and now it’s our turn to write a chapter.”

Additionally, the Fifth Avenue low-head dam near The Ohio State University is also scheduled for removal later this year, which will create a new opportunity for connecting a longer stretch of the Scioto for canoeing, kayaking and other recreational purposes.

“The ultimate goal for this project is not just to be transformative Downtown,” said Worley. “At some point in the future, we could actually create a recreational corridor all the way from Highbanks Metro Parks near Powell down the river through many different neighborhoods and communities into Downtown.”

The River Greenway project will begin in 2013 with two years of preliminary work navigating the regulatory and permitting processes at the local and federal levels. Demolition of the Main Street Dam and development of the riverbank is expected to begin in 2014 with a completion date yet to be determined in 2015.

Related: Planning Begins for Redevelopment of Scioto Peninsula

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  • I guess this is good. There is another dam just right down the river too–near Greenlawn Ave. If that isn’t removed, I don’t really see much benefit to water quality or additional recreational opportunities? Why not just remove all of the dams?

  • jmathews5

    I saw the BEAUTIFUL renderings at MSI a while ago. Some before and after photos of the Main St. dam removed. It was AMAZING, all of the greenery that has potential should this project move forward and be successful. Everyday, I bike over the Main St. Bridge, wishfully hoping that that dam would magically disappear :) Maybe it’ll come true – sooner than later :)
    Thanks, Walker.

  • @Merc – The Greenlawn Dam has massive utilities running through it and the estimated cost for removal was potentially into the hundreds of millions. Meanwhile the removal of the Main Street and Fifth Avenue dams does provide uninterrupted access from the OSU Wetlands area near Dodridge all the way down to the dock south of the Scioto Audubon. So several miles. The long term plan is to remove all dams northward to Highbanks, but it sounds like there are utilities in some of those as well, so the costs will be greater and the project will need to be done in phases. Gotta start somewhere!

  • columbusmike

    I’m glad they are moving forward with this. However, I’m disappointed that a boardwalk isn’t even being discussed. It could be a significant development opportunity downtown.

    Here’s where I think a boardwalk could be an iconic and hugely successful development opportunity:

    Some precedent:

  • Wickham

    Glad this is moving forward, but what about the Broad St road diet and the Sports complex ideas? Hope there is still enough room for these projects as well.

  • @Wickham – As far as I’m aware, all of the ideas proposed in the 2010 plan are still on the table, though the Bus Station idea has met with lots of opposition and the Train Station idea has certainly been delayed due to our Governor’s intervention.

  • love the idea of being able to use the river downtown!!!

  • Pablo

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve always viewed this as a way for MSI to steer a lot of work their way.

  • MichaelC

    The opportunity for our riverfront to grow as a recreational space is absolutely wonderful.

    Our riverfront as a destination place is about as nice a gift as we can give to future generations of Columbus.

  • bjones7

    @ WALKER or ANYONE ELSE who can answer this question. What was the purpose of all the dams when built? I mean I know what a dam does, but why did Columbus as a city create all these damns (politics,economics,residential growth). Did they not know the scioto river near downtown would become a eye sore?

  • Pickerington_Kyle

    I heard alot of opposition about not removing the dams saying they would cause the river to dry up in the summer and it would become a murky mud pool. I don’t see that happening at all. The condition of the river now is that it’s all looks, no touch. Whats the point of having something if you can’t use it? Why have a river run through your town if its murky, polluted, and just disgusting and all you have to do is remove a dam that would cause for 33 more acres PLUS a river we can frolic in.

  • I would love to see a boardwalk or boat docks where you could rent canoes, paddle boats and even pontoon boats. An area with picnic tables and possibly a place where food venders could park would be great.

  • Pickerington_Kyle

    @david161 – or expand that idea where you there can be people giving you rides down the river like they do in Venice. That could be a huge hit.

  • whopper jr

    Along with the boardwalk idea, maybe a boardwalk that could accommodate food trucks via a ramp down from Marconi/Civic Center. This would bring people down to the water level but wouldn’t place brick and mortar in the floodplain or require the city to build actual buildings. The city could charge a small parking fee to the truck operator.

  • @bjones7

    I think at first it was built as part of the eerie canal system, which was the waterway transit of its’ day in this region.

    The other big reasaon was to prevent Franklinton from catastrophic flooding every 5-10 years which used to be a very major problem back in the day. In 1913-ish there was a really bad one that killed I think around 80 people? And destroyed nearly 300 homes + 100’s of businesses. Disastrous Floods used to a be major part of downtown life, James Thurber wrote a short story about a famous panic on High Street once.

    Now that the Franklinton Flood Wall was finally finally finished in 2002, they are no longer needed for that capacity. And why perhaps for the first time Franklinton can finally start to reach its’ potential.

    So it did make sense, a lot of sense once upon a time.

  • Kudos to the city for doing this! This could be one the best projects to happen in downtown & Franklinton in a century!

  • bjones& – I have heard (but cannot substantiate) that the original reason for the low-head dams was twofold. One was the aforementioned route for important utilities to cross the river. The other was that the river was originally a very pathetic little stream in many places and the city “powers that be” felt that for Columbus to be a “real” city, it needed a more substantial river running through it. (Think of what the Ohio River is like at Cincinnati or the Cuyahoga River where it dumps into Lake Erie at Cleveland). So they put in the low head dams as a way to widen the river as it winds its way through downtown. Unfortunately, it also had the side-effect of eating up green space and creating a series of waste-water sedimentation ponds that we now live with. I think I might have heard this story at The Columbus Foundation luncheon at a presentation that was given by MSI. Walker – do you remember that?

  • lazyfish

    most of the low head dams were for flood control, which ironically they did not control but only made worse….in some places the river was dammed to provide adequate cooling water for industry and power plants…the 5th ave dam provided cooling water for the old OSU power plant north of Drake Union. The Main St. dam provided cooling water for the City power plant that used to be at Rt. 33 and/or Long St. and the river. I’m super excited these projects are moving forward. Erin Miller deserves a ton of credit for bird-dogging these projects. Thanks, Erin!

  • ehill27

    I’d like to see the largest private sector employer in Central Ohio step up to the plate on this project. ;)


  • I’ve heard all of the above reasons for dam installation… aesthetics of a wider looking river, flood control and diversion of water for canal systems. Sounds like all of the above are out of date and no longer applicable to keeping the dam.

  • jpizzow

    @Wickham: rumor has it, the Broad St. road diet plan is well under way and could start in the near future. I’ve seen the latest renderings from MSI. Sadly, there is no room for a bike lane. It just couldn’t happen, at least downtown. But hey, this is about the river, so discuss your bike lanes on the bike lane post and forgive my digression.

    As for the new parkland, pretty sure the land bridge isn’t happening either. But, if you remember, there was a huge fountain at the mouth of that land bridge on the east side. I would still love to see something similar. There aren’t enough running water features downtown and everyone could use a little more of that healing sound running water provides. At least throw in a couple of pissing cherubs.

  • seanguy

    I really am alone in my questioning of this project. I know this, but my reasoning is really simple. One of my favorite aspects of Columbus has always been the way the riverfront looks so grand with the skyline, many bridges, and the classic “big city” limestone railings that line the now beautiful civic center drive promenade. If you go to any classic, industrial city (like Chicago or Paris) you find these one of a kind retaining walls lined with colonial esque railings. What will become of the just restored limestone railings and brand new multimillion dollar promenade? I am curious that no one else would miss these and their historic significance. Those building materials are really grand and one of a kind in that retaining wall/railings.

    • ranchdude

      Did you ever smell that river? Dead fish all the time. A few years after the dams were put in it HAD to smell like poop all the time.

  • scorpcmh

    Are there any updates on the other 11 ideas? To be honest, most of those would have a better impact on downtown proper than the dam removal. I would love to see High Street cleaned up and the decaying buildings(especially Gay to Long) occupied. How about a project across the street in that eyesore parking lot on same block. Major eyesore. Where are the city leaders on these issues??

  • columbusmike

    scorpcmh, the city isn’t really in the business of building commercial or residential real estate. They are, however, involved in creating and maintaining parks and other public amenities. With the improvements around the river, it should drive further demand for buildings downtown due to all the amenities within walking distance. It will drive prices up in the immediate downtown area, which will make bigger scale projects more feasible.

  • manticore33

    I am not sure if there should be too many concerns about the river running completely dry. The Scioto has two reservoirs and the Olentangy has a reservoir too.

    When I was younger, I would wade (about ankle deep) across in Olentangy up near Delaware. The large smooth slabs of limestone were fun to walk across. And, living next to the river for over 20 years I never saw it “dry up.”

    A green space corridor is a terrific idea. I have also seen plans to extend the Olentangy trail to Delaware which would be awesome. I could use that trail extension for work commuting and/or visiting downtown.

  • scorpcmh

    Thanks columbusmike, I understand that. All the new parks are great. But speaking as a downtown resident, my neighbors and I have many more concerns than removing that dam and adding more park land. I already have more parks within walking distance than most areas of Columbus have. Our real concerns involve the issues I discussed above amoung others. For a crumbling building to remain vacant for 20+ years in the heart of the city is a travesty. I know these issues have been brought to city hall, but so far, with no replies or action. Priorities seem a bit off.

    • ranchdude

      It’s park land because it’s in a 10 year flood plain now. Parks can flood w/out a ton of financial loss. If there was a safe way to commerically develop the reclaimed banks, it would have happened. Part of a macro plan. All in all Miranova residents will benefit MOST. No longer are there 2 large section 8 housing complexes directly across the river from them…and they get a pretty new greenspace on the river. Gotta believe somebody(ies) that live there have been pushing for this.

  • CalebR

    @Seanguy: nothing will happen really to the promenade except for the removal of the wall and the railing. Everything else will pretty much stay. Also, Columbus isn’t wanting the branding of an old, industrial city. That doesn’t really attract new businesses.


    I would like to comment about the river drying up. First off, we have Sooooo much rain water and runodf that once didn’t run into the Scioto now running into it. So the arguement that the river will dry up is invalid in my opinion. Also, if the depth of the river is going to be 16ft, the chance of it drying up is HIGHLY unlikely.

  • columbusmike

    scorpcmh, I agree, but the city has no authority to fix someone elses building or make them occupy it. All you can do is try to make the area nice so that private companies will buy the properties and renovate them.

    By the way, the food truck idea is great… allowing food trucks to drive down by the water and having built-in fixed outdoor seating (possibly some enclosed shelters) …what a great idea. I’d like to see at least a little more “programming” than grass, trees, and sidewalks.

  • jus10dk

    You’re not alone with your questions. I’ve had the exact same thoughts since I first heard about the idea.

  • CalebR

    @jus10dk look at my comment above.

  • scorpcmh

    Mike, ok I concede for now since this is off topic. But there has to be some type of carrot and stick approach to getting building owners to cooperate, be it better incentives, better code enforcement etc.

  • @scorpcmh – We’re working on an update article about all 12 of the ideas presented in the 2010 plan. Obviously some have made a little progress, others have been delayed (3C Train Station) and others have been pretty quiet. Look for it in the next few weeks. ;)

  • jpizzow

    @scorpcmh: It’s all about the economics. The city needs to sit back, throw in some incentives, build and maintain civic projects and hope the private developers take notice and bite. We’ll get there, sooner rather than later I hope. Think of those 12 ideas as bate. I’d say we’ev already caught some pretty big fish. Now we just need to hook the great white.

  • Pickerington_Kyle

    I don’t think rail will even be mentioned again with Kasich as governor. I’d think we should go with BRT. More and more people are riding buses. Why not expand on that?

  • I’m all for BRT. Just mentioned the 3C Station because it was one of the 12 ideas born out of the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan.

  • Pickerington_Kyle

    From the 12 idea born, I think the river and Columbus Common’s project will have the biggest impact upon our city. It just keeps getting better and better with all these new projects.

  • stephentszuter

    Do we have any updates on this dam removal effort? I see that we’re moving forward with the 5th Street damn removal, but what about the Main Street dam removal?

  • B.Maher

    I just hope the river is deep enough to get from Whittier park all the way up to the second dam past the confluence, because as of now that isn’t possible. My flat bottom boat currently can’t get up past the first bridge and that is a problem. It gets way to shallow in a few parts downtown and I am really hoping that is just during the construction. Please just dig out the shallow spots all i want to do is fish that stretch of river again. It had some of the best small mouth fishing in the area. Since the construction started the water has been stained and all the access has been taken away. Please don’t mess this up C-bus.

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