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.