Louisville Waterfront Park runs along the Ohio River and, covering 85 acres, has been built in phases since the early 1990s and continues to grow.
“It’s never complete,” said Deborah Bilitski, president of Waterfront Development Corporation, which is the governmental nonprofit that oversees the operation, management and development of the park in Kentucky’s largest city.
Officials there plan to add another 22.5 acres when funding becomes available, Bilitski said.
Louisville was one of two cities — the other being Chattanooga, Tennessee — that Danville officials visited in the spring of 2018 to see riverfront parks and trails and the impacts on the communities.
Danville officials hope to build a riverfront park on about 4 acres at Main Street and Memorial Drive between the White Mill site and King Memorial Bridge.
They are seeking large donations from foundations and corporations in the hope that private funding pays for most of the park’s costs.
More than $5 million has been raised so far for the estimated $10.1 million cost. An additional $1 million in land acquisition — which brings the total project cost to $11.1 million — already is covered by the city. The property is owned by the Industrial Development Authority, the city’s land-buying arm.
Officials in Louisville and the Chattanooga area said their riverfront developments have spurred economic growth and attracted visitors.
Since January 2011, there have been 113 business expansions, 55 new companies and 17,404 new jobs in Hamilton County — where Chattanooga is located — said Mike Dunne, Hamilton County spokesman.
There has been $3.5 billion in investment in Hamilton County since February 2011.
“It’s all part of the ambiance of Hamilton,” Dunne said of the Tennessee Riverpark and riverwalk trail. “People obviously want to have a great place to play, live, work and retire.”
Chattanooga Tennessee Riverpark covers more than 150 acres along the Tennessee River. It includes a 13-mile riverwalk trail and is jointly managed by the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
It has scenic vistas, open green spaces, playgrounds, public art, recreational areas, fishing piers, historical sites and facility rentals, according to the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation web site.
The park’s riverwalk stretches from the Chickamauga Dam, through downtown Chattanooga and to the city’s St. Elmo section.
Opened in 1987, the multi-use trail is used for bicycling, in-line skating, walking and jogging. It also includes the Chathanooga Rowing Center and canoe and kayak launching areas.
Between 1986 and 2006, nearly $118 million in public and private money were committed to design and build the riverwalk and several new riverfront parks, including the Fishing Park near Chattanooga’s C.B. Robinson Bridge, Ross’s Landing Plaza, Lookout Rowing Center, Coolidge Park, Ross’s Landing Park and Renaissance Park, according to a report provided by Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb.
Coolidge Park has a splash park, and at Ross’s Landing, a stage is brought in on a barge for a music festival, said Richel Albright, spokeswoman for the Chattanooga Mayor’s Office.
“There’s just all sorts of activity, lots of little festivals,” Albright said. “It’s a very active space.”
A lot of the development in downtown Chattanooga in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a result of the community’s and city’s commitment to revitalizing its riverfront area, Albright said.
The riverfront park system has attracted a world-class aquarium, restaurants, condominiums and other homes in the last few years, she said.
As for Louisville’s Waterfront Park along the Ohio River, it officially opened in 1998 with its Great Lawn, an event space for festivals, concerts and other events.
Other amenities have popped up in the area as well near the park, including the KFC Yum Center — a basketball center and event venue — a Waterfront Park Place condo development, and Whiskey Row, a row of renovated historic buildings on part of Main Street.
“The park has done more than anything else that’s been in downtown Louisville for economic development,” Bilitski said.
Before the park was built, she said, the area was just a hodgepodge wasteland of scrapyard and junkyard, with remnants of abandoned industry.
The park has been built in three phases since the 1990s and is entering into a fourth with the 22.5-acre expansion.
About $115 million has been spent on the first three phases, and the fourth is expected to cost about $45 million.
Construction will be paid for through foundation grant funding, public money and private donations.
Besides the Great Lawn, the park includes a Lincoln Memorial, two playgrounds — including one with a splash park — and water features.
It also has a Big Four Bridge, a half-mile pedestrian bridge connecting Louisville to neighboring Jeffersonville, Indiana. It has a spiral ramp from the Louisville side leading up to the bridge, Bilitski said.
Danville Parks and Recreation Director Bill Sgrinia, who visited Louisville and Chattanooga last year, said he was impressed with the size of the impact the parks had on those cities.
“They really brought a lot of people not just from downtown, but from the region to downtown,” Sgrinia said.
The park attracts a diverse crowd of people of all ages, races and incomes, Bilitski said.
About 2.2 million people visit the park per year and its economic impact is about $40 million per year, including tax revenues, money spent at businesses and other factors.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.