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Greater Lafayette Dreaming Big Dreams About Wabash Riverfront

Sarah Fentem

It may be dozens of years and tens of millions of dollars in the future, but officials from the greater Lafayette area have big dreams for developing the Wabash riverfront.

In 2008, the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation, a nonprofit comprising representatives from the Lafayette, West Lafayette and Purdue communities, created a master plan envisioning a unified, walkable riverfront in the same vein as Louisville, Kentucky’s.

Late last week, about a dozen people from WREC joined officials from Lafayette-based landscape design firm MKSK for a trek around both banks of the Wabash, with the designers outlining fantasy possibilities for the area as they navigated the crowd around sandy riverbanks and empty parking lots.

WREC leaders, including Executive Director Stan Lambert, say hearing all the possibilities is an important step to refine the plan for the area between the Harrison and South Street Bridges.

“Today’s tour was just to learn about new ideas that MKSK is going to be proposing for the board to consider for this central reach,” he says.

Because the riverfront is a cooperative project between the cities, officials say it’s important for people to know all their options – for example, it would be a waste of money to build two amphitheaters on each side of the river.

MKSK threw everything on the table: Everything from changing the turrets on the Meyers Bridge to building a multi-level recreation path, a skate park, and even a bridge to connect West Lafayette’s Brown Street to the Lafayette downtown.

In short, officials found themselves like children eagerly circling everything in the Toys-R-Us catalog and – but Santa can’t bring everything.

Still, Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski says it’s a good start to what he anticipates will be decades worth of work.

“This is probably somewhere in the $100-120 million range to do everything the original master plans,” he says. “That could get refined, it could probably take anywhere from 20-30 years.”

Roswarski says of all the options, he’s most interested in building a bridge to create bustling, unified district.

“Your experience would not be Lafayette’s downtown or West Lafayette’s downtown,” Roswarski says. “The goal is for people to say, ‘We’re going downtown’”

Roswarski admits any plan’s total realization would take decades to implement, but notes the cities are making slow progress on underdeveloped areas, buying up riverfront properties for years that could later be part of public-private partnerships. Next year, construction will begin on a promenade, also designed by MKSK, abutting the back of the new downtown luxury apartment complex 101 Main.

MKSK landscape architect Eric Lucas says the firm has looked to other cities for examples of what it would look to accomplish, such as the revitalized riverfront area in Louisville and Fort Wayne’s ongoing waterfront development.

“What we’re trying to do build upon that vision of a world-class riverfront, and increase access to the river, he says, and “create spaces alongside both sides of the river that are attractive, vibrant.”

Lucas says he envisions “clusters” of activity around the riverfront that would act as small destination points.

“Taking things like ice rinks and play spaces and performance stages and occupying a similar, compact areas with a lot of different uses will drive a lot of people to a place,” he says.

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