Riverfront Park's Future: What's The Best Next Step?

Should the city spend $200,000 for an updated riverfront park design? Some candidates running for office are questioning the expenditure proposed in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Some of the candidates running for office in Fredericksburg are questioning the proposed $200,000 expenditure in the fiscal year 2013 budget for an updated design of the riverfront park.

Fredericksburg mayoral candidate Fred Howe said he wants city administration to justify the $200,000 that's in the proposed budget for riverfront design plans and explain how it got in the budget in the first place. He asked them for the goal and objective of the expenditure, how it will compliment or further prior designs, how local residents are part of the process and any plans to deal with dredging and protection of the river walls.

Howe plans to make the request at Tuesday's City Council meeting, which is the same day that Councilman George Solley plans to give an update on the work so far of the Riverfront Park Task Force. The task force is made up of local stakeholders and had been using riverfront engineering plans from 2007 as a basis for some of its work.

On Friday, Howe emailed city administration asking how the $200,000 got in the city's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget without council specifically asking for it to be in the budget.

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Later that day in an interview, Howe said he wants more explanation of how the $200,000 will move the riverfront project father ahead and why it's more important than the estimated $180,000 needed to finish curb, gutter and sidewalks at Wicklow Drive to make it safer for residents to walk there. At the first public hearing for the budget on April 17, Marcie Tanner said residents want these improvements made and they've been waiting to long for the safety fixes. Howe has already been questioning the expenditure at work sessions because the city doesn't even know if the riverbank needs to be secured and if the river needs dredging, and he said one of his mayoral opponents, Matt Paxson, and Paxson's pro-bono consultant Tom Byrnes, have raised some valid concerns about the proposed $200,000 expenditure.

"I understand the riverfront project is on our Council goals and objectives list but the scope and development understanding were not presented to us as to what we were specifically expecting to buy and how this study - if at all - dovetails with any other relevant riverfront studies commissioned, to date," Howe wrote to city administration.

City Manager Beverly Cameron said the city hired Alexandria-based landscaping architect Lardner-Klein a few years ago to work with city officials and the Riverfront Task Force to develop a concept plan for the riverfront park. Based on that plan, the city purchased an office supply store at the corner of Hanover and Sophia streets, a small hardware store, a parking lot and Wings on the Water restaurant, but Cameron said it was never envisioned that the city would be able to acquire the . The city also created a grassy pocket park with benches on Sophia Street based on those earlier design plans.

"We never contracted with them to prepare final plans and specifications for the complete park," Cameron said. 

Solley last fall then asked to have the Riverfront Park Task Force brought back to life to develop a strategic vision for the land the city owned by the river. Cameron said the $200,000 will be used to hire either a landscaping architect or a civil engineering firm to revise the old concept to include the larger footprint. The city's Capital Improvement Plan has $2 million earmarked for the riverfront park development in fiscal year 2017.

Paxson said the city is going about the project in a piecemeal fashion. He wants the city to send out proposals to firms that have experience redeveloping riverfront parks and ask them to submit their construction plans that include the other side of Sophia Street where there are numerous asphalt parking lots and a funding mechanism for the park, such as Tax Increment Financing. If City Council commits $200,000 to have a new design, they still don't have a mechanism to build the park.

"Let's swing the bat," Paxson said. "Let's issue these RFPs now."

Solley said that removing the $200,000 from the budget for an updated riverfront park design would bring the project to a halt. He said the city needs to move from conceptual plans to a legitimate design to present to potential developers that includes the wishes of the local community, and this $200,000 should do that. The money is in the budget because City Council has for several years now made it a priority to build the riverfront park, Solley said.

"You can't take a concept like that and take it straight to construction," Solley said about the plans the city has now. "You have to do some detailed planning. That money is to do that detailed planning that is necessary for a contractor to actually build it. We can’t construct a riverfront park without doing it."

Mary Katherine Greenlaw, who is also running for mayor, supports spending the $200,000 and not getting the new design would hurt the project's future.

"It would mean that the riverfront park project would be stopped. We can't finish it without a design" she said. "Fred is all hung up on the riverbank, which I don't get because the riverbank has been secured."

Howe said the city needs to ask the community what's more important.

"We may not get much involvement right through the gate, but we have to try and we haven't tried to engage the public," he said.

Hamilton April 23, 2012 at 10:58 AM
How much has been spent on previous studies and design? Were the consultants previous studies and design implemented? Were any of the consultants local?
1Ronald April 23, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Yep. George "Tax and Spend" Solley, right in the midst of it all. Guess he will really miss MK Greenlaw. But, then again, maybe he won't. Enough to get me out to vote. And, when is Solley up for re-election?
Bill Beck April 23, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Has anyone on the riverfront task force ever maintained a piece of Fredericksburg riverfront property? I asked this question several years ago when they had a presentation at the library.
Dan Telvock (Editor) April 23, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Bill, I would hope someone on that taskforce owned riverfront property, since it is a stakeholders group, but maybe no one wanted to serve on it.
Russ Smith April 23, 2012 at 01:04 PM
I hope whatever is done is done quickly and results in a civic space that F'burg residents can be proud of and that enhances the city as a tourism destination. The current stockyard configuration does not present a positive image.
Kenny Johnson April 23, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I was wondering why the article didn't include the amount paid to the first design study. From what I've seen they paid a pretty price for a pretty picture. The plan had a performing area, but no power or lighting. So, much like the rest of Fredericksburg, nothing but un-useable space in the evening.
Dan Telvock (Editor) April 23, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Kenny, I actually just forgot to ask. I was researching a lot and I usually ask that question every time the city expends funds for any study or consultant.
Dan Telvock (Editor) April 23, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Here is an interesting tidbit that all City Council voted for in February 2011 as a top goal: 1A − Complete design of Riverfront Park § Review existing preliminary concept plan § Engage construction program manager to …evaluate constructability issues § Modify plan, if needed; authorize landscape architect to prepare final plans and construction specifications § Identify funding for construction Council as a whole voted to move in this direction. But people need to speak up if there is a faster way to use what exists and get something started quicker. What ideas do you have?
Tom Byrnes April 23, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The city didn't really need a consultant to figure out it had to buy riverfront property to develop a riverfront park, but Larden Klein was paid $36,536.31 for the most recent and now irrelevant study/design. Nothing happened with it because the city had no means of follow through (dedicated funding or associated riverfront redevelopment team lined up to do anything with it). It's another consequence of the un-empowered task force approach to Fredericksburg government. It's like a man shopping for design plans for his dream home before he has any money to actually build it, and then telling his neighbors his wife "halted" the project because she's a bad person. Paying for a design without a means to finance the product of the design is especially irresponsible when City Council has saddled taxpayers with a huge courthouse debt and still has not increased city revenues to cover the costs of either. Thinking the $200K design will be relevant to a future, unknown riverfront developer after the city someday finds new revenue and its way to taking action is naive at best (think Maury). The design must be associated with a funding mechanism, which should be TIF projects on the other side of Sophia (a tried and repeatedly proven method of success). A comprehensive RFP is needed. We've had enough blue-ribbon vision commission task forces and related academic design studies. Citizens know better: you can't bring a project that isn't moving to a halt.
Scott April 23, 2012 at 05:02 PM
The $$$$$$ can be used for other areas of the City. The River frontWalk is fine just the way it is now.
Marcie Floyd Tanner April 24, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Again, City Council is not paying attention to the needs of the residents in the 22401. Thank you for mentioning me in this article, as I am a firm believer that things need to change in this community. I want a road that allows me to go up and down at the same time another car is passing by without being pushed into the grass, sidewalks - so I don't hit anyone coming from the apartments or the townhomes, and curbs, to help with the drainage problems. The Central Park Townhomes has a massive drainage problem, ie. the ground is giving way and has a huge crack in it, whereby that part of the parking lot is hanging on to nothing. I don't understand why someone in Zoning has not taken a closer look at this area, but then again, we don't have a full time person in Zoning, and we aren't expecting the Residential Housing Inspection Program to be approved by the City, as this would help us in making sure things are in working order. But again, that would be too easy.
MichaEl Hirsch April 24, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Ok, if Mary Katherine has her way (with her closed door council members in line) maybe we can move the courthouse there! LOL Or buy up more properties for lots more money than they're worth! MATT PAXSON FOR MAYOR has released the plan, staged videos and posted them and held events, all on the riverfront. (So glad to see the beach fries back in the 'burg! YUMMY)
Marcie Floyd Tanner April 25, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Beach Fries is the best! But Paxson has a lot to prove, and I just don't see it happening.
Joseph Gust May 29, 2013 at 02:02 AM
Maybe if they'd held off buying up those properties, or maybe leased them to the existing tenants until a final plan was ready, there would be more money available for this sort of thing. (And Wings on the Water's patrons could have enjoyed its food in the meantime.)
1Ronald May 29, 2013 at 11:05 AM
It's knee-jerk reaction all the way. Mr. Gust, yours is the way of properly doing business. Unfortunately the business heads are lacking on Riverfront. There's absolutely no reason that Riverfront could not have become, allowed to remain, revenue producing properties that would have enhanced the overall plan that normally, in any planned venue, takes years to complete. But we must surface for air amid all the choking "I want it nows."


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