Mayor Tom Galligan thinks a storm sewer can be beautiful and spur economic development in Jeffersonville. In one of the most ambitious moves in the entire region, Jeffersonville is proposing to build a canal district from the foot of the Big Four Bridge paralleling its historic downtown and anchored by a convention center and hotel.
Plans for the Canal District stem from a practical engineering need. The area around the canal alignment on Mulberry Street has historically faced problems with flooding and rainwater runoff. The problem has attracted the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency who wants the city to deal with its combined sewer overflow problems. Rather than build a conventional stormwater sewer to separate rainwater from raw sewage at a substantial cost, the canal provides an innovative and elegant solution that will provide a focal point for the city.
Three projects fall inside the Jeffersonville Canal District: the pedestrian approach to the Big Four Bridge, the new convention center & hotel, and the canal itself. Each is a separate project but they form a synergy that can create a drastically changed Jeffersonville.
- City of Jeffersonville (Official Site)
- Aliens, Pharaohs, & Mermaids Invade Jeffersonville (Broken Sidewalk)
Here’s how the canal works. During periods of heavy rain, water flows through landscaped buffers or “bioswales” that slow down and filter the water and allow some of it to be absorbed into the ground. The water then collects in the canal which essentially acts as a sort of retention basin. When enough water has collected in the canal, it is then released through a pipe underneath the floodwall and discharged into the Ohio River. Rainwater runoff never comes into contact with the sanitary sewers.
The alternative is to bury a large eight foot diameter concrete pipe under Mulberry Street and create a vast retention basin that serves no purpose except during heavy rain events. By integrating the canal with the city, Jeffersonville has chosen to solve a complicated problem with a sustainable solution.
The Jeffersonville Canal District is still in the conceptual design phases and currently has no projected cost or budget, but the city is confident plans will move ahead as the EPA has mandated the city address stormwater issues and there’s a new sense of urgency to fix the problems after the recent flooding events.
Design work is also in the preliminary stages. Currently, the plan calls for converting Mulberry Street into a pedestrian way with the 40-foot-wide canal running down the center. The waterway would twist and weave beside the convention center and through Jeffersonville’s street grid until its terminus at a park near Ninth Street. The canal wouldn’t necessarily reach the Ohio River, but the city is evaluating the possibility of reconstructing the flood gate at Mulberry Street to provide more seamless access and views to the Ohio River Greenway.
Perhaps most importantly, the Canal District provides an opportunity to greatly increase the quality of life in Jeffersonville and offer an incentive to expand its downtown area west towards the canal and convention center. The new canal would provide a sort of linear pedestrian park free of cars stretching to the Ohio River. Conceptual drawings show small rowboats traversing the canal’s waters and shops lining the canal’s edge. Here’s how the City of Jeffersonville sees it:
The development of the Jeffersonville Canal District is a bold vision. It is a vision that is rooted in a technical approach related to solving the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) issues currently facing the City. But more importantly, it is a vision that creates a dynamic public linear park that connects neighborhoods, provides opportunities for aesthetic enhancement, and is a platform to act as a catalyst for economic development. It is a vision that includes a mix of active public areas, residential areas, civic areas and commercial / retail areas.
The approach to the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge is nearing completion by HNTB Architecture with offices in Downtown Louisville. Several alignments were originally considered including a spiral ramp to the waterfront and a curving ramp to the Spring Street commercial district. Planners eventually settled on a ramp that follows the original railroad approach to the bridge along Mulberry Street.
A large ramp will project from the Big Four Bridge over top of the floodwall and gently merge with the ground parallel to the canal. Large concrete foundations can still be seen on Mulberry Street where the elevated train tracks were anchored many years ago. The design is expected to be approved soon and the ramp open to the public in Spring of 2012.
Farther down Mulberry Street, a new convention center and hotel estimated at over $100 million will complete the redevelopment puzzle. The project could include 125,000 square feet of convention center space, 275 hotel rooms and a 1,000 car parking garage. Jeffersonville expects to partner with a private developer to build the facility on land currently occupied by Colston Park. The site was chosen for its visibility and access from Interstate 65.
Colston Park is mainly used for recreation now and is dominated by a large softball field. Years ago, it served as a Civil War cemetery where a stone marker reveals that “several hundred Confederate and Union soldiers killed in the Western Campaign” were buried in the neglected field. Jeffersonville doesn’t expect major problems for construction plans, though. Site work done for the adjacent widening of I-65 for the Bridges Project revealed no graves were found in the western portion of the site and the Jeffersonville historian says some archaeological work will be required, but it shouldn’t present much of an issue.