Riverwalk takes steps toward Lookout

Riverwalk takes steps toward Lookout

May 26th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in News

The southern end of the Tennessee Riverwalk stops at Ross's Landing, but plans are under way to extend it all the way to the foot of Lookout Mountain.

Rick Wood, executive director of the Trust for Public Land, said he and local officials have been working to extend the Riverwalk from Ross's Landing at the Olgiati Bridge to Broad Street close to St. Elmo.

"It's just an amazing link," Mr. Wood said.

The project on the southern bank of the Tennessee River is estimated to be a little more than three miles, officials said. The projected cost is $4.9 million, and county officials said they have secured between $2.6 million and $2.7 million for the work.

But one thing stands in the way of city and Hamilton County officials beginning to pave a 10-foot-wide concrete walkway toward Lookout Mountain, Mr. Wood said.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Bill Smith rides his bike on the Tennessee Riverwalk near the Hunter Museum of American Art on Thursday.

"We don't have all the landowners exactly worked out," he said.

LANDOWNER QUESTIONS

Several landowners have signed onto the idea of having the Riverwalk come through or in the area of their property, Mr. Wood said.

Larry Zehnder, the city's Parks and Recreation administrator, said Alstom Power has said in the past that one reason it decided on more than $300 million in expansions at the plant site was to have the Riverwalk come through it.

Owners of the old Wheland Foundries and U.S. Pipe & Foundry properties say they're willing to work with the plan. Developers of a new housing, hotel, restaurant and marina complex called Cameron Harbor say they completely favor the idea.

But four industrial companies owning property on the riverfront still have not signed off, Mr. Wood said. Several of the companies are based in other states and, in one case, in Canada, he said.

Mr. Wood said company officials always question if they could be held liable for safety. They also wonder about security with people coming close to their property, he said.

"A lot of it is just the unknown," he said.

Jack Lambert, vice president for the east region of Vulcan Materials Co., which owns some of the property in question, said the company has had several discussions with the trust about accommodating the Riverwalk coming through their parcel. But the problem is the company is trying to sell the property, he said.

"One option we have discussed is allowing the construction of a temporary extension that could be relocated, if necessary, and made permanent at a later time," he said.

The company is reluctant to give a permanent easement that could restrict how the land could be developed, he said. But Vulcan Materials will work with the trust and with the new property owner on ensuring any development would be compatible, he said.

Other landowners on the river - Design Alloys, ADM Holdings and PSC Metals - could not be reached or did not return calls for comment.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

One part of the Riverwalk extension could be under way in just a few months.

Eugene H. "Buck" Schimpf, developer of Cameron Harbor, said he would begin work on the marina and hotel in the fall. His company is paying itself to extend the Riverwalk through the development by 1,300 linear feet, he said.

"It needs to be connected to Alstom," Mr. Schimpf said. "Somebody has to go first."

Mr. Wood said a key to getting the extension completed is to get everyone together to talk about the reasons for getting the walkway completed. He said national figures show that a walkway such as the Riverwalk increases land value.

Several landowners who want the Riverwalk extended said they aren't sure about their role, but they would try and help any way they could.

"I think the only role I can play is to lead by example," Mr. Schimpf said.

Alstom Power spokesman Tim Brown said his company was the first one to suggest extending the Riverwalk on the southern edge of the Tennessee River. At one point, more than 1,000 employees will be employed at the redesigned facility, which could be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified, he said.

Alstom has promised to grant conservation easements for the Riverwalk, Mr. Brown said.

Michael Mallen, a principal in a group owning Wheland Foundries and U.S. Pipe & Foundry, said there is "absolute interest" in the Riverwalk coming toward their property. A development is planned on the old industrial site that will be be "live, work, play," he said.

Mr. Mallen said he does not know what his firm could do to make sure the other companies go along with the plan.

But landowners who agree to the Riverwalk on their property might be able to convince other property owners to do the same, he said.

"I guess that's all you can exert," he said, "is peer pressure."