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Reinvigorating a Riverfront

By Paul Kissinger, EDSA

Located adjacent to the Ohio River flood control and bank stabilization project, the nearly five acre Smothers Park along the riverfront has a series of outdoor rooms, interconnected with a river walk promenade. As part of the Smother’s Park project, the street directly adjacent, Veterans Boulevard was enhanced and turned into a festival street, with brick paving and concrete banding. The sidewalks are paved with clay bricks, with a series of street trees, planted in Silva Cells. The other paving materials include concrete banding, porphyry cobblestone granite pavers, exposed aggregate concrete, concrete pavers and playground surfacing. Photos courtesy of EDSA

Situated on the Ohio River, Owensboro is Kentucky’s third largest city in population and has emerged as an industrial and cultural hub. But that has not always been the case. After years of declining market share in regional tourism, Owensboro embarked on a journey to reinvigorate its riverfront beginning in 2001. Revitalization efforts included a master plan along with four strategic projects aimed at increasing activity in the downtown core.


Looking down from the bridge, the nearly 15,000 square foot patio expansion cantilevers over the bank of the Ohio River. The patio spaces are delineated with a series of columns with limestone caps that are clad in red clay brick to match the building.


EDSA, an international planning and landscape architecture firm, has been instrumental in Owensboro’s transformation. Throughout the master planning process, Paul Kissinger, principal at EDSA, focused on catalytic improvement projects that kept the city focused on redevelopment. Coupled with strong leadership within the city, Owensboro is years ahead of other communities that have looked to redevelop their own downtown riverfront.
“Early in the process we determined that by focusing on the space between the local cultural center and hotel, a critical mass of improvements could be achieved that would breathe new life into the riverfront, provide linkages to the downtown, and positively impact the community’s quality of life,” Kissinger said. “As a result, the highly-visible RiverPark Center’s Patio Expansion became the first implemented strategic project.”


The design intent of the patio was to pay tribute to the historic economic engine—the Ohio River. Utilizing a combination of paving materials, the patio contains a representation of a Riverboat paddle wheel, in exposed aggregate with river rock, in a field of pre-cast pavers with interpretive waves of exposed aggregate concrete.


Outdoor Entertainment Venue
The goal of the project was to enhance the quality and functionality of an existing outdoor performance venue by increasing seating capacity and celebrating views to the river. The 15,000-square foot event space and overlook capture the essence of the Owensboro community. The driving force behind the patio hardscape design is the timeless paddle wheel and wave pattern, which radiates from the center. This connection to the river carries through to the lighting which emulates a nautical theme and in the custom railings which wrap around the patio providing continuous viewing. The well-detailed open space was designed as a quality of life enhancement for the public with rich details that create a distinguishable fabric and identity. The venue now routinely draws thousands of guests each week.


The walkway/promenade leading up to the pavilion at the Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza features an organic “wave of water” that is reflected in the paving, which is natural limestone with a travertine border.


Riverwalk Development
The next strategic development was the Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza. Envisioned as an outdoor, open green space, the plaza provides for intimate settings as well as larger spaces sufficient to host programmed special events such as their famous BBQ Festival. Inclusive of an amphitheater, plaza, and pavilion close attention was paid to every design element. “We know from our experience that it is the details on which people reminisce,” Kissinger said.

“That’s why we were judicious in our selection of lighting, paving, planters, benches; and even waste receptacles with an understanding of how their cohesiveness enhances the overall design palette and more importantly, the visitor’s total experience.”


The third strategic implementation project was the relocation of a downtown boat ramp. Envisioned as a parking lot and boat ramp, the design team created another riverfront park. The materials include natural limestone pavers, cladding, exposed aggregate concrete and pre-cast concrete columns.


Thematically, the design memorializes the character and transportation heritage of the city as well as the community’s relationship with the water.

Concrete banding of river stone in the walkway gives the illusion of movement while stainless steel light fixtures create dramatic indoor illumination effects outdoors. Combined with the use of regional materials such as limestone and sandstone, a bosque of trees and local labor, the Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza adds a contemporary elegance to the city of Owensboro.


The sidewalk is designed with an ashlar paving pattern with native limestone and travertine banding. The columns are clad with limestone, with stucco panels that have down lights located in them. The column caps are cut limestone.


The Boat Ramp
The third strategic project in the master plan was a relocation of a downtown boat ramp. The English Park Scenic Overlook and Boat Ramp transformed an underutilized open space into a revitalized riverfront park.

The 12-acre site combines native plant materials, local stone and craftsmanship, custom detailing, and contemporary site furnishings in celebration of the natural environment. Large terraced lawn areas and serpentine seat walls allow picnic-style seating with informal views.


This view is from the pavilion at the park overlooking the grassed slope areas. The sloped area is separated by two simple terraces, at seat wall height, with the walls clad in native limestone, with a concrete cap. The space underneath the pavilion is approximately 14 feet by 14 feet.


These rolling terraces also provide opportunities for larger gatherings and special events. A turnaround and drop-off area allows passengers to view the river, while the adjoining pavilion provides picture-frame views. A mid-bank overlook is noted as a favorite place to sit and enjoy all the beauty of the river in an intimate, formal setting.


Concrete banding of river stone in the walkway (top) gives the illusion of movement. The stainless steel light fixtures (bottom) create dramatic lighting effects for the terraced lawn and serpentine seat walls.


Project’s Progress
Scheduled for completion in 2012, Smothers Park will connect the RiverPark Center Patio and Mitch McConnell Plaza. Spanning five city blocks, the park include an iconic fountain, an outdoor children’s museum and playground, and repositioned Shelton Memorial Plaza.


Project Team:

  • River Park Center
    • EDSA
    • PDR Engineers
    • Irrigation Design Service, Inc.
  • Mitch McConnell Riverwalk
    • EDSA
    • Tetra Tech
    • Irrigation Design Service, Inc.
    • Sky Studios
  • Boat Ramp
    • EDSA
    • Tetra Tech
    • Architectural Design Group
    • Sweeney and Associates
  • Smothers Park
    • EDSA
    • Tetra Tech
    • COST of Wisconsin
    • Sky Studios
    • Sweeney and Associates
    • WET Design

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November 12, 2019, 5:10 pm PDT

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