Like many American cities, the community of Wheeling was long disconnected from its river by a layer of flood protection infrastructure. Sasaki worked with the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation to regenerate the city's connection to the river, leveraging improvements to the flood protection system into a waterside public realm of park spaces, trails, and river access. Funded by a National Park Service grant, the park was opened in 2002.
The linear three-acre waterfront park along the Ohio River celebrates and interprets Wheeling's natural, cultural, and historic legacy, and provides outdoor public space to attract both residents and tourists. The old Wharf Garage in the center of the site was demolished to make way for the park construction, consisting of an amphitheater, an entry plaza, and a river edge walkway with mooring facilities for large visiting stern-wheelers such as the Delta Queen. The riverfront program is accessed via a series of sculptural levee walkways and iconic floodwall gates, which open to promote and celebrate access during non-events and close to enable a higher standard of flood protection during floods.
The park serves commercial and recreational port activity. A 250-foot pier provides mooring for smaller private boats including handicapped access. The park is the site of the annual Italian Festival, the city's annual Fourth of July fireworks, and the popular weekly Wednesday night live concerts in the park. Patrons in boats as well as those on foot attend musical presentations. The design presents a simple stepped amphitheater integrated with pathways that connect the downtown with the water's edge. As a setting for civic life, the park is like a stage—open and accepting of the large weekend crowd and the single citizen who delights in contemplating the flow and movement of the river. In its first full year of operation, the Heritage Port Park was the crown jewel of summer activity in Wheeling.
The Main Branch of the Chicago River has a long and storied history that in many ways mirrors the development of Chicago itself. Once a meandering marshy stream, the river first became an engineered channel...