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Evansville Region Embraces the Ohio River in Sasaki’s final planning report

Evansville, Indiana – May 23, 2024  On Tuesday, Sasaki released its final report for the Ohio River Vision and Strategic Plan, a sweeping blueprint to energize the Evansville Region with new investment and stronger connections to the Ohio River in Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick Counties in southwest Indiana.

The plan—backed by state funding from the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grant program administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC)—envisions an invigorated 50-mile stretch of interconnected riverfront communities anchored by Mount Vernon, Evansville, and Newburgh. It lays out a bold redesign and expansion of the park spaces and plazas along the riverfront, introducing new uses to support a diverse array of public activities and community events. Proposed investments in downtown infrastructure, mobility networks, and public spaces aim to enhance connectivity between these areas and the riverfront, establishing the riverfront as an integral part of the downtown experience.

The plan is regionally centered on Great Bend Park, a reimagined riverfront for Downtown Evansville which will become the new heart of the Evansville Region. Doubling as carefully engineered flood protection infrastructure and a destination in its own right, Great Bend Park’s multi-level open spaces will be studded with welcoming new destinations for people to gather, attend outdoor concerts, enjoy riverfront dining, and stay active, all easily accessible from downtown.

To achieve this level of accessibility, Riverside Drive will be partially adjusted from four lanes to two to reduce dangerous traffic speeds and make pedestrian crossings safer. Curbless, low-speed intersections at Dress Plaza will encourage seamless crossover between Main Street and Great Bend Park. These infrastructure improvements will extend downtown’s vitality all the way to the banks of the Ohio River.

Great Bend Park is tied together by “The Bend,” a multimodal path that winds along the river, through iconic spaces for the everyday and the big day. Northwest of Main Street, it arcs up into an elevated canopy walk with commanding views of the river valley and downtown. Moving to the southeast, The Bend curves around a renovated Dress Plaza and relocated Four Freedoms Monument and then to a new grand terrace at the end of Walnut Street, hosting new facilities for restaurants and recreational boating. Further south, it breezes past new sports facilities integrated with existing amenities like the Sunset Skate Park. The Bend will also be integrated with a regional trail network for cyclists, commuters, runners, and urban hikers.

Beyond simply laying out key transportation corridors between the cities of the Evansville Region, the plan also presents frameworks for energizing the downtowns of Mount Vernon and Newburgh. Using the guiding principles of Regional Outcomes, Conservation through Urbanization, and Reorienting to the River, Sasaki has identified catalyst sites for commercial, retail, residential development, and open space improvements in both cities. In Mount Vernon, the plan recommends strengthening the downtown core along Main Street, prioritizing pedestrian experience to attract investment and development, and creating connections to other neighborhoods. In Newburgh, it emphasizes the city’s unique connection to the river with infill and redevelopment along Water Street.

In partnership with its clients, the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership (E-REP) and local municipalities, Sasaki spent the last year conducting extensive public engagement with the residents of southwest Indiana to fully understand the priorities and hopes they have for their communities. This engagement included two multilingual surveys that garnered over 3,400 responses, over 150 in-person attendees at a July open house, and over 9,850 total points of engagement across several outreach methods. This input forms the basis of the Ohio River Vision and Strategic Plan.

“Regional residents have expressed their desire for a stronger connection to the river for almost a century—since Evansville’s first master plan in 1928,” said Lloyd Winnecke, CEO of E-REP. “Today, we celebrate the beginning of a transformative journey toward more vibrant and connected riverfronts across our region.”

“It’s been invigorating to craft this plan with our clients and the people of southwest Indiana,” said Anna Cawrse, principal at Sasaki. “They brought so much energy to the process, and we’ve translated the love they have for their cities into a plan that fully embraces the riverfront and the culture that makes this region unique.”

Sasaki’s team of experts supplemented this vision with transportation studies, hydrological analysis, phasing timelines, and financial modeling. Potential future grant funding from the State of Indiana’s READI program, along with other funding sources, tees the region up for timely implementation, and the next phase of work on Riverside Drive and Great Bend Park in Evansville could be underway as early as this year. The regional cooperation at the heart of this plan, however, is a decades-long goal, and E-REP, IEDC, and Sasaki are determined to see it through.

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