By GARY POPP
Work officially began Tuesday on a new park in Jeffersonville that officials view as the gateway to a new era of economic development and an enhanced quality of life.
Big Four Station — at the foot of the Big Four Bridge — is expected to be completed next spring or summer and will provide a landing site for pedestrians and bicyclists making their way across the bridge’s walkway that spans the Ohio River.
The park, which has a price tag of about $4.2 million, stretches for nearly two city blocks from Market to Maple streets and is flanked by Mulberry and Pearl streets.
An obelisk will rise from the ground in the area where the ramp to the bridge begins.
The park will also encompass a water feature, playground, open-air pavilion and greenspace. The construction of the park coincides with the ongoing improvement project to a one-block stretch of Chestnut Street that officials envision as an enhanced pathway from the park to downtown business and attractions.
“Today, we are here to throw some dirt and get the park started,” Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said, noting the groundbreaking has been long-anticipated.
The project, being constructed by Maryland-based Wycliffe Enterprises, Inc., which has a Louisville office, will be completed in two phases, divided by the crossing Chestnut Street. North of Chestnut Street, construction is ready to begin, but south of the roadway, the pedestrian bridge ramp construction is ongoing — it’s expected to be ready by November — and the park’s development there will make up the second phase.
“You are going to have one heck of a thing to look at,” Moore said of the aesthetic appeal of the park.
He said the vacant properties surrounding the park puts Jeffersonville in a unique position to capitalize on the development of residential and retail opportunities.
A revitalization of adjacent former Rose Hill Elementary School is one of the properties that the city plans to develop in transforming parts of Jeffersonville.
Moore said his vision includes the rise of brownstone buildings on Mulberry Street to replace the softball fields next to the Rose Hill school property.
“Jeffersonville is going to be able to fully take advantage of the economics of this project,” Moore said. “It is a big shot of confidence for us for the governors to see what we have to offer and put a stake into this area.”
He said the renovated space will eventually play host to a farmer’s market, concerts, art shows and other events.
Moore said Big Four Station and surrounding developments will be a resource not only for Jeffersonville residents, but also those who work and live in Louisville.
“As traffic gets heavier and heavier crossing the bridges, people are going to get that bicycle out or take that walk, and if they work over in downtown Louisville, they are going to find Jeffersonville as a great option to live five minutes away,” Moore said.
Jeffersonville City Council member Dennis Julius said Big Four Station and Big Four Bridge have the support of the entire council and, based on his experience, the support of the community, as well.
“As a council person, I probably get more questions [from residents] about what is happening and when is it happening on this project than any other topic, and that is telling me Jeffersonville is supportive and excited about the project,” Julius said.
He said the project is also appealing to him as an area resident and the co-owner of a nearby business, 300 Spring.
“We entertain a lot of people, from Louisville brass to business meetings and so forth, and they want to know if it is going to be done in time for their wedding or their event,” Julius said. “That shows the community as a whole, even Louisville [residents], is excited to see the project done.”
Eric Goodman, vice president of development of Jeffersonville-based API, a commercial development firm, said the company plans to close on the former Rose Hill Elementary School property within several weeks.
Goodman said planners are still in the conceptual phase of how the property will be developed.
He said organizers are considering a mixed-used approach with condominiums, retail and “a bigger-picture use, depending upon on how much city participation we would get on the ball field and whether or not we can grow the project, in terms of property boundaries.”
Goodman said if the mixed-use option is pursued, developers would aim to construct another story onto the school building and create 20 to 40 residential units.
He said the prospective retailers, at this point, include local and national-brand businesses.
Big Four Station plays a vital role.
“We are really exited about the project,” Goodman said, “because of all the energy from the park across the street.”