News and Tribune

June 18, 2014

THOMAS: The Big Four and big dreams

By JASON THOMAS
jason.thomas@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The Big Four Bridge is the best thing to happen to Jeffersonville since the invention of the steamboat.

It could be so much more.

Once Louisville opened its side of the pedestrian and biking bridge in February 2013, folks in Indiana — even Kentucky — were like a pack of wolves lusting over raw meat.

The anticipation was killing us.

Finally, on May 20 — after more than a year of delays — the floodgates opened in Indiana. Jeffersonville hasn’t been the same since.

Downtown is buzzing with new faces. Walkers. Bikers. The curious. With money to spend and stories to tell.

Louisville leaders have noticed. Dave Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corp., which oversees the bridge, has talked to Louisvillians whose eyes have been opened to Jeffersonville’s shops and restaurants thanks to the Big Four.

“People are not only excited by the bridge itself, but they’re excited about the opportunities in Southern Indiana,” Karem said, singling out Pearl Street Treats frozen yogurt shop, Schimpff’s and any number of restaurants. “They’ve been saying how much they’ve been enjoying those places.”

Jeffersonville, meet opportunity.

City officials must strike while the walking shoes are hot. The time for talking about potential is over. The people are here now.

Will Jeffersonville take advantage?

Big Four users are welcomed to Jeffersonville with a ... chain-link fence. They can see a huge rendering of Big Four Station, the park under construction at the foot of the bridge that is expected to open this fall. They can view a map of Jeffersonville attractions.

Potential exists where reality should. Will visitors who see the potential come back to visit the brick-and-mortar, the green grass?

It could be so much more.

Imagine if Big Four Station were complete, and the Ohio River Greenway project wasn’t stuck perpetually treading water. Imagine walking or riding a bike in an entire loop connecting Louisville and Jeffersonville and New Albany, stopping at various sites along the way, on a systematic greenway.

It’s not that far-fetched. Louisville officials envision the Louisville Loop, a 100-mile-long trail system that would connect to Southern Indiana using — yep, you guessed it — the Big Four Bridge, as well as the K&I Bridge in New Albany (an entirely different story) with access to the Ohio River Greenway.

Dreams can be realized. Look at the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an eight-mile linear park with seven art projects connecting six cultural districts. It cost $63 million, $35.5 million of which was federally funded. Another $27.5 million came in private donations.

Who will step up here?

The New York Times wrote about the Cultural Trail, noting how the facility is putting Indianapolis on the map for bold ideas. Indianapolis literally popped up out of a cornfield.

Southern Indiana and Louisville have a wealth of history and natural beauty. Rolling hills. A ribbon of river. Aren’t we tired of taking a backseat to big brother up north?

Here, the Big Four is the linchpin, the beginning, the middle, the end.

“For our 100-mile loop, the Big Four Bridge is ground marker zero,” Karem said. “It is the official start of it. It’s absolutely a signature piece that will help both sides with pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Jeffersonville, are you listening?

— Assistant Editor Jason Thomas can be reached via email at jason.thomas@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2127. Follow him on Twitter: @scoopthomas