SOUTHERN INDIANA — Enhancing Southern Indiana's riverfront was the common theme among projects that received $1.2 million in capital development awards from the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau this year.

The funding awards were the first granted through an open application process, though the tourism bureau has been bolstering community projects for about three decades.

A state law that applies only to the Southern Indiana tourism bureau allows 25 percent of hotel tax revenue to pay back bonds held by local municipalities for local projects.

"For a long time, it's made us not just a marketer but also an investor in new visitor experiences," Jim Epperson, executive director of the bureau, said. "It's where our industry is now in trying to be at the table trying to guide development of the destination, not just marketing what's already there."

The bureau received $2.9 million in funding requests from local entities. After narrowing down the applicants, the board decided to award a little more than 50 percent of requests evenly for each winning entity.

New Albany, Clarksville and the Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretative Center were the recipients of the awards.

NEW ALBANY

New Albany will receive $825,000 mostly for riverfront projects that also were previously awarded $2.5 million in a grant from the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County.

The city recently acquired the 50-acre Loop Island Wetlands and the site of QRS Recycling, whose owner amicably agreed to a $2.5 million sale as previously reported by the News and Tribune.

Tourism funds will aid in the development of New Albany's western end of the Riverfront near QRS, which includes the addition of a boat ramp and docks, picnic areas, trails and fishing access.

The Loop Island Wetlands, a nature preserve along the riverfront, will be revamped to increase accessibility to the water and enhance walking trails. Botanical markings and bird-watching stations will be constructed.

New Albany also owns the former The Moser Leather Co. property near the Loop Island Wetlands, set to host a new community center along Main Street.

The news is welcome to Mayor Jeff Gahan, who said an enhanced riverfront will only attract more tourists and benefit residents.

"All these developments, all these amenities are being added to supplement our wonderful riverfront view and increase activity on our riverfront," Gahan said.

Plans for both riverfront projects "are being finalized as we speak," he said. Gahan wasn't sure of the total estimated cost of the projects. Construction is expected to begin next spring.

"I think some time late fall we should be able to reveal to everyone exactly what the plan is and should go out to bid some time before the end of the year," he said.

As part of the tourism funds, the Culbertson Mansion will undergo full restoration of the house's cast iron, rebuilding of the back veranda and replacement of the lift that is accessible to the handicapped.

CLARKSVILLE

The town was awarded $275,000 for its Connecting Clarksville project, which aims to provide safe multi-modal transportation throughout the town.

Most of the funds will help Clarksville transition a former railroad line into a pedestrian and bicyclist trail from Emery Crossing Road to Applegate Lane. By way of the Heritage Trail, pedestrians and cyclists who take the former rail pathway will be able to connect to the Ohio River Greenway.

CSX deactivated this 1.8-mile stretch of rail in the mid 2000s, removing the tracks and leaving behind the gravel embankment.

But even before tracks were torn up, Clarksville Redevelopment Director Dylan Fisher said residents expressed interest in converting the rail line to a pathway.

"It's been something that's been on the town's radar for more than a decade," Fisher said.

Clarksville will exercise eminent domain to acquire the land, as multiple attempts to negotiate a purchase in the past all failed.

Plans also include adding a parking lot and trailhead where the path intersects Eastern Boulevard. The entire project has an estimated $2.3 million price tag.

Completion of the project, expected no earlier than next summer, doesn't mark the end of the Connecting Clarksville project.

Fisher said second and third phases are a trail to connect north-end residents to Lapping Park and another one connecting Lapping Park to Applegate Lane.

"It's just kind of the continuation of a significant and long-term investment in providing quality and safe access to recreation needs for our residents," Fisher said.

The remainder of the tourism funds will go toward way-finding signage and new "Welcome to Clarksville" signs as well as signage and trail markers along the Heritage Trail.

FALLS OF THE OHIO

The third recipient of tourism funds is the Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretative Center, which will receive $110,000 to replace its 23-year-old orientation film.

The new film will mirror the interpretative center's new exhibits and show visitors how to navigate the center and park.

The goal of the updated film is to encourage visitors to spend more time exploring the facility, according to the tourism bureau.

Elizabeth is the Southern Indiana government reporter for the News and Tribune. She is a Louisville, Ky. native and graduate of Western Kentucky University. Follow her on Twitter at @EMBeilman.