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Building a better waterfront project 

Other urban models

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Colorado Springs planners have two successful examples to look to as they make plans for Confluence Park -- both just an hour away from the center of downtown.

In Pueblo, waterfront development along the Arkansas River has been specifically designed to revitalize a dying downtown. And in Denver, development along the South Platte River has made that waterway the focus of an intense cleanup effort.

Denver's Upper Central Platte Valley River Restoration Project has concentrated water cleanup, flood control and wildlife restoration efforts on the densely industrial, one-mile stretch of the South Platte River that stretches east of Interstate 25 from Eighth Avenue to just west of downtown.

Plagued by many of the same problems as Fountain and Monument creeks in Colorado Springs -- including the looming presence of a city power plant, dense city traffic and excessive runoff from paved urban corridors -- this section of the South Platte flows into waters that head northeast for 270 miles to Nebraska.

The area has become a central urban-development focus, with the redevelopment of Lower Downtown, construction of Coors Field, the new Elitch's amusement park, Ocean Journey aquarium, the Pepsi Center and a newly proposed Central Park area which will be flanked by luxury housing.

But before the bulk of this development occurred, Mayor Wellington Webb, in 1995, appointed a commission to improve the condition of the South Platte, which was then a polluted and unsightly waterway. Now river restoration efforts and the work of developers are progressing simultaneously.

A task force arose out of Webb's South Platte River Commission, led by the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, with representatives from recreation, fishery, wildlife, water and neighborhood interests, the Public Service Company, Denver Housing Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Major goals include: flood damage reduction by widening and lowering the river channel; the elimination of the Zuni Power Plant dam; fish habitat improvement; recreation improvements; and wildlife habitat and wetlands improvements.

In Denver, just as Central Platte Valley development was master-planned, the city and county are developing a master plan for the river. Bank stabilization projects along the South Platte have included efforts by volunteers to revegetate the banks with native grasses, live willow and cottonwood staking and the planting of native shrubs alongside buried riprap, a method that has proven to be beneficial in both flood control efforts and in cleaning up the water.

Such projects require intensive community effort, with some of them focusing on an area of, say, 1,500 feet of bank for several years.

In 1998, South Platte River maintenance included 179 miles of trash and debris pickup and removal along the river, amounting to approximately 103 truckloads of trash and debris, removed and taken to a landfill in a cooperative effort between local government personnel and volunteer groups.

To the south of Colorado Springs, Pueblo's Historic Arkansas Riverwalk Project has also made great headway since February of 1997, both in fund raising and in implementation of their efforts to enhance and enrich the area along the banks of the Arkansas River.

Located between downtown Pueblo's Civic Center District, where, currently, construction has begun on a convention center, and the Union Avenue Historic District, riverwalk development is overseen by the HARP Authority and the City of Pueblo.

The project is modeled on the now famous, urban San Antonio Riverwalk and is planned as a mixed public-and-private-use project which will beautify and economically strengthen downtown Pueblo. The HARP Authority came out of an intergovernmental agreement among the City of Pueblo, Pueblo County, the Pueblo Conservancy District and the Board of Water Works, and is charged with overseeing private development in the project area on a case-by-case basis.

Public plans include a 1,000-seat amphitheater, a fountain, water taxis to restaurants and shops along the channel, a decorative footbridge spanning historic Union Avenue, an outdoor classroom, and a paved trail circling the river channel for bikers, joggers and in-line skaters. Private fund-raising efforts by the HARP Foundation are ongoing, with an ultimate goal of $11 million.

As the City of Colorado Springs moves ahead with plans to build Confluence Park, both urban development projects like Pueblo's and river restoration projects like Denver's could serve as models. And across the country, projects designed to marry the diversion of flood waters as well as to enhance development are abundant.

Tulsa, Oklahoma's Mingo Creek is a prime example. In 1976, the flooding of this creek caused three deaths and $34 million in damages. Attention was paid to the flood plain at that time, but efforts dried up along with a dry weather trend, and programs lost momentum. In 1984, Tulsa suffered the worst flood in its recorded history, and along Mingo Creek, five deaths and more than $125 million in property damage resulted.

The city sprung to action with a team of civil engineers, landscape architects and urban planners who were charged with developing a plan which would detain storm water and, at the same time, enhance the city's environmental, aesthetic and recreational needs.

The result is a flood plain that features woodlands, wetlands, trails and parks -- all features that encourage housing development and improve the quality of urban living.

Funding came from a local bond, but also from federal emergency management programs and Small Business Administration loans. Tulsa also instituted a storm-water utility fee of $2.95 per month and began requiring businesses to pay according to the runoff they create. That fee generates some $10 million a year, which the city puts aside to acquire frequently flooded properties and to move structures off the flood plain.

With recent flooding trends along the banks of Fountain and Monument creeks in high-water months, especially south of the city where runoff waters build and erode farmland along the south reaches of Fountain Creek, flood control efforts should be a central focus of any project directly associated with the confluence of those two bodies of water.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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