Ninety-eight years ago, city planner Harland Bartholomew wrote about Hamilton: “Too few cities are given riverfront opportunities such as the Great Miami River offers to Hamilton. It is veritably the front yard of the city, yet how shamefully it has been neglected.”
That comment was part of The City Plan of Hamilton, in 1920.
The new Hamilton River Plan, introduced Wednesday to Hamilton City Council, proposes to change that, with city officials planning to implement some of its ideas as soon as this summer. The overriding goal of the plan is to ratchet up excitement and activity along the river.
“This is really a plan to make the river the center of the town,” said Hamilton native and planning consultant Barbara Wilks of W Architecture and Landscaping Architecture of Brooklyn, N.Y., which prepared the river plan. “That’s where it is geographically. Things happen on both sides. And the idea is it shouldn’t be a divider, it should be more of a center.”
This summer, people may be able to paddle kayaks or use stand-up paddleboards on the river during free concerts at the RiversEdge amphitheater.
City officials noted that Hamilton has the southernmost location — just south of the low-level dam that raises the water level as the river passes downtown — at which there are no other dams all the way to the Ohio River, allowing canoeing or kayaking from there to all points south.
Other ideas in the plan include painting murals on the river’s concrete flood levees and creating attractive “portals” that link the river to Hamilton neighborhoods, museums and other attractions, with signs that direct cyclists along the river to those places.
Other plans include marketing properties along the river to developers of housing; creating a kayak-friendly dam near Combs Park, which is north of the downtown; and installing overlooks along the river.
One longer-term idea is a pedestrian bridge that would connect the Riverside Natural Area in Lindenwald with the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum across the river.
Local officials and members of the Miami Conservancy District envision a 99-mile stretch of the river and its towns from Sidney through Hamilton as a significant tourist attraction for people wanting to tour the area and get exercise at the same time.
Hamilton City Council Member Tim Naab praised the report, saying, “This is really, really cool stuff” that should increase activity in the downtown and along Main Street.
“It’s critically important to our plan for downtown,” as well as the Rossville and German Village neighborhoods, Naab said.
Liz Hayden, Hamilton’s Director of Planning, said some parts of the river vision can be accomplished fairly quickly.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to have access to kayaks during a RiversEdge concert?” she said, noting there have been conversations with the Great Miami Rowing Center about that.
Hayden said she has scheduled meetings with community groups “to go talk about the plan, to make sure people are aware of it and get people excited.”
“We’re also looking for grants, and just working on seeing what’s out there,” Hayden said. “I think we’re going to need to identify a handful of things to move forward with immediately, and I would love to have input on that.”
“Lower hanging fruit is getting more boats on the river,” Hayden said. “We have the northern-most access point that you can get into the Great Miami and get all the way down to the Ohio River, so we’ve had conversations already about getting boat access there, and also had some really preliminary conversations about getting some kayaks in the water right outside RiversEdge (amphitheater).”
Also, “I would love to see us move forward with at least one of the portals, and I especially like the one near the Booker T. Washington center, and think there may be some opportunities for grant funding for something like that,” Hayden said.
Another goal to work on is beautifying sidewalks between the proposed Spooky Nook complex and the developing Main Street entertainment district, Hayden said.
Meanwhile, the city plans to show developers sites on available lots along the river, “because it’s kind of crazy that we don’t have more houses that are utilizing the views of the river as part of their attraction,” Hayden said.
City Manager Joshua Smith said the plan will take years to bring to completion, partly because of money needs.
But, he said, “The most important thing is having the plan itself,” so city officials can take it to organizations that can provide grants, such as the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Department of Transportation.
“One of the most exciting things to me is there are some very simple things we can do, in my mind, easily in the next 12 months,” Smith said. “We can even paint the (river levee) walls just a base color for now until we have the funding available to come in and do more of a mural like they did in Dayton along the streetscape.”
The rowing club has acquired stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, Smith said: “Just getting activity in the river this summer I think is very important to get that excitement level up, getting people on the bike trail.”
“There’s certainly some very small things we can do to generate that excitement as we plan into the future and how we can excitement as we plan into the future on how we can execute on some of the bigger parts of the capital plan,” Smith said.