A drive through Clearfield Borough shows many changes, from the expansion of CNB Bank last year, to the streetscape project taking place on various streets and also the changes along the river for the construction of new buildings and a one-mile riverwalk loop.
These changes have not been without controversy and comment. The riverwalk especially has had supporters and detractors, as well as those willing to take a wait-and-see approach.
For many, the concept of a riverwalk is a new idea, but these special walkways along rivers have been cropping up across the United States, and even in other countries, for some years now. They are an important feature of many major cities, including Pittsburgh, Chicago, Reno, Savannah and San Antonio.
Smaller towns are joining in, finding that the riverwalks benefit the local community in many ways. In addition to improving the scenic value of the river, it attracts individuals and families to more outdoor activities, attracts the community to public spaces for small and large events and also improves the community with rising property values and increased business opportunities.
In an interview with GANT, Johnette Isham, executive director of RealizeBradenton, discussed the riverwalk project recently completed in downtown Bradenton, Fla.
According to Isham, in 2012, the people of Bradenton, Fla. opened their own riverwalk, a 1.5-mile linear walk along the Manatee River, and since then the community has witnessed the outstanding results of a well-planned and beautifully laid out riverwalk.
RealizeBradenton, she said, took on the monumental task after 60 years of stops and starts on a riverwalk, a project known by locals as “the sand pile.”
RealizeBradenton is a non-profit that “brings people together to create a more vibrant, attractive and prosperous Bradenton area for residents, visitors and businesses.”
Isham said they brought together residents of all stripes, families, artists, businesspeople and so on, to create the walk, which is one of the longest in Florida. These people gave input on what they wanted to see. After about 10 months of planning, it took nine months to bring it all to fruition through the $6.2 million project, she said.
According to her, RealizeBradenton manages events for the riverwalk, and there are 200 events scheduled throughout the year, the biggest being the Bradenton Blues Festival. The city has seen visitors from 30 states, five countries and 225 Florida ZIP codes.
Isham says the riverwalk provides a great physical space for this and other events. The walk includes grassy areas for picnics, exercise or to sit and relax, a splash fountain, botanical garden, fishing pier, amphitheater, outdoor living rooms and more.
Isham said as a result of their efforts, national data indicates that property values have “increased astronomically.” According to information from Bradenton’s newspaper, the Bradenton Herald, property values are expected to rise 8.1 percent from 2015-16 and have seen similar rises in recent years.
Ultimately, the success of the riverwalk is due to the community coming together, Isham said. She said that it takes a positive approach and working on drawing out the best in the community, bringing people together and bringing talk into action.
She noted RealizeBradenton has been recognized by the Knight Foundation for their efforts. The organization was one of 32 applicants to receive funding for their initiative out of thousands of applications. RealizeBradenton, she said, has also been recognized nationally for bringing diverse people together to get something done.
In Clearfield, the riverfront redevelopment project will consist of a one-mile riverwalk loop. The riverwalk will connect the Nichols and Market Street Bridges. There will be a public park at the former Novey property.
Also, the project includes the development of a hotel on the former Tool Shed property on the west side of the river and a restaurant/office building on the east side of the river along Water Street.
Clearfield Borough received a $5 million Redevelopment Capital Assistance Grant for the riverwalk project. The borough hired Clearly Ahead Development of Clearfield as developer for the project after dealings with a prior developer fell through.
Clearfield Revitalization Corp. Main Street Manager Loretta Wagner is one of those excited about the prospect of Clearfield’s riverwalk.
She said it will make Clearfield a more walkable community. She noted the town is popular now for walking, but this will provide another avenue in the downtown area for walking and other exercise, and is also safer for most people.
She said she hopes that this will boost health awareness, not just for walking but for other activities, much as what has happened with the oval at the Driving Park.
Additionally, she can see the economic benefits. Having a one-mile track around the river will bring more people to the downtown area.
She noted one of the features planned is a park with an amphitheater at the old Novey’s site, where concerts and other events can and will be planned, and this is only a small part of what is being planned for the riverwalk.
Wagner noted that with events focused on the riverwalk and downtown, it will attract tourists to the downtown as well. “I’m really excited,” Wagner said.
Another benefit is improving the overall look around the river, something people are already commenting on as work progresses. She added that she knows change is difficult, but she hopes that people will realize that sometimes change is a good thing, and this is being done to help the community as a whole.
Holly Komonczi, executive director of Visit Clearfield County, the county’s recreation and tourism agency, said the riverwalk will be a great asset to the community by bringing people to the downtown area. “It’s a brilliant project,” she said, and a wonderful asset for both local people and visitors alike.
She said she envisions the advantages as something of a hub and spoke. The riverwalk being the hub from which other tourism businesses can branch out from. Additionally, as the riverwalk is completed, she said she hopes it gives people a sense of pride for the beauty of their town and enthusiasm for sharing that with other people.