Cruise ships and yachts will be visiting a revitalized riverfront in Hannibal within the next few years, if the city’s plans for renovation stay the course.
Hannibal’s riverfront renovation project, which was approved in 2016, calls for an overhaul for docking areas, parking zones and recreation spaces extending from where North Street once ended southward to Bear Creek. In the process, the design plan seeks to maximize the potential use of the riverfront not only as a park space but also as an economic tool in attracting and serving visitors.
The timing of the renovation appears to link it with the spate of new riverboat cruise lines, including Viking Cruise Lines. In fact, Viking’s desire to have two docking slots available — should it decide to run cruises concurrently against other companies or launch two cruises simultaneously — is what has led some residents to believe that the cruise line’s wish list sparked the riverfront restoration plan. Hannibal Parks and Recreation Director Andy Dorian said the plan had been initiated in 2011, one year before the revival of upper Mississippi cruises had begun.
By 2011, wear and tear to a retaining structure referred to as Glasscock’s Wall had meant that repairs to the riverfront would be inevitable, yet not immediate. Replacing the wall would require a significant investment of money and construction to complete, and lining up the financing for such work would require several years of on-again, off-again planning. By implementing a full restoration of the riverfront while construction is taking place, city leaders are attempting to reap the most benefit of a situation that would have to occur with or without a long-term plan.
The project is in the stage of obtaining all required permits, and the physical work is slated to begin in 2018. The concept drawing highlights a more flexible docking area for tug boats as well as excursion ships, including the Mark Twain Riverboat. The marina, after debate among city leaders and concerned boat enthusiasts, will not be scrapped but rather relocated near Bear Creek in most of what is Nipper Park. The park will be moved to the space previously occupied by the marina and expanded to the edge of Glasscock Landing. An installed sidewalk at the river’s edge allows people to travel the length of the park space without interruption.
Among the upheaval of earth, stone and concrete, the riverfront itself will be raised several feet in the process. The changes will result in a Nipper Park less prone to flooding, but the elevation change will not create a significant impact on flooding in general. This also means leveling the old cobblestone incline between Broadway and Center streets; although the stone will be removed, Dorian adds that the stone will be repurposed within the project. The riverfront and Kiwanis park will also be fully electrified to make the area more attractive for holding festivals and other events. The restoration plan attempts to make as many infrastructure upgrades as possible at once in a cost-effective manner.
The price tag befits what one expects from such a project: $5.4 million to cover all phases of the project and to plan for contingencies. The city of Hannibal is prepared to cover the cost itself if needed, though over a 20-year graduated payment plan. Much of the funding derives from Parks and Recreation Department funds and revenue, with specific taxes already in place for several years to cover most of the remaining balance. Dorian notes that the city, while not relying on federal or state funding for the project, will be applying for various grants; he adds that the monies set aside for this restoration are not at the expense of funding other city initiatives since these targeted funding sources are contingent on the project itself — as opposed to pulling money from a central fund.
The riverfront restoration, slated to begin in spring 2018 and to be completed in several stages by 2020, is one of the largest projects attempted by the city in its history. In building a more user-friendly riverfront, city leaders hope to attract more visitors and residents to spend time downtown. Yet, the project also pays tribute to the roots of the city as a river town nearing its bicentennial birthday, a city whose relevance — then and now — owes much to the mighty Mississippi.
- By KEN MARKS