Aldermen OK hiring firms for next phase of Riverwalk

The Board of Aldermen on Thursday night selected firms to handle the next phase of the Riverwalk, a pedestrian walkway along the Housatonic River in downtown Shelton.

Tate & Associates, a Fairfield-based landscape architectural firm that designed the first Riverwalk section, was chosen to handle the design of the next phase. It will be paid $12,500. The company, run by Shelton resident James W. Tate, also designed the Shelton Farmers Market Building.

Milone & MacBroom, a large Cheshire-based engineering and landscape architectural firm, was picked to do the engineering. It will be paid $23,000.

Also, $8,000 will be spent on surveying for the project.

The aldermen approved the selections while also voting to waive requirements of the professional development ordinance to expedite the project.

Shelton-based Rotondo Engineering previously had been hired to oversee the project but has since been terminated.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said Rotondo was replaced because “an inordinate amount of time passed with a lack of production.”

New section is 900 feet long

Construction of the next Riverwalk section on the other side of Bridge Street should begin this fall.

Known as Phase Two, the new section will begin on Canal Street between the Birmingham condo building and new Avalon apartment complex, then go along the river in the back of Avalon.

The project will be about 900 linear feet, and for now will include another section of 300 feet or so to reconnect to Canal Street on the other side of the Avalon complex.

Plans call for the brick pathway to eventually continue along the river all the way to the end of Canal Street, where the gravel driveway entrance to the electric-generating facility on the Ousatonic Dam is located.

Lauretti said the Riverwalk has become a popular attraction. “People have really appreciated the Riverwalk through the years,” he said. “They can now enjoy the beauty of a river that people hadn’t really seen for 100 years because the area was industrial.”

No outside funding to be used

The city will not use about $1.1 million in federal funds on Phase Two it has received for the Riverwalk, instead saving those funds for future phases. The city is required to make a 20% match when it spends those federal dollars.

Riverwalk Phase Two was budgeted for $800,000 but Lauretti said he expects to get it completed at a lower cost now that the federal and state governments will not play any direct role in the funding.

“We feel we can do it for significantly less,” Lauretti said at the Thursday aldermanic meeting.

He said having the state and federal governments involved “can unnecessarily drive up the cost of everything you deal with.”

He noted the city is rebuilding Canal Street for the “same distance” as the new Riverwalk section, in the exact same vicinity, for $600,000.

Construction bids go out soon

The city plans to pursue a “design-build” approach with Phase Two, which means the design and construction phases of the project would be pursued at about the same time. The design-build approach often is used to speed up a project's timeline.

Construction bids could go out in the next few weeks, said James E. Ryan, president of the Shelton Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit quasi-public agency overseeing the project with the city.

Ryan said the goal is to get the brick walkway built during the fall, with some additional work perhaps completed next spring.

There will be a brick-paver path, lampposts and landscaping. Avalon has done some initial landscaping associated with the project. Elements such as benches should be added in the future.

Opening a ‘view-scape’

Some trees and brush will be removed on the riverfront, and Ryan said this will be done “in a sensitive and environmentally friendly way” that meets land- and waterfront-use regulations.

“We’ll open up a view-scape,” he said.

Ryan said a Downtown Citizens Advisory Board in existence for 27 years is playing a role, and this panel actually came up with the idea to build the initial Riverwalk more than a decade ago.

Future phases are planned

In the future, Phase Three would go from Avalon to the west end of Canal Street, near the dam driveway entrance and canal locks. This involves adding some structures to handle a few smaller waterways flowing into the Housatonic, and would be about 2,200 linear feet.

Phase Four would go from Veterans Memorial Park to the Bridge Street area, covering an area that includes some old industrial sites with environmental issues.

Some rights-of-way and easements are needed to complete future phases.

The original Riverwalk is about 1,800 feet long and cost $250,000 to construct in 2000.

Ryan said he thinks the Riverwalk’s four phases can be completed in the next five to seven years. “It’s definitely a complex project because there are multiple agencies involved,” he said, such as the city, state, railroad company and canal/electric company. “We’ll keep moving the ball forward,” Ryan said.

The city has ruled out building a walkway under Bridge Street to connect the sections due to the potential cost as well as maintenance and flood issues. Ryan said it would have cost $4 million to go under Bridge Street and the nearby railway bridge.

Downtown plan

Ryan said extending the Riverwalk is part of an ongoing strategy to improve downtown and open access to the river by eliminating blight, upgrading infrastructure (roads and utilities), and creating attractive landmark public spaces such as the Riverwalk, Veterans Memorial Park, Farmers Market Building and newer Rotary Club Pavilion.

It also will add passive and active recreation use and help make Shelton Center more of a destination, he said.

“We want to stimulate private investment,” said Ryan, noting the Phase Two area already has benefited from $60 million on Avalon, $18 million spent on the Birmingham, and almost $8 million to tear down an old cement plant and make other improvements.

Called ‘smart growth’

“There’s been 75 to $80 million in private investment, with much more coming,” Ryan said. “This is smart growth — to reuse things and generate returns with what were non-performing assets.”

Canal Street in front of the Birmingham and Avalon now is being rebuilt, with new sidewalks added.

Ryan said the progress continues despite naysayers. “Some have said this would never get done — a park at The Slab wouldn’t be built, the asphalt plant would never come down, and nothing could be done with the Chromium Process site,” he said.

The city now owns the Chromium Process property and is likely to tear down the building in the future.