Jefferson City officials and members of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce toured Adrian's Island last week to gain a better understanding of possible riverfront development.
Between the Missouri River and Union Pacific Railroad tracks, stretching from the Capitol to the former Missouri State Penitentiary, lies 30 acres of trees, overgrown vegetation and wildlife. The city plans to develop the mile-long island into a park, with a bridge over the railroad tracks to lead to the area.
Currently, residents cannot access the island except by river since people cannot cross the railroad tracks. The city received permission to cross the tracks Wednesday morning, giving City Council members, city staff and Chamber of Commerce President Randy Allen a first-hand look at what awaits on the other side.
Walking along the tracks, the group peered up toward the Governor's Mansion, turning their heads slightly to catch a glimpse of the Capitol before entering the woods. After traveling several yards, the group stopped in a small clearing, where Allen said they hope an 826-foot bridge will connect with the island.
The bridge would extend from the juncture of the Senate parking garage and Veterans Memorial at the Capitol down to the island, where city officials hope a park will reside.
Mayor Carrie Tergin said the project would allow people to better access the river from the Capitol side, especially those visiting attractions on that side of the river.
One of Tergin's main goals as mayor is riverfront access.
"We just want to be able to enjoy it," she said. "This is an asset we have in our community, and for a long time, people have wanted to get to the river and just be able to enjoy what we have. We're very lucky, and not all communities have that. Not all communities can go out and enjoy being near the river and having that kind of view."
The Jefferson City Housing Authority owns the island, Allen said. In the 1960s, when the island was created, the Adrian family owned part of the land and acquired the rest of the property. They later donated it to the Housing Authority for riverfront development.
The Housing Authority was working on redevelopment in the area, and there were discussions of that redevelopment extending onto Adrian's Island, Allen said, noting the Housing Authority is ready to give the land to the city.
City and chamber officials do not have specific details on the potential park's features, but Allen and Tergin said they hope to have more information and a possible timeline in the coming months.
The park's features will dictate what the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department wants to do, Allen added.
When the department tries to create a park, Parks Department Director Todd Spalding said, it determines a plan and decides what items would go in the park. The department would have to clear invasive plants on the island, too.
Fundraising also will dictate the future of the project, estimated at about $3.2 million, which Tergin said could change. An ad hoc committee has been fundraising for the project, raising about $2.3 million, Allen said. This leaves about $900,000 left to raise.
Part of that $2.3 million includes a $1 million donation from local philanthropist B.J. DeLong. The one condition attached to DeLong's donation was it can only be used for riverfront development.
For several City Council members, this was the first time they stepped foot on Adrian's Island. Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater said he was skeptical about the project, but the tour gave him a better idea of what the city hopes to do with the land.
While he thinks the idea is intriguing and wants to continue the conversation, he added, there are hurdles the city needs to overcome to proceed with the project.
"Folks think it's all swamp land, that most of the time it's underwater and it's not stable ground; but obviously, when you look at the size of the trees out there, you know it's not underwater a lot and it's got a lot of structure (and) good soil," Fitzwater said. "We do have a lot of hurdles we have to get across before it becomes reality, though. A lot of the community is going to have to buy into this — not only from a concept point but they have to buy into it from a funding mechanism also."
While there are rumors the island consistently floods due to its location in a floodplain, Todd Kempker, project manager with Bartlett & West, said this is false.
Bartlett & West uses 548 feet as the flood elevation; while some of the island would be underwater at that point, about 13 acres would be above that elevation, Kempker said. This 13 acres is where the bridge and most of the park would be located.
Since Jan. 1, 2000, he said, the island has flooded five times for a total of 22 days — 0.34 percent of the time.
"It wouldn't be any different than some of the areas like Washington Park, the ball fields," Allen said. "Those get flooded from time to time and require some cleanup, and then you go on. We don't plan for any major structures over (on the island), and the bridge would be high enough that it won't be touched at all. But most of the time, it would be accessible for recreation activities."
Spalding said the location and soil are ideal for a park, noting the Parks Department could have native plants and expand trails.
City staff, along with council and chamber members, said they think the bridge would be a good opportunity to attract tourists to Jefferson City, especially since it would be near the Capitol, Governor's Mansion and Missouri State Penitentiary property.
Ward 5 Councilman Mark Schreiber said he thinks the bridge and park could be used to educate locals and visitors about the river.
"I think we look at the river and we don't stop to think that probably the city of Jefferson would not have existed had it not been for the Missouri River and individuals that founded the city," he said. "I think sometimes we take the Missouri River for granted because we can see it every day, but people who don't have a river or anything, they don't have anything to enjoy, so we need to make sure that it's something that connects the past with the future."
"It's such an asset, and the time is right again to start looking at this," he said. "We're a capital city without any direct access to the river from the Capitol side, and the river is who we are. It's such a part of Jefferson City and where we are today. We look at the river being part of our history and forming our city."