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City officials: 'Riverside Park' idea looks good

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N.C. State University architecture graduate student Andrew McGinn discusses his design project for Riverside Avenue, inside the Body Kinect Wellness Center, during the First Friday ArtWalk, May 3.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, June 17, 2019

Several Elizabeth City officials have shared their early picks from waterfront redevelopment plans that college architectural students presented last month, including a “Riverside Park” at the Elizabeth City Shipyard, and new parking and event space in front of Museum of the Albemarle.

N.C. State University architectural students presented nine projects to transform downtown properties during May's First Friday ArtWalk. They developed the ideas after visiting Elizabeth City, getting input from city staff, and receiving direction from professors Andrew Fox and David Hill of NCSU's Coastal Dynamics Design Lab.

City staff have given the students' ideas kudos. Now the question is which projects, if any, should be pursued?

City Manager Rich Olson and Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant both praised the “Riverside Park” idea, one of three proposals for the Elizabeth City Shipyard. The city has been trying to buy and restore the property for years, and is hoping state lawmakers will including funding for the property in this year's state budget.

Students Paige Thompson, Sarah Hefner and Amelia Murphy proposed Riverside Park. It calls for stripping the shipyard's warehouse down to the frame and building a semi-enclosed structure that would allow the public to walk through and overlook the Pasquotank River.

The design also calls for installation of an elevated boardwalk from Waterfront Park to the shipyard, plus observational pavilions.

Olson and Malenfant praised the proposal over two other ideas for the shipyard area.

One, by Zach Bonenberger and Charlie Rymer, would demolish the warehouse and build five small, two-story buildings on the site, creating space for community activities and a few small businesses, such as kayak rentals and cafes.

The other, by Andrew McGinn, would take advantage of the environmental remediation expected at the site, which is expected to include a lot of new topsoil. The topsoil could create strategically-placed mounds that could support small buildings and help create waterways and a natural, enclosed swimming pool. After the warehouse's demolition, buildings for a cafe and activities could be built on the site.

Olson said there's a lot that could be done with the warehouse building, whose structure is still in good shape. McGinn's idea about creating kayaking channels and a swimming area would need “a lot of study,” he said.

Noting that she was sharing her personal opinion — not stating a formal position of ECDI — Malenfant also praised the Riverside Park idea for preserving the warehouse while opening up the shipyard for better views of the river.

She also predicted McGinn's idea would be “extremely expensive.” As for Bonenberger and Rymer's five-building concept, Malenfant expressed concerns it would obstruct views of the water and make the area seem “secluded.”

Olson said there was merit in the five-building concept, but building them on a different, nearby property might be a better approach.

Developing the shipyard has potential for economic as well as community development. Asked about the students' designs, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Director Christian Lockamy wrote in an email that he doesn't "have an allegiance to any particular plan" students proposed. Whether there's commercial activity at the shipyard, or it's just developed as an open space to improve quality of life, "you can't go wrong either way," he wrote.

The downtown waterfront is included in the city's First Ward, which is represented by Councilors Jeannie Young and Billy Caudle.

Available for comment Friday, Caudle said he liked “little bits of all of them,” referring to designs for the shipyard as well as other properties, but also said he thought the Riverside Park idea was “pretty cool” and stuck out for keeping the warehouse structure.

Caudle also praised Chen Jiang's idea for Museum of the Albemarle, where she proposed converting its large front lawn into parking and event spaces. Her idea also called for constructing a pedestrian crossing from the museum to Waterfront Park across the street, and adding a pavilion and other improvements to the park itself.

Caudle said he's “all about that,” explaining he supports ideas to make Water Street safer for pedestrians.

He also praised an idea to buy and hollow out the old Milling Company building north of Waterfront Park.

Katie O'Campo, Tomas Errazuriz and Andrew Holliday proposed the city acquire the Milling Company building and install a walkway through it; the walkway would also cross over a pool of water. They would leave space for a coffee shop and make improvements at Waterfront Park. Their underlying goal was to better connect Waterfront Park to the rest of downtown.

Though they offered some first thoughts on Friday, Malenfant said she and other city officials are far from deciding which projects to press forward with. ECDI and the city still need a “book of plans” from NCSU so they can study the proposals in more detail, and present them to City Council.

In addition to needing council's input, Malenfant said the city also wants more public input. Many people have told her they wanted to see the plans, but weren't able to get to last month's First Friday ArtWalk.

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