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2012 Award of Merit - Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza
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Project Category: Open Space

Project Name: Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza

Project Location: Owensboro, Kentucky

Date of Completion: 2004

Landscape Architect:  EDSA, Inc. - (

Owner:  City of Owensboro

Tony Cecil – Project Manager for City

Robert Whitmer – City Manager 

Situated on one of the nation’s major waterways, Owensboro ranks as Kentucky’s third largest city in terms of population and continues to emerge as an industrial and cultural hub. After years of declining market share in regional tourism, the community of Owensboro felt it was time to revitalize the downtown riverfront district and reconnect residents and visitors with the water. By following a strong planning process, the Design Team created a Master Plan which embraced public open space, improved public access to the river, utilized water as a community focal point and addressed the natural habitat.  The Master Plan set forth the framework to achieve the City’s vision of reestablishing the character, charm and economic viability of this warm-hearted town. 

As one of the priority implementation projects for the City of Owensboro’s Riverfront District Master Plan, the Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza, named for Senator Mitch McConnell, has proven to be instrumental in fostering a community spirit and sense of pride in support of redevelopment along the Ohio River.  One of the goals of the master plan was to provide an outdoor entertainment venue by enhancing access to the riverfront, capitalizing on the views to the Ohio River, and providing a pleasant downtown park that hosts programmed events as well as a quiet park setting for residents and visitors to enjoy.

The Design Team was challenged to create a venue that not only serves as a special events platform for both the existing Riverfront Hotel and the City of Owensboro, but also allows for more intimate gatherings to occur without visitors feeling overwhelmed by the space. In designing the project, close attention was paid to every design element detail – thoroughly understanding how their combined impact contributes to the total experience. 

With the proximity to the Ohio River, several considerations had to be made concerning the project’s effect on the river. The Team met with the Army Corp of Engineers to determine the most responsible way to develop the site.  The Riverwalk and Plaza was designed so that future phases of the Riverfront Development, specifically the riverfront promenade would engage the plaza area and become one of the nodes of interest within the downtown. 

As a public/private joint venture, the dual purpose park and plaza is designed with a capacity to accommodate a few thousand people with the hardscape and landscape creating smaller rooms and sitting spaces so that individuals can enjoy and visit the river on a daily basis. The cost of construction of this public/private improvement project was $1.7 million, with the private sector contributing approximately 30% of the costs, as well as redeveloping a portion of their adjacent hotel building to include an indoor/outdoor stage in order to maximize the use of the public space for entertainment. 

The project features a promenade that weaves throughout the plaza with connections to both the existing sidewalk system and the riverfront top of bank. Outdoor seating is oriented both towards the Ohio River and Pavilion, as well as the indoor/outdoor stage developed by the adjacent Hotel, the Executive Inn.  Thematically, the design memorializes the character and transportation heritage of the city as well as captures the essence of the community. This essence includes a relationship with the water.

People want to interact with the Riverfront using all of their senses.  Whether living, working or playing, the Riverwalk and Plaza offers and encourages this experience. The Riverwalk and Park now plays host to music festivals, art shows and celebratory public gatherings such as an annual barbecue event.  As a result, the public has gained an open green space for play and relaxation while the City benefits economically from the regional draw of its programmed activities.  

Since opening the public/private venture, the City of Owensboro has received positive feedback from the public regarding riverfront development. It has proved to be more than just an outdoor park and has sparked further redevelopment and funding for the implementation of the Riverfront District Master Plan. This implementation project, the City’s commitment to its Riverfront Master Plan, and early strategic implementation projects have leveraged over $50 million of state, federal and private funding. 

The Riverwalk and Plaza reclaimed a previously blighted parking area and blighted hotel building and forgotten space along the Ohio River and created a significant green open space. The project has truly become a building block for redevelopment of the Riverfront District.  The successful implementation of the Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Park has been embraced by the community and has achieved its goal as a quality of life enhancement for the public.   


Project Manager / Project Landscape Architect: Paul Kissinger, FASLA - EDSA, Inc.

Engineering/Local Liaison : Patrick Strehl

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MISSION STATEMENT Leading, educating, and participating in the careful stewardship, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.