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Revitalization of Waterfront Areas

July 21, 2023

The revitalization of waterfront areas has been a focus for many communities across the country who are looking to take advantage of the natural resources by repurposing them for public use. Historically, waterfront uses were industrial focused during the 20th century, but as technology and funding have evolved more and more communities are transitioning those areas for the betterment of communities and become beacons for tourism as well. B&L has been involved with numerous communities as they enlist our help to create Master Plans to transform and redevelop public parcels. A Master Plan is a formal document that serves as a guide and implementation tool for the management and development of a park’s amenities, recreational facilities, and programs. Parks, recreation facilities, and open spaces are valuable assets to a community as they provide leisure time opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Public open space is becoming an increasingly important investment; this was abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic when many people utilized their local parks since utilizing indoor businesses was discouraged.

The City of Plattsburgh, New York, enlisted the services of Barton & Loguidice (B&L) to prepare a master plan for its waterfront Harborside area, identifying key community and economic growth initiatives and development opportunities in the area. The Harborside Master Plan focuses on five parcels totaling 45 acres in land area, although connections to destinations nearby such as Downtown Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh Amtrak Station, and the Saranac River Trail Greenway were also considered as part of the scope.

The city applied for and received funding in 2019 from the NYS Department of State Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the development of the Harborside Master Plan. A consultant team led B&L was retained by the city in 2021 to prepare the Plan. Aubertine & Currier, PLLC, 4ward Planning Inc., and Hadley Exhibits Inc. joined B&L on the project team. It is envisioned that the development of Harborside will build social, recreational, educational and cultural opportunities along the waterfront and provide activities and amenities to draw residents and tourists to spend time on Plattsburgh’s waterfront. The development of the Plan was led by the Harborside Master Plan Committee.

By virtue of its expansive size, waterfront access, downtown proximity, and regional trail and multimodal connectivity, the 45-acre Harborside area offers the City the chance to address several community development concerns simultaneously. Armed with site and building design plans – vetted through public participation – the City will be able to address waterfront recreation and tourism, guide private sector development, leverage public and private investment, and inspire concern for water quality in the Saranac River and Lake Champlain through education.

One unique component of this project is the close proximity of the area’s Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF). While relocating the Facility  had previously been deemed cost prohibitive, it would be customary practice to screen the WRRF to hide it from nearby recreation and development areas. However, the Committee took the innovative approach of embracing the WRRF and its function in processing the City’s waste and protecting natural resources in the Lake Champlain region. This idea was championed by City of Plattsburgh Environmental Manager Jon Ruff, PE and further developed by the Committee and project consultant team.

B&L’s landscape architecture team developed existing conditions analysis, conducted field visits, and developed a suite of site plans as the project moved from opportunities identification through to the final site master plan. Our subconsultant team brought to bear their respective expertise focused on the centerpiece of the envisioned Harborside Master Plan – the Environmental Learning Center. The proposed Environmental Learning Center – to be co-located with the WRRF – would consist of exhibit space on the lower floor, additional exhibit space and event space on the upper floor, and an observation deck. Exhibits on the water cycle and the operation of the WRRF would be on display and evolve over time to encourage repeat visitation.

B&L’s planning team provided the project management, document assembly, and public engagement services that tied the whole effort together. As the project took place during and coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, public engagement took different and nuanced forms including online community survey, virtual community meetings, and in-person design charrettes and workshops.

This Master Plan identifies improvements to the Harborside Area – divided into a Lakefront and Riverfront Subarea – that could be implemented in a 5-10 year time frame.

The priority improvements recommended in this Master Plan are categorized into seven (7) phases of enhancements that community members rated most favorably in the community outreach process. In other words, these projects are a direct reflection of the initiatives that the community expressed were the most important. A narrative, cost estimates, and supporting renderings, site plans, and/or images are presented for each of the seven (7) proposed phases. It is important to note that each of the projects laid out in this Master Plan is not set in stone, as they may require some alteration based on future environmental and community conditions, engineering considerations, and funding availability.

This Master Plan is intended to serve as a framework by which the Harborside Lakefront and Riverfront Subarea improvements desired by the Plattsburgh community may be implemented. By having already analyzed the community’s concerns and priorities, established conceptual plans for priority improvements, and identified potential funding sources, the City will be well-positioned to move recommended projects forward for the betterment of the overall community.

For more information on the development of Master Plans, contact B&L’s Bob Murphy, Jr., AICP and Leigh G. Jones, PLA for Landscape Architecture. Both are members of B&L’s Sustainable Planning & Design Team.

In the end, the Harborside Master Plan delivered both a product document and process that will allow the City of Plattsburgh to confidently prepare capital improvement plans and advance governance structures for the Environmental Learning Center that will transform the City’s Lake Champlain and Saranac River Waterfronts into regional destinations. This was made possible by the visionary approach of the Steering Committee and the diverse technical skillset brought by the B&L-led consultant team. The City has already begun its pursuit of grant funding for implementation.

Sustainable Planning & Design

This article is from members of the Sustainable Planning & Design Practice Area.

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