The Kentucky River weaves through the Commonwealth of Kentucky like a multi-colored ribbon of history and culture. For centuries this river has forged a path through stone and earth, draining nearly one-third of the state into the Ohio River to the north.
Founded on the banks of one of the many S-curves along the Kentucky River’s 259 mile corridor, Frankfort is a river town with a rich history and relationship with the river. From early transportation to the buffalo trails that offered a passable route for early settlers, the Kentucky River corridor has been occupied by numerous peoples throughout the centuries.
Like many river towns and cities, Frankfort has experienced a dynamic relationship with the river since it was designated as a town in 1786. Today, the capitol city’s downtown core historic business district remains the active center of commerce, with a trend line that is more positive today than in recent decades. The new development is occurring in downtown including new mixed-use districts that will provide additional housing, commercial and office space, and adaptive reuse and redevelopment is actively bringing life and activation back to the downtown landscape.
Urban waterfronts throughout the Midwest are experiencing a revitalization. The expectations and demand for urban parks and open spaces have increased today compared to the unprogrammed areas designed in the early 20th century. These spaces today are designed not only to be aesthetically pleasing but also to offer functional, valuable features to their communities. This opportunity to enhance a strong city image also has positive impacts on new development in cities throughout the country. Additional benefits to urban riverfront regeneration include employment generation, increased tourism, river-based activities like boating and kayaking, increased real estate values, downtown marketing and branding, and economic growth.
Downtown Frankfort has the opportunity of a lifetime to reengage the Kentucky River. Although known internationally as an epicenter in the bourbon industry, Frankfort is also a river city with an urban waterfront that is poised for the community to reconnect.
Following a comprehensive process of site investigation, community discussions, and programming meetings the MKSK team turned its focus on the preparation of several alternative design options that explored a variety of approaches and methods of better connecting downtown Frankfort to the Kentucky River and creating vibrant public spaces for engagement and activation. As part of the exploratory process, the design team and city officials developed several project goals used to inform design decisions and ultimately provide a recommendation for a preferred concept. The goals for the concept development are as follows
- Promote more and better connectivity and views between downtown Frankfort and the Kentucky River
- Provide space along the riverfront for public gatherings, concerts, and special events
- Stay green – provide a seamless transition between the natural riverfront and the built environment
- Provide opportunities for increased water-based activities like boating, kayaking, and canoeing
- Promote a destination for all ages and abilities
- Celebrate the rich history of downtown Frankfort and the Kentucky River
The existing conditions of the riverfront provide a minimal area for riverfront access and navigation along the banks of the river. There are a few areas that provide stairway access, but accessible opportunities currently do not exist. A combination of natural stone and concrete retaining walls provide both flood protection and the developable area along the banks of the riverfront in this area. While these walls perform an important function along the downtown riverfront in this area from flooding, they also present a challenge for universal access to the water’s edge. Views of the river corridor are also limited from the downtown area. This study explored and provided recommendations for new and improved views of the river, as well as enhanced views from within the Kentucky River corridor.
The concept design process explored several design strategies including options with floating docks and boardwalks as well as a land-based options with a terrace along the banks of the river. After evaluating each of these options thoroughly from multiple perspectives including overall experience, operations, maintenance, durability, and cost, the preferred option was “The Terrace” concept which provides the best opportunity to reconnect with the river, provides a durable structure within the fluctuating water levels of the river, and provides multiple opportunities for water recreation.
The western floating dock, The Deck, provides dedicated facilities for accessible kayak and canoe launching, and storage space for outfitters that will operate on a seasonal basis along this stretch of the river. A new overlook at Ann Street is positioned and designed to provide views of the corridor and river activities. Located adjacent to an existing downtown parking structure, The Overlook provides a convenient and memorable gateway and access point to the riverfront. Visitors will have the opportunity to extend beyond the current limits of Ann Street with views of the river. The Cliffs, located at the eastern end of the project area, embraces the unique surroundings and transforms the existing parking lot into a riverfront event space, park area, and marina. The Cliffs offers arguably one of the more unique experiences and environments in downtown Frankfort against the base of the large limestone cliff that serves as the northern wall of the park. This concept recommends a pavilion structure designed with the flexibility to serve as a shade structure for daily usage as well as a stage for performances, concerts and community events.
- The Terrace + Overlook – The Terrace is envisioned as a linear park along the river’s edge that will provide unique views and access to the Kentucky River that doesn’t exist today. Ranging in width from 15 – 25 feet, The Terrace offers ample space for pedestrian and bicycle circulation as well as space for seating and kiosk space for local vendors. With connection or access points at Ann Street, Goodwood Brewery, and The Cliffs Park to the east, The Terrace serves as a connective riverfront feature.
- The Cliffs Park + Deck – This nearly 1.5-acre area at the eastern terminus of the Blanton’s Landing study area is positioned at the base of a dramatic limestone cliff, and arguably one of the most unique riverfront spaces in downtown Frankfort. While access to this site is limited from downtown through the passage under the War Mothers Memorial Bridge, the opportunity to connect this area to The Terrace will offer a new means of accessing this site and experiencing the Kentucky River corridor in a one-of-a-kind setting.
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Landscape Architect: MKSK
Collaborators: Palmer Engineering, PROS Consulting, KS Associates
Client: City of Frankfort
Conceptual Image Credits: MKSK