Different river, different plans for Cape Girardeau

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In 1937 a flood at Paducah, Ky., extended more than 2 miles inland. The floodwall completed in 1949 to protect Paducah from that kind of devastation also alienated the city from the river that led explorer William Clark to found it. The same happened in Cape Girardeau. The floodwall that kept the city's downtown safe when the Mississippi River rampaged also cut the city off from its roots.

In developing their city's new plan, Paducah's leaders wanted to reclaim the city's riverfront. Cape Girardeau is a step or two behind Paducah in developing a plan for its own riverfront, but the process has begun here as well.

The Riverfront Trail Walk soon will be extended to the Red Star access boat dock on the northern end. The first draft of the city's new comprehensive plan to be unveiled Thursday will recommend an expanded trail system along the river and a ferry system that could transport people to various spots along the river, for example from Cape Rock south to Marquette Island.

Some parts of Paducah's plan would not be feasible here, Cape Girardeau city manager Doug Leslie said, because the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau and the meeting of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers at Paducah are far different in terms of current and fluctuations. Locks and dams maintain the level of the river at Paducah. The Mississippi runs free past Cape Girardeau, where a floodgate might have to be closed a few times each year. The river gets onto the floodwall in Paducah only once every seven years.

The channel at Cape Girardeau is much narrower and the current is stronger.

Cape Girardeau planner Martha Brown was a member of a group of city workers who went to Paducah earlier this year to begin an exchange of information between the two cities' staffs. The riverfront plan was laid out for them at that time. "We were envious that they were able to do more with their riverfront than we were," she said.

The Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri, or DREAM, initiative could affect redevelopment of Cape Girardeau's riverfront. PGAV, a St. Louis consulting firm working for the DREAM Initiative, is collecting information aimed at improving the city's standing as a tourist destination. The riverfront will be a component of any strategic plan, assures Tim Arbeiter, vice president for community development for the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It is a reason why many people visit our town, to get that close access to the river. Locally we sometimes take it for granted," he said.

PGAV project manager Terry Beiter said the company initially is talking to people here to develop an impression of the city. The riverfront will be part of that impression, he said. "We're going to be looking at ways to capitalize on the river."

-- Sam Blackwell

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