Riverwalk renovation a key to Downtown resurgence

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There was a time when the city turned its back on the river.

Architectural masterpieces weren’t built by the water because years ago, the area was analogous to being by the railroad tracks, considered an uninviting area.

“That’s why many older industrial portions of cities were  put down by the river, with parking lots backing up to it, and storage areas being put there,” explained Jack Lenox, director of Planning and Zoning for the city and county.

“Many revitalization efforts have turned that around and now embrace the river, to make it more of a front door than a back door,” Lenox said.

That’s what’s happening in Salisbury, during an upgrade to the Riverwalk that encircles the Wicomico, an inviting fresh air centerpiece in the heart of downtown.

Costing $1.7 million, the project includes a new storm drain outfall, resurfacing the walkway and adding attractive handrails. Later, there will be enhancing foliage and lighting.

“We’re very proud of how that Riverwalk project is progressing. It’s a reminder that a city on the river must take care of that asset. That’s how important it is to our city,” Mayor Jake Day said.

A 24-mile-long tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the river gets its name from the words “wicko mekee,” meaning “a place where houses are built.” From the Riverwalk, built in the 1970s, pedestrians can watch the sunrise or sunset.

Work to overhaul the Riverwalk has involved removing the surface and inserting 20-foot anchoring rods to stabilize the bulkhead.

They are now being tested and whales, or horizontal beams, are being installed on the front part to keep the rods in place, explained Amanda Pollack, deputy director of Public Works for the city.

Murtech Marine Construction is the contractor. George Miles & Buhr is the engineering company.

An attractive stamped concrete that resembles gray, weathered boards is replacing the former surface of aggregate concrete. The pattern is continued at the newly refurbished Riverview Commons, formerly the old Feldman building.

Current work is part of Phase II, and began last summer. In late 2014, before Phase II began, storm drain outfall was replaced at a cost of $130,000, Pollack said.

“The idea for the project came from, if you walked the Riverwalk, the surface was starting to settle,” Pollack said.

“The old storm drain outfalls were collapsing. A lot of it came from the need to do something structural to stabilize the whole area. The project started during Mayor (Jim) Ireton’s administration, from the need for structural stability, then it morphed into, ‘Let’s beautify this,’” Pollack said.

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About 3,400 feet long, the walkway will have a 42-inch high handrail along the entire span, replacing wooden posts and black chains. Originally, the idea was to reuse them, “but they were not in great shape,” Pollack said. “This is a nice, new  black railing.”

“The Riverwalk gives us public access to the riverfront. If it wasn’t there, everybody would have to walk in somebody’s back yard,” she said.

“We’re very excited to improve the surface, to make it safer for better access. The Salisbury festival is in that area and we anticipate more and different events being planned there,” she said.

Work is expected to end in June, followed by a ribbon cutting celebration.

It’s an enjoyable three-quarter mile stroll around the waterway.

On the south side, Riverwalk extends from Route 13 to Division Street. There is a portion of sidewalk along Carroll Street, then it extends to Market Street on the north side. There is more sidewalk near Riverview Commons, making it possible to continue all the way around, Pollack said.

Walking trail signs in the area are sponsored by the health department.

Years ago, Lenox recalled, “there were buildings that were hanging over the river.”

“The cooperative project with Gillis Gilkerson Inc. was to have them remove those lower buildings. The city rebuilt the bulkhead. Gillis Gilkerson built Riverwalk as part of their site improvements, then conveyed the whole thing to the city,” he said.

The days of the river being a working waterfront have “transitioned into more of a downtown, into a public space as this is,” Lenox said.

Even so, shunning the riverfront can’t be held against the city’s forefathers, he said, because it was traditional in most cities at that time.

As Salisbury reawakens, there’s renewed appreciation of the Wicomico and Riverwalk. In the next phase there will be trees, lighting and new trash cans.

“It will be very nice,” Pollack said. “We’ll make sure it’s beautiful.”

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Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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