Renovation & Restoration:
New stone riverwalk revitalizes Colorado community

September 18, 2001
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A key part of Pueblo, CO's history, the Arkansas River signifies the town's beginning as a great American city. It was the river that drew big business and historical fame to this otherwise common little town. After a flood in 1921, which drowned 100 people and filled downtown Pueblo with 11 feet of water, however, the river was re-channeled and pooled into the Pueblo Reservoir. It took the recent efforts of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP) Commission and the work of the prime planning and design consultant, Design Studios West, Inc. (DSW), to excavate the stone riverbed, restoring the Arkansas River to its original path and the town of Pueblo to its economic glory.

At one time, Pueblo was a thriving industrial city - the second largest in Colorado - boasting smelters and steel mills owned by the Rockefellers and Guggenheims, but by 1982, Pueblo had hit a financial wall as Colorado Fuel & Iron laid off 3,800 employees.

With 20% of its citizens out of work, a decade-long local recession all but destroyed the small town, yet through it all, Pueblo's citizens held onto their hope of the city's rejuvenation and finally their dedication has paid off. A three-day celebration began in Pueblo on October 5, 2000 to commemorate the grand opening of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk Project, which is expected to revitalize the town's economy.

Inspired by the success of the San Antonio Riverwalk, the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk Project was initiated as a grassroots movement among the citizens of Pueblo. In 1992, the HARP Commission began discussing the feasibility of bringing the river back into the city to attract the business and the tourists Pueblo would need to become economically successful again.

The HARP Commission retained the design and engineering services of Design Studios West, Inc., a Denver-based landscape architectural and engineering firm specializing in reclaiming urban waterfronts. DSW investigated how the river could be brought back, the amount and quality of water that would be involved, and what would be done with additional storm water. Then, in November 1995, after the initial design plan was drawn up, voters in Pueblo narrowly approved the bond issue, which provided $12 million to get the project started.

"Our inspiration was the community," said Don Brandes, president of Design Studios West and principal designer for the overall HARP project. "They had loved the river. It was part of their history. This was not a trendy, urban design concept. It was a way to bring back to Pueblo what once was."

Thousands of people turned out for the Grand Opening in October to celebrate the completion of phases one and two of HARP. According to Brandes, subsequent phases are under investigation, but since the first were so successful, the city will likely continue the project's expansion.

"Phase One concentrated on subsurface improvement," said Brandes. "It provided for the civil engineering and infrastructure aspects of the project - the drainage, bridges, road improvements, construction of the river channel, and associated electrical and mechanical structures." This phase took two and a half years to complete, and 60% of the project's initial cost was dedicated to these subsurface improvements.

Phase Two has also been finished. "The second phase of construction dealt with surface improvements," said Brandes. "It included improvements such as retaining walls, landscaping, plazas, irrigation, fountains, signage and furnishings."

Riverbed stone

Stone was an integral part of the Riverwalk project. It was used in every aspect of construction, from creating the new riverbed to devising structural elements such as bridges, and even as pavement for walking and bicycle paths. A variety of stone from a number of sources was utilized. According to Brandes, the original riverbed was located and excavated for its stone. "The old river channel was constructed out of river stone (sandstone) in 2- x 3- or 4-foot sections," Brandes said. "Design Studios West worked with the state historical society to recover that sandstone for use in the new HARP project."

Once the stone had been excavated and tested, however, the chemical structural analysis determined that the old stone was not suitable for new construction, according to Brandes. "Because it had deteriorated over time, the old stone could not be used for bridge abutments because it was not structurally capable," he said. "Instead, it was used for landscape and urban design improvements, such as small landscape retaining walls, and surface treatments that did not require structural and compressive stability. The public enjoys the integration of the old riverstone. It's a thrill for the older generation in Pueblo to see it being used again."

In addition to the riverstone, a variety of other natural stone products were used. "We wanted a variety of pavement materials to add a richness to the project," Brandeis said. The stone used for the bridge abutments and full retaining walls was Masonville sandstone from the Masonville, CO, quarry. Accenting the retaining and planting walls is a Lyons sandstone from a quarry in Lyons, CO.

Stone sculpting

The city of Pueblo advertised for local public artists to participate in the HARP project in the design of the area between Union Avenue and Main Street, which had been designated as the family interactive area. Richard Hansen, sculptor and landscape architect, was chosen from among the applicants to serve as a sub-consultant for the project.

"I competed and was selected to join the design team for the HARP project," said Hansen. "Immediately, I began looking at how public art could be incorporated and saw potential for a big event combining stone and water. I generated a few drawings, got a response from Design Studios West and ended up creating the Farley/Reilly Fountain."

Perhaps the centerpiece of the project, the Farley/Reilly Fountain required more than 17 tons of granite and was named after its donors, the Farley family and the Reilly family, citizens of Pueblo.

The fountain was designed with a number of unique attributes, such as the water steps at the base, made possible by water which has been diverted from upstream of the Arkansas River. "The constantly moving water on the steps oxygenates the river, making it ecologically healthy," said Hansen.

Another of the fountain's features is its stone uprights. "The stone upright elements are made of red granite, which I quarried myself from a Bureau of Land Management Quarry within 50 miles of Pueblo," said Hansen. "I went there with a model and forms in mind for those uprights, drilled and split them on site, and took them to my studio to work them."

Hansen cored down through some of the upright blocks - which are 3 feet in height - and set them over steel pipes that would then access the water and pump it to the top. "It was a tricky installation," Hansen said. "Water miraculously cascades from the top of the stone at 300 gallons per minute."

The water steps are flowing year round, but because of the extreme nature of Colorado's climate, the water that cascades from the top of the uprights is turned off for five months during the winter. This led to the creation of the fountain's ripple panels. "I wanted the stone to have 'the memory of water' when the actual water wasn't flowing," Hansen explained. "With the ripple panels, the sculptural presence of the stone speaks as strongly as the dancing of the water. That's part of the fountain's success."

The ripple panels ornamented with a wave pattern were made from slabs of Sunset Red granite purchased by Hansen from Cold Spring Granite Co. "I beveled them in my studio and created a structured design on paper. I made a wooden cradle for the slabs, did the carving, and then gave the templates to the concrete contractors who poured the foundations."

Several strategically placed slots also highlight the uprights on the Farley/Reilly Fountain. Hansen's work incorporates more stonecutting techniques than elaborate carving, the sculptor explained. Added to the natural curve of the stone's edges by means of traditional stone cutting techniques, the slots were designed for several reasons. Due to the natural movement of the sun, the slots allow the sun to shine through the cascading water late in the day. Also, the Farley/Reilly Fountain faces the Pueblo City Hall, and the slotting in the fountain's stone uprights echoes the slotting of the windows in the building. According to Hansen, the fountain was a combination of both geological and architectural influences.

Functional art

Hansen was also privately commissioned by Pueblo residents Dr. Bill and Peggy Turmann to create another sculptural element to add to the HARP project, further evidence that HARP is a combination of public and private involvement. "I like to integrate environmental education into my work, making it not just sculpture but communication," explained Hansen. "The Meander and Wave benches, created through the donations of the Turmanns, represent universal forms of moving water. The wave in a river is actually a form that the water moves through. I wanted to express this interaction between the boulders in the river and the water in stone, not just as a sculpture that can't be touched, but as sculptural seating that draws people in to touch and experience it."

Hansen was tired of benches that were just meeting a functional need. His unique approach to sculptural seating expresses the movement and character of natural phenomena, he explained. The Meander and Wave benches are made of gray granite and a darker granite schist that Hansen gathered locally from glacial deposits, rather than river-washed granite, because the color of the glacial schist is stronger. Additional bench commissions for the project are being considered for the future.

Future prospects

The highlights of the project are numerous, including 2,300 linear feet of navigable waterways

for use by water taxis and pleasure boats and

6,500 linear feet of walkways and bicycle paths, in addition to the 1.9-acre Lake Elizabeth, a grassy amphitheater opposite Pueblo's historic City Hall, and an outdoor environmental education center.

"We wanted this to be a community gathering place where all of Pueblo's citizens could come for enjoyment," Brandes said. "There will be something there for everyone, including a family activity area and commercial and retail development pads for private development."

Outside of the family interactive area, there are currently five building pads within the project as well, which have been designated for mixed use. Shops, offices and homes will share space along the waterfront. Future plans for HARP may include a further expansion of land development on the waterway.

The city board recently approved Phase Three of the project, and preliminary urban design work is scheduled to begin in early 2001 with the extension of the waterway north to the hotel convention center. Phases Four and Five, which are still under investigation and have not yet

been approved, would provide for a plan to loop the river back into

itself for ease in riverboat rides, walking paths and other river concessions. Additional development of waterfront commercial properties is also being considered.

"We saw the HARP project not only as a celebration of the river, but as the key to downtown Pueblo's renaissance," said Mel Murray, executive director of the HARP Commission. "The Riverwalk gives the people of Pueblo a neat place to come and enjoy the river, it attracts tourists and it creates jobs." Murray projects that HARP will lead to a 10% annual increase in visitor spending in each of the next three years, pumping $27 million into the local economy.

Reestablishing the river's presence in Pueblo has generated the business the HARP Commission had predicted. According to DSW, HARP has helped the town diversify its economy, restore its historic downtown and attract new business in the way of the hotel convention center and other cultural venues.

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