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City inspired Decatur riverwalk

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer

phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Though longtime competitors as two of the Tennessee River's biggest port cities, Decatur feels a special kinship with Chattanooga and its effort to redefine its riverfront.

It was Chattanooga that encouraged Decatur leaders to start a riverwalk development here in 1991, said John Seymour, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber and city officials took a retreat there to get a closer inspection and, upon their return, the city privatized Decatur Boat Harbor.

Instead of spending a lot of money to buy property, city leaders chose to improve the existing city-owned land on the river, Seymour said, and that meant Rhodes Ferry Park.

In the early 1990s, the park was is poor shape with an abandoned, cracked tennis court and broken-down playground equipment.

"We decided early on that we wanted to do quality rather than quantity," Seymour said. "So we've done everything right. We did the dirt work first. Then we put irrigation in. We got a first-class paving company to come in. Got first-class tiles. We used high-quality light poles and vandal-proof fixtures."

The plan divided the park into two sides: an active area, which is the open field used by Riverfest and Concerts by the River, and the passive side, which includes the playground and picnic facility.

Phase II

After completing Rhodes Ferry in 1995, city leaders moved on to Phase II, which was across Alabama 20 at Founders Park.

The sloping field became a curved berm and amphitheater with a paved walkway connecting Carnegie Visual Arts Center with Old State Bank.

Phase III, which has been on hiatus for several years, will include landscaping Founders Park and adding a small boat docking facility at Rhodes Ferry as well as paved walkways extending to the adjacent Sexton business development.

Seymour said they delayed Phase III while the Sexton work continued and also to focus efforts on the Delano Park renovation. This kept the two parks from competing for federal grants.

Now that Delano and the Sexton projects are nearing completion, Seymour said he expects Phase III to begin next year.

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