Whether it’s enjoying daily live music in a bay-cooled breeze or with a glass of wine overlooking the city’s working waterfront, Visit Mobile President and CEO David Clark sees potential in downtown’s Cooper Riverside Park.
Clark’s vision for the “underutilized” park was buoyed earlier this month by the opening of the city’s new floating dock on the Mobile River. The dock will allow commercially licensed boats to pick up passengers for tours and other trips.
One beneficiary is WildNative Tours, which will offer passengers one- and two-hour tours of the port and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta on weekends starting Friday, Oct. 12, Capt. Michael Dorie said.
WildNative will continue to load passengers at Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort during the week, but Dorie said the weekend tours would highlight the history of the port, the harbor and the delta.
Clark said the opening of the floating dock fits perfectly with his vision of downtown Mobile. WildNative would be the first of many experience options for the area, he said, that could help bring it more in line with such destinations as San Francisco or Savannah.
“This is exciting for downtown,” he said. “My vision is for a really, really active waterfront.”
This could be the first of many additions to help improve waterfront access and visitor experiences at the park, Clark said, with the goal of increasing leisure travel to the Port City.
“We’ve been in collaboration with the city for about a year,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve been trying to improve on our image for leisure travel. If you look at cities in the United States, most use rivers or waterfronts for leisure.”
Cooper Riverside Park, he said, is the perfect location for tourism growth. Clark said 100,000 vehicles pass by every day on Interstate 10 and Water Street, and 190,000 cruise passengers per year flock to the area to board the Carnival Fantasy.
Clark sees a positive move in the direction of leisure travel for Mobile and growth in that area with a few more additions. He said food and beverage options could be expanded outside of GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, with high tables overlooking port traffic.
“Why not have a food and beverage opportunity on the patio at the park? Clark asked. “How cool would it be to have water or a glass of wine, and watch the freighters in the harbor?”
Clark also imagines the possibility for daily live music from local artists, or vendor markets on the weekends.
“The opportunities are endless,” he said.
To help aid Clark’s vision, the city still has designs on reducing the number of lanes along Water Street and adding a larger median to help make it safer for pedestrians. Striping has already begun.
The city has some work to do if it wants to become a more pedestrian-friendly city, Downtown Mobile Alliance President and CEO Elizabeth Stevens told attendees at the organization’s annual luncheon Friday, Sept. 15.
Stevens said city planners in the 1970s focused on making the downtown area more car friendly, sending the area on a “downward spiral.”
“What we forgot in our rush to accommodate cars is that a well-designed city increases the opportunity for human interaction,” she said. “It leads to more meaningful human interactions.”
She said studies have shown that gross domestic product increases as a city’s density increases.
While recent efforts by the city and the organization have had a positive impact in the form of 4 percent growth in downtown population from 2000 to 2010, Stevens hopes the upward trajectory can continue with ongoing changes.
“We expect to see growth of 70 percent between the 2010 and 2020 censuses,” she said.
Some areas of improvement include more walkable streetscapes, encouraging pedestrian uses over vehicle use. There should be an increase in residential housing options as well as more access to the waterfront.
Urban planner Jeff Speck agrees the city could make changes to attract more visitors and residents downtown.
“There are things that are about to be built wrong,” he said. “They’ll just encourage more driving.”
One of the changes Speck suggests is be to reduce the number of lanes on some of the streets. More lanes and wider streets encourage drivers to speed, he said. On average, a two-lane road can handle 10,000 vehicles per day. The only streets downtown with more than 4,000 vehicles per day are Government and Broad streets, Speck said. Yet, he added, a number of streets have more than two lanes. Springhill Avenue, Speck said, could “easily be two lanes.”
Canal Street, Speck said, would benefit from a reduction of lanes. If funding is an issue, simply restriping the street could benefit pedestrians.
The addition of parallel parking encourages drivers to slow down and more pedestrians to use the sidewalks, Speck said. Narrower streets could also give opportunities for bike lanes or more parallel parking.
Speck also suggested the planting of “street trees” as a way to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. He encouraged the city to look at planting more live oaks.
“I love your trees,” he said. “Plant big trees. Streets with trees are safer.”
Editor’s note: According to ALDOT, the average daily traffic on I-10 was around 76,000 vehicles in 2017, not 100,000. Traffic counts for Springhill Avenue west of Broad Street were similar to those of Government Street. Traffic counts downtown were not immediately available and the cruise passenger numbers could not be confirmed by press time.
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