BY BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (News and Tribune) - Holes and grass cutouts dot the softball field formerly located in Colston Park, holes that will eventually determine if anything can be built there.
Anne Bader, owner of Corn Island Archeology LLC, said work began on a long-delayed study to determine whether or not construction can proceed along Mulberry Street in downtown Jeffersonville.
The city of Jeffersonville has been interested in developing the Colston Park site for some time, but it has been held up partially because of a former cemetery that was discovered on the property. In June, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore unveiled his vision to develop the property into Rose Hill Commons by creating a mixed-use development with retail space and brownstones that line the street.
Development on the site stalled because requests by the city's Redevelopment Commission to acquire the deed from the Parks Authority were denied. The parks authority — which is comprised of city council members — has said that before it hands over the land, a more developed proposal needs to be in place and further study needs to be conducted on a Civil War-era gravesite in the park.
At the redevelopment commission meeting in August, a contract was approved to allow Corn Island Archeology to move forward with a phase II, and possibly a phase III study on the site. The cost of the phase II study is $33,000, according to the contract in place with the city.
"The investigation is required in anticipation of the proposed construction of brownstone residences along the west side of Mulberry Street," according to the contract.
WHAT THE STUDY WILL DO
A small crew began investigating Colston Park on Monday.
Bader explained work will take place in phases — stripping the soil in the park to get below the fill dirt to see what features are in the backyards of the houses that lined the street in the 1860s.
According to the contract with the city, the testing will take place on 1.67 acres, 10 percent of which must be hand-excavated to examine the site. The purpose of the phase II study is to determine if the remains at site are eligible for listing to the National Register of Historic Places.
"Based on previous investigations, it appears likely that the site will meet eligibility criteria, but the phase II investigation may reveal that considerable disturbances are present at the site," according to the contract.
Once phase II is completed, it will be determined if a phase III study is required. If the additional study is performed, findings would be accepted in a single report, which would allow potential construction to move forward more quickly.
"If we start finding stuff, it will go longer," Bader said.
Within a month, the field work is expected to be complete, but it may take a bit longer for a report to be turned over to the city — about two to four months, Bader said. The excavation will not extend farther than 120 feet from the road, because the development that has been discussed by Moore sits only along the frontage of Mulberry Street. Bader said that beyond 120 feet, the crews believe that an alley existed, and beyond the alley was the Old Jeffersonville City Cemetery.
"We do not want to go into the cemetery," she said.
But she added that regardless of what the company finds, it will not stop their progress. Even if remains are found in the area being investigated, Bader said the excavation of the site would stop until it was determined whether or not crews would stop excavating in that area and go around the spot in question, or if the remains or artifacts would be removed following Indiana state law and allow the work to proceed.
While excavation is underway, Bader said the city has agreed to increase the police presence in the area to protect the site from anyone coming on the property in search of artifacts.
With work ongoing to prepare Colston Park for potential development, nearby a similar plan is underway.
Jeffersonville-based API has an agreement in place to purchase Rose Hill Residences, a former elementary school on Maple Street, in order to convert the space into a mixed-use development. API was scheduled to close on the property Thursday
Eric Goodman, vice president of development with API, said the development plan for the 30,000-square-foot former schoolhouse is for retail businesses to locate on the first floor and a second floor will be added to the existing building with condominiums or apartments located above the retail space.
He said the site is likely to house between 25 to 40 units. Goodman said the developers have not determined what might be the price point of the housing. API has also yet to determine the retailers that will eventually locate in the building, but said there is significant interest from national companies.
"We have long-lasting relationships with many national brand retailers," Goodman said. "We do have interest from our national brands and retailers."
API was in the running for a development project at the corner of 10th and Spring Streets, but the project was awarded to White Reach Development. When API presented its proposal to develop that site, it listed among the businesses that had signed letters of intent to locate in API's development as Starbucks, Qdoba and Verizon.
Goodman said API chose the former school building because of the potential of the area.
The mixed-use development on Maple Street will sit on the north side of Big Four Station, the two-block park under construction at the foot of the Big Four Bridge. When the bridge ramp opens on the Indiana side, and the development is finished, it will be well-positioned at the end of the park hoping to draw in some of the 45,000 pedestrians and 4,500 bicyclists that were counted using the bridge via the Kentucky ramp during a nine-day period in June.
"We want to give those pedestrians a reason to stay and spend some money in Jeffersonville," Goodman said.
But he added the development isn't just an ideal location for capitalizing on the pedestrian traffic.
"It's not just a pedestrian project, it's vehicle traffic, too," Goodman said.
He added when the Ohio River Bridges Project is completed, a new northbound exit ramp will dump traffic right in that area.
EXPANDING INTO COLSTON?
The anticipated combined pedestrian and vehicle traffic is one of the reasons Moore is pushing for the development in Colston Park.
"We're excited about making that property into a money-maker," he said. "I'm just thrilled that we have investors champing at the bit and ready to build something there. It's valuable property and it's going to finally be utilized the way it should be."
Moore said several developers have expressed interest in the site.
While the development Moore envisions along Mulberry Street abuts the Rose Hill Residences property being developed by API, Goodman said the company does not have specific plans to develop the site, although it may be interested in the property.
But first, it must be determined what, if anything, could be constructed there.
Goodman said once the studies are completed and the city has figured out what can go at the Colston Park site, API could possibly entertain the idea of expanding its project.
"Right now, we don't have any definitive plans for that parcel," he said, referring to Colston Park.
However, Goodman said he hopes the city will partner with the company in developing a more expansive plan for downtown Jeffersonville.
"I hope there is an opportunity to allow API to create a comprehensive masterplan from 10th and Spring [streets] to the river," Goodman said. "We couldn't be more proud to be part of the growth downtown."