Feature Article - March 2015
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Waterfront Access

Clever Planning, Activities Help Draw Visitors

By Deborah L. Vence


You have to understand the water body that you have, the depth, the slope, if it's swimmable water. Is there a way to enhance water quality, circulation systems, water quality, to be more adaptive to swimming? If it's not swimming quality, how are you getting in and out of the water with stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, a docking facility?

"A key element in developing waterfront spaces is providing a variety of experiences and places that enable users to exist within the space in a way that is comfortable to them," noted Scott Jordan, a principal with Civitas Inc., a Denver-based urban design studio and strategic consultancy that was the lead designer in collaboration with Spurlock Poirier and Project Design Consultants of San Diego for the new North Embarcadero Waterfront Esplanade in San Diego.

Jordan said that "Inherent in most waterfronts, it is the serenity of simply gazing out over the water that draws most visitors to the water's edge.

"For our North Embarcadero project we were provided with a ready-made trip generation in the form of the USS Midway Museum, multiple water taxis, and up to three cruise ships docking immediately adjacent to our waterfront project," he said.

"The key to our developing our design for the North Embarcadero was to provide a design that can feel comfortable and withstand the large numbers of users during peak cruise and tourist times, while providing intimate spaces that enable daily users and residents to enjoy the serenity of the waterfront experience during off-peak hours," he said.

Inherent in providing multiple spaces and experiences is something called "experiential triangulation" where users are provided opportunities to move from one experience to another, which creates the opportunity for chance encounters with other users and friends.

"While community needs, ecosystems and budgets vary widely from one project to another, experiential triangulation remains important in all for creating an inviting visitor experience, as does clearly grounding a project in its specific community and setting to create a unique sense of place," he explained. "For the North Embarcadero project, for example, we related materials and palette to colors and materials occurring in the natural environment."

"We also tied the project to a broader cultural and community context by selecting a California artist to design graphics, art and structures that add an element of fun as well as hiring local fabricators to custom-design many aspects of the project from pavers to benches to railing," Jordan said.

Conduct a Complete Evaluation

From a municipal standpoint, Romens said that conducting a comprehensive assessment of your natural resource is key.

"What is the body of water that you are working with, and what does it offer? And, what are the benefits and limitations? Understand your water depths and currents, water variation, how high it goes up and down, the bottom of the lake or your river, and where you have natural access points. [It's important to] do a very in-depth assessment of the natural resources you have," he said.

"Once you understand where the opportunities are, you can then leverage that. The waterfront is the most valuable piece of property they have. Also, when you are developing waterfronts, you get everything that's usable immediately. I say that, for example, if you put in docks or an aqua park, a kayak rental type thing, the people visiting that location get the benefit of that, and all those dollars are visible.

"With an aquatic facility you have so much money and infrastructure. You have concrete and mechanical systems, 25 percent of investment is in water features and 75 percent is in infrastructure. With a waterfront you are not redirecting [anything]. You are seeing all the money you spent. It's a good ROI because your customers are using that," he explained.

On the resort side, one case example involves Romens' company creating an aqua park on water for a client, rather than a waterpark. The client sold 22,000 day passes in 10 weeks for $10 apiece. In another case, Romens' company completed a large aqua park for a Florida client; the end result was that people are booking rooms at the resort because they have waterfront space there.