Mother Nature did not exactly cooperate with this year’s Summer Motion concerts at Veterans Riverfront Park, but despite all the rain, the music was great, the food was delicious, the fireworks were excellent although slightly obscured by the clouds, and the crowds were much larger than expected given the inclement weather. All in all, it was another fun and entertaining three nights on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Ashland. Summer Motion then moved to Central Park, where it will end tonight.
Now that the Summer Motion concerts are over for 2013, will the beautiful riverfront park remain mostly unused for the other 362 days of the year? Probably, but we can always hope, can’t we?
Since the restored and expanded riverfront park opened in 2011, it has been woefully underused. We’re certain that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell did not stick a $10 million earmark for the riverfront into an unrelated bill in order for the riverfront to attract people to Ashland only three nights a year, but that is essentially what has happened.
The park is an unfinished work in progress, and it will cost millions of more dollars that the city does not have for all the planned riverfront projects to be completed. With Sen. McConnell now a tea party disciple who has vowed to no longer sneak earmarks for pet projects into larger bills, the chance of more money coming from Washington to fund more riverfront projects are slim.
Nevertheless that does not mean Veterans Riverfront Park needs to continue to be one of the Tri-State’s most underused pieces of real estate.
While the Summer Motion concerts are free and that certainly is one reason why they draw such large crowds, the riverfront is also an ideal setting for concerts that are not free. But in order for other concerts to come to Ashland’s riverfront, the Ashland Board of City Commissioners would have to rent the riverfront park to private concert promoters who would charge admission for the shows. The city commission also would have to allow liquor-by-the-event sales on the riverfront. To date, city leaders have resisted allowing either pay events or liquor sales on the riverfront, and until that changes, the riverfront will never reach its full potential
Scott Huffman and James Sharp both suggested during the Summer Motion concerts that the riverfront park would be an excellent place for a rib festival. Huffman said something similar to Rally on the River in Ironton would also draw visitors to the area. “If,” he added, “they would allow alcohol sales.”
But when Danny Craig, the director of Ashland Main Street, said he could bring a blues festival to the riverfront if it could sell liquor by the drink, the idea was quickly shot down by the city commission. There was a Christian youth rally on the riverfront, and while it drew a few complaints by its slowness in removing a bashed vehicle from the riverfront, that rally is just the type of activity for which the riverfront is ideal. It also is a good location for everything from revivals featuring well-known evangelists to boat races and other river events. The potential for the park is tremendous, but it will never be realized until the city commission becomes more flexible on its use.
Many people would like to see commercial development on the riverfront with a floating restaurant being the most requested attraction. However, riverboat restaurants in cities much larger than Ashland have gone out of business after drawing large crowds initially. The restaurants are great places to dine in the spring, summer and fall, but few people want to eat on a boat during the cold winter months. And once the novelty wears off, many people choose to eat at restaurants that are much easier to get to. Nevertheless, if a riverboat restaurant wants to locate in Ashland, then we would welcome it. Of course, it would need to allow alcohol sales to even consider docking at the Port of Ashland.
The city should appoint a task force representing a cross-section of the community — young people, those who live and work downtown, business leaders, senior citizens, those who regularly visit the riverfront, etc. — to develop a plan for using the riverfront as it now is, including what should be allowed in the park and what should be banned.
We’re certain that good people will disagree on how the park should be used, but surely everyone would agree that the beautiful park is too great of an asset to remain virtually unused for all but a few days a year.