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Between the rivers: Unity Point plans emerging

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Public Works Director Chris Jenkins said the overlook under the Robert Redden Footbridge at Bridgepoint Plaza could be reopened as early as summer 2019.

"It's a complicated project," he noted.

That's why the city's Public Works Committee is recommending the design/build contract go to JHC Corp. of Peachtree City.

Public Services Manager Kirk Milam said the company — which replaced the Crescent Avenue bridge in 2014 — has experience with riverbank stabilization and the environmental issues involved.

JHC and the other bidder, Cevian Design, offered the same price: the amount earmarked for the project in the 2013 special purpose, local option sales tax package.

Built before the 1996 Olympics, Unity Point was a terraced park and favorite downtown fishing spot at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers. Floods and fluctuating river levels eroded the lower walls, which were repaired several times before the site was closed to the public in 2010.

"It's gated off for insurance purposes," City Manager Sammy Rich said. "We want to change that."

Jenkins said the project would be done in stages and includes an evaluation of the corrosion on the middle span of the footbridge. JHC will do that first and provide a cost estimate.

The City Commission will decide on that work before the company starts on the design/build plan for Unity Point that remains within the budget.

"The progressive approach gives us a way to manage the spending of the money throughout the project and emphasizes transparency," Jenkins said.

A major expense at the park is expected to be stabilizing the riverbank and protecting it from future floods. Officials hope JHC will be able to recommend several options after a geotechnical analysis.

"Unity Point is our No. 1 focus, but this is an outlier of uncertainty," Milam told the committee.

After that, a design would be drawn up for the park and riverwalk plaza. A group working to restore the 1930s Myra H. riverboat has expressed interest in making Unity Point its final home but the committee did not discuss specifics Wednesday.

"We know we want to make it look good," Jenkins said. "We want a better overall experience for our citizens."