By 1980, American cities were discovering the value of revitalizing their waterfronts, and a small group of visionaries came together at a public seminar to imagine how a revitalized Riverfront could benefit Hartford and East Hartford. A year later, a non-profit organization – Riverfront Recapture – was created to lead a public-private effort to reconnect Hartford and East Hartford to the river in ways that would enhance residents’ quality of life and make the region a better place to live, work, and play.
Restoring public access between downtown Hartford and the river was central to the riverfront plan. Fortunately, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) was planning a major redesign of the I-91/I-84 interchange in downtown Hartford. Riverfront Recapture asked ConnDOT to use this opportunity to help restore pedestrian access to the Riverfront. In 1984, ConnDOT agreed to include Riverfront access in its plans by rebuilding a section of I-91 at ground level and building a landscaped plaza over the new highway to reunite downtown Hartford with the river. Recognizing that it would take more than a decade to complete the project, Riverfront Recapture turned its attention to the first phases of park development at Charter Oak Landing in Hartford and Great River Park in East Hartford. Incremental progress, including a restoration of Hartford’s historic Riverside Park, continued the Riverfront transformation as construction moved forward on the downtown Riverfront Plaza, which was completed in 1999. The project has earned national recognition and awards, including the Waterfront Center’s Excellence on the Waterfront Top Honor Award.
Riverfront Recapture transformed itself in 1998 when it took on management responsibility for the Riverfront parks, working in partnership with the City of Hartford and the Town of East Hartford, while it continues to plan for additional access to the river. Riverfront Recapture is now responsible for all programming of events and activities in the Riverfront parks. In 1998, the Metropolitan District (MDC) agreed to work with Riverfront Recapture to provide daily maintenance of the parks and to provide funding for a park rangers program that is administered by Riverfront Recapture. The MDC, the region’s water and sewer authority, has played a key role in improving the river’s water quality so that it can be used for recreational activity. Planning continues for even more extensions of riverwalks on both banks and other Riverfront enhancements.
Click here for a timeline of Riverfront progress.