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On the Riverfront

Courtesy Quad Cities CVB

For more than 40 years, beginning in 1887, Florence Martus faithfully greeted each ship entering or leaving the port of Savannah, Ga., waving a handkerchief during the day and a lantern at night. Today, ships moving up and down the Savannah River to the busy port are still greeted by Martus in the form of a bronze statue of her waving a handkerchief.

The Waving Girl statue is a popular photo opportunity on the Savannah riverfront, where history, commerce and tourism come together in an appealing mix.

“The riverfront is important to the city; it has been a lifeline for so many centuries for the economy and population,” said Erica Backus, public relations and marketing manager for the Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is one of our main tourism attractions and a central meeting place.”

Several American cities such as Savannah have recognized the importance of their riverfronts, in many cases revitalizing them into vibrant destinations for visitors. Here’s a look at a few riverfronts where groups can shop, dine, embrace local history and enjoy scenic views.

Quad Cities
With all five towns in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois facing the Mississippi River, the Big Muddy is an obvious focal point for visitors.

“According to visitor surveys, the river is always the No. 1 reason people are coming to the Quad Cities,” said Jessica Waytenick, marketing and communications manager for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau. “All of the downtowns face the river and take advantage of the river. It really is a highlight of the communities.”

The Quad Cities is composed of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.

To get out on the water, groups can take a variety of daily cruises from April through October aboard the Celebration Belle, an 850-person riverboat.

“The Channel Cat Water Taxi is a great way to hop around to downtown areas,” said Waytenick. “It’s an open-air, 35-passenger pontoon boat that goes to five different landings. It runs continuously on a one-hour loop, and you can got on and off as you want.”

Waytenick said Arsenal Island “is a great way to see what is going on on the river.”

The island contains the Mississippi River Visitor Center, where you can watch barges lock through Lock and Dam 15.

“You can learn about the working river. It’s not just for pleasure,” said Waytenick. “People are just amazed at the tonnage of grain and products that go up and down the river.”

The island is a working military facility, so a U.S picture form of identification is needed to access the island.
(800) 787-7800, ext. 100

Louisville, Ky.
The Louisville skyline along the Ohio River will get a distinctive new architectural feature this fall with the debut of a new 22,000-seat downtown arena that will be home to the University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball teams and a venue for concerts and conventions.

Courtesy Louisville CVB

The arena will join a stellar lineup of attractions that stretches along Main Street, many of which have views of the river just a short block away. With its combination of historic cast-iron, Victorian-era buildings and modern structures, the street has become a vibrant focal point for downtown development.

There are eight museums within walking distance on Museum Row on Main, along with the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the Tony Award-winning Actors Theatre.

Louisville has received national recognition for its development of Waterfront Park along the riverbank. “The park offers approximately 85 acres of green space,” said Susan Dallas, communications manager for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are lots of benches to sit on and watch the river go by.”

A new memorial to Abraham Lincoln, with a 12-foot statue of a young, beardless Lincoln sitting on a rock, a book in hand, looking out at the river, was dedicated in the park last June.

“Local but nationally known artist Ed Hamilton did the sculpture of Lincoln,”
said Dallas. “This is a great stop for groups.”

Groups can get out on the river year-round aboard the Spirit of Jefferson and from Memorial Day to Labor Day on the historic Belle of Louisville, which will have air conditioning for the first time this year.

There are several restaurants along Main Street and in Waterfront Park, and the arena is expected to generate more. “The arena has sparked renewed interest in bringing new places onto Main Street,” said Dallas. “A new Irish restaurant has just opened on Main, and several other casual eateries have announced plans to open along Main.”
(800) 626-5646

Providence, R.I.
The Moshassuck and Woonasquatucket rivers come together in downtown Providence to form the Providence River. For many years, those rivers were obscured by a large concrete bridge that was dubbed the world’s widest bridge.

Courtesy Providence/Warwick CVB

In the 1990s, the rivers were uncovered and moved.

“We broke up that concrete and really opened up the three rivers,” said Kristen Adamo, vice president for marketing and communications for the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are now a model for other cities.”

Cobblestone walkways flanked by park benches, trees and flowers run alongside the rivers, which are spanned by graceful pedestrian and vehicular Venetian-style bridges.

The ornate white-marble state Capitol and the Providence Place Mall overlook WaterPlace Park, whose stone-stepped amphitheater is used for summer concerts.

In a shift from the trend of large suburban shopping malls, the 11-year-old Providence Place is a huge shopping mall that sits downtown on the former site of railroad tracks, which were relocated underground.

The mall has more than 170 shops and boutiques, eight restaurants, a 16-screen movie complex, an IMAX theater and a glass-enclosed atrium that spans the Riverwalk. WaterPlace Park is also the starting point for WaterFire, which has garnered Providence worldwide acclaim.

“It really is an art installation,” said Adamo. “It is a series of more than 100 braziers, which are like metal bowls, placed in the water. They contain wood, which is set on fire. They wind through the three rivers.

“It starts at dusk and goes to around one in the morning. Music is piped in, and other performers are on stages near the event. It is very much a happening.”

WaterFire is held on selected weekends from May to October. Three Venetian gondolas ply the rivers during the warm-weather months.
(401) 456-0241

Sacramento, Calif.
When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the Sacramento River was a natural highway to the gold fields. “When the rush started in 1849, the gold miners would come up by boat from San Francisco and outfit themselves here before they went by horseback or on foot to the gold discovery site,” said Lucy Steffens, director of media relations for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Courtesy Sacramento CVB

Sacramento’s riverfront boomed with stores, saloons and bathhouses. After a period of serious decline in the mid-20th century, the area was revitalized to become a tourism center point of California’s capital.

Old Sacramento, a 28-acre area along the river, is a National Historic Landmark District with more than 125 original and reconstructed buildings that house stores, restaurants and museums in an Old West atmosphere complete with wooden sidewalks.

The museums include the California State Railroad Museum; the Sacramento History Museum; the California Military Museum; the restored Huntington and Hopkins hardware store, where the Transcontinental Railroad was planned; and the Eagle Theatre, a gold-rush-era playhouse where dramas are still performed.

“The Delta King, which is so connected to our riverfront, is now a hotel,” said Steffens. “It was basically a sister ship to the Delta Queen and, in the 1920s and 1930s, operated overnight between San Francisco and Sacramento. It is now a 42-room hotel docked right on the Sacramento River.”

The hotel’s Pilot House is one of several restaurants along the riverfront. And although it is not on the river, Steffens said, another interesting restaurant to visit that is part of Old Sacramento is the Firehouse

“It is original from 1883 and one of the first spots that opened in Old Sacramento,” she said. “For a long time, it was a celebrity and political hangout. It has early artwork in the dining room and a beautiful courtyard. It is an Old Sacramento institution.”

Hornblower Cruises is now offering historic river tours and dinner and brunch cruises on the Sacramento River from the L Street Landing dock in Old Sacramento.
(800) 292-2334

Montgomery, Ala.
The Alabama River is playing a major role in an expansive redevelopment of downtown Montgomery.

Courtesy Montgomery CVB

“The river is our main focus right now in downtown development,” said Morgan Berney, marketing and events coordinator for the Montgomery Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“In just the past year, we have brought in a riverboat and, in the past few years, an amphitheater that seats about 4,000.

“Our minor league baseball team, the Biscuits, the Double A team for the Tampa Bay Rays, is along the riverfront. They took an old train depot and converted it to a stadium.

“Across the street, the Alley is a new entertainment district. You can walk to it from the riverfront. It has space for bars, restaurants and retail. It is a New Orleans-style entertainment district with balconies.

“The new convention center is right there in the same block, as well as the visitors center. Everything is on the river.”

In 2008, a new Renaissance hotel opened next to the convention center, along with an adjacent 1,800-seat performing arts center and a 9,000-square-foot spa.

The Harriott II, a replica 19th-century riverboat, which docks beside the amphitheater, gives regular and specialty cruises on the river.
(334) 261-1100

Multistory former cotton warehouses that line Savannah’s River Street house a bevy of distinctive shops, ranging from typical souvenir shops to art galleries and boutiques, along with several restaurants, pubs and hotels.

“It is great to people watch, there is a lot of activity,” said Backus. “It is very festive. There are a couple of band shells with live performances on weekends. And we have some green spaces all along that are full of fountains and picnic areas.”

The first two levels of the buildings face River Street, and the upper levels face inland toward Bay Street. Cast-iron bridges that connect Bay Street to the buildings span a cobblestone street, Factors Walk, which also contains interesting shops.

One of the fascinating features along River Street is the huge ocean-going cargo ships from around the world on the Savannah River that seem close enough to touch.

“These ships are massive,” said Backus. “It is hard to believe that such large vessels come through downtown Savannah.”

There are several benches along the street from which to watch the ships. They can also be seen from many of the restaurants, which have large windows and outdoor seating.

The Savannah Riverboat Co. gives tours on the river on large paddleboats, and streetcars travel the length of the street on a regular basis. “You can get from one end to the other very quickly,” said Backus.
(800) 444-2427