A vision of people shopping, strolling and dining on the river's edge was touted at Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony for the Clarksville Marina at Fairgrounds Park.
"This is not just going to be a place for someone with a boat to park a boat," said Greg Batts, the city's private partner investing in the marina project. He said the finished project will also include "walking trails, ball fields, hiking, restaurants, shops."
Batts said the marina will be a destination in itself, an area with an artsy identity, perfect for people-watching, with "a Key West type of feel."
"Really, this is Key West for Tennessee's Top Spot," Batts said, making use of the city's slogan.
Batts, selected by the city to be the marina's owner/operator, was part of a ceremony led by Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper and city Chief of Staff Jim Durrett.
The City Council appropriated $32 million for the marina project in December 2008, and Fairgrounds Park was closed last month to allow site preparation to begin.
Piper pointed out that a marina has been the vision for Fairgrounds Park for more than 30 years. He said a bicentennial book in 1978 announced that a marina would be built on that spot that same year. Although it was delayed by a few decades, he said he is thrilled to see the realization of that idea.
"It's a very proud moment for me," Piper said. "I know it is for the City Council."
Batts praised Piper for making the push to finally get it done.
"It took the leadership of the marina committee and the guidance of the mayor to get this through," Batts said.
At the end of the ceremony, members of the City Council joined Piper and Batts along with engineers, architects and designers who are working on the project to ceremonially break ground with shiny blue-ribboned shovels.
More than 150 people on hand for the event applauded, also proud to be part of the day. Among them was Montgomery County Historian Eleanor Williams.
"I saw some history go, and now I'm seeing history being made," Williams said, referring to the loss to fire Wednesday night of the 1899 Bethlehem United Methodist Church, and the groundbreaking for the new marina.
Janese Cleary came to the groundbreaking with members of her staff at A&S All Support. She said she and her husband have long wished for this day.
"This is a fantastic project," she said. "Coming from San Antonio, my husband and I had talked many times about how great it would be to have something here like San Antonio. I don't think the city of Clarksville understands how great this is going to be, having the marina here."
Huge earth-moving machines stood at the ready when the ceremony ended, waiting to redistribute one million cubic yards of ground to refashion Fairgrounds Park. As dozens of people filed into their cars and out of the park, now closed to the public, the huge machines lurched into action, making progress yard by yard.
"Everywhere you look in Clarksville, you see gigantic steps being made," Piper said. "Today is a large step for our city."
Though work on the Fairgrounds is expected to last into the spring of 2011, the marina has a target completion date of fall 2010.