Ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrates Hannibal riverfront renovations

Mayor James Hark cuts the ribbon for the Hannibal riverfront on Thursday, July 22. Hannibal residents, Tom and Becky, and many individuals who made the project possible attended the celebration. Director of Central Services Andy Dorian said future additions for the project include a mobile bandstand for youth theater performances, gas and electricity access for the marina and a shelter in conjunction with the Rotary Club.

HANNIBAL — A large group gathered at the Hannibal riverfront on Thursday to celebrate with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and look at the new amenities.

Park Board member Beth Knight began the event by recognizing fellow board members and staff, introducing Andy Dorian, director of central services. Dorian talked about how there were “dozens and dozens of infrastructural issues going on”, including dredging issues at the old issue, a jetty wall beyond repair and sheet metal pilings that were failing or on the verge of failure. He said everyone discussed whether to address issues one at a time or to take care of everything “in one major project and try to do it right”.

Mayor James Hark talked about how the origins of the project dated back to 1996 with a riverfront plan that sat dormant for 20 years. In 2016, officials took a look at the series of issues needing to be addressed. He offered his thanks to “everyone who believed in the project”.

“So that’s what we decided to do, and that’s what we’ve accomplished. It was not without some bumps in the road. We weren’t expecting the second-worst flood of all time in the middle of it,” Dorian said. “But we persevered as Hannibalians always do, and we forged ahead and we got it done.”

Groundbreaking occurred in late 2018, with delays brought on by flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic. The renovations include new sidewalks, a new marina and boat ramp, docking locations for two large riverboats, along with the Mark Twain Riverboat and Canton Marine Towing. Large green spaces, a uniform rock wall, lighting and fencing round out the improvements, and trees were planted and picnic tables were recently added. Riverfront cobblestones were used to line the landscaping.

Dorian stressed the project continues to evolve over time, and when people ask when everything will be done, he responds “never”. Some future plans include a forthcoming shelter in conjunction with the Hannibal Rotary Club, gas and electricity access for the marina and a mobile bandstand for youth theater performances.

Dorian thanked private donors who gave more than $80,000 toward the project, and memorial plaques are fitted to the benches offering visitors a view of the river. He commended all the staff and crew with Hannibal Parks & Recreation, the Hannibal Street Department and the Hannibal Board of Public Works, along with contractor Bleigh Construction Co., Klngner and Associates, City Council members and everyone else who assisted throughout the process.

“It’s really exciting. You come down here, especially on a weekend or at night, and you see all the public using the facilities — just enjoying what we’ve built, Dorian said. “That really kind of makes you feel good and that you were glad to be a part of it.”

Mary Lynne Richards, recreation supervisor with Hannibal Parks & Recreation, was excited to see so many local residents come to the celebration.

“I love that so many Hannibal residents were able to attend the ribbon-cutting, because that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “Every morning, you see Hannibal residents walking, running, with their stroller, with their dog, on bicycles. This riverfront is being used 24/7.”

Park Board President Tom Batenhorst was excited to see the turnout for the celebration and what the renovation means for America’s Hometown.

“It’s a great day for Hannibal, it’s a great day for the people who visit Hannibal. The riverfront is truly for everybody — residents and tourists alike,” he said, agreeing with Dorian that “tweaks” and future additions would continue.

Hannibal’s official Tom and Becky, Jaxon Lay and Greta Welch, were among the large crowd circling the American flag as Hark cut the ribbon. Close by, the calliope on the Mark Twain Riverboat played celebratory music. Hark was thrilled about how visitors and local residents of all ages have been enjoying what he said makes Hannibal special.

“I view this riverfront as the single most significant piece of history to Hannibal. And while many of us — you ask about the history of Hannibal, you think of Mark Twain, Tom and Becky, Injun Joe, things of that nature. But looking at it from the perspective of why they were here and why Hannibal was here, was because of this riverfront,” Hark said, stressing Hannibal was formed through river trade of items like lumber and agricultural goods.

Hark described the riverfront as the “monument of this community,” and he said local residents and people from all over can enjoy Hannibal’s new riverfront.

“I refer to the riverfront as the big ice cream cone, and when the riverboats show up, that’s just the cherry on top of your ice cream,” he said. “It’s not just about the riverboats. It’s not just about tourism. It’s not just about the people — it’s a whole package. And even without the riverboats, this would still be a fantastic asset.”

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