Friday will see a small but important celebration in downtown Yankton when the ribbon is officially cut on the Walnut St. reconstruction project.
It’s important not because it signifies the opening of Walnut St. In fact, the roadway has been open for almost a year and its new features have been enjoyed (or, in the case of some of the landscaping elements built into the sidewalks, complained about) by the public for many months. So, Friday’s ceremony really doesn’t open up any new territory.
But it does represent another piece in the puzzle that comprises the larger vision of what the downtown Yankton area — known now as the Meridian District — ultimately could be.
The rejuvenated Walnut area may be a relatively modest step in and of itself, but it must be considered as part of a larger plan that includes the relatively new Meridian Plaza and, of course, the Meridian Bridge itself.
The future of this area has been a topic of discussion for years, even before Meridian Bridge became the popular pedestrian structure it is now. The bridge as a pedestrian structure was certainly the first major piece to come online, and it has been a centerpiece of development ever since.
Along the way, there has been discussion about what to do with the area around the bridge, and that gave birth to the Meridian Plaza concept, which is quickly evolving into one of Yankton’s most popular public spaces. It’s not so much a park — there is no playground equipment, but there are some artistic items for kids to use — as it is a green space that’s being embraced for an increasing number of uses. The “Music at the Meridian” summer series, for example, has helped draw people to the area who might not have visited it before. Last week’s Hispanic Cultural Celebration drew a good crowd, as did Saturday’s “Walk a Mile” event. Thus, the utility of the plaza and its lawn space is becoming apparent and increasingly attractive.
In many ways, the Walnut project is an extension of this. Years ago, there was a proposal put forward, mostly as one option among many artistic visions, of turning the 200 block of Walnut St. into a plaza itself, removing vehicle traffic in favor of splash pads and benches similar to what are now found at the Meridian Plaza to the immediate south. (In short, the 200 block would have mostly functioned the way it does during the Harvest Halloween Festival, which cordons off the block for various activities.) This idea never gained traction, but it set the stage for the overall reconstruction that’s now in place.
The Walnut project is now a great fit with Meridian Plaza, and that will be a plus for the growth of the Meridian District in the future.
All this will also get a boost once the water treatment plant is done, or at least when the bike trail below the bridge is opened, which is expected this fall. Right now, Meridian Plaza is almost essentially cut off from Riverside Park, a fact that was inconveniently apparent during the Fourth of July festivities and Riverboat Days. Once that pathway is reestablished, both the plaza and the park should benefit from the inter-connectivity.
The Walnut project is the next step in an ongoing development in the downtown area that only makes the Meridian District more appealing, which increases its potential. And that will be a good thing for everyone.