History of Riverfront Park
About Riverfront Park
Fredericksburg celebrated the opening of Riverfront Park and the launch of Fredericksburg Main Street’s Otter-ly Amazing Fredericksburg Project on May 21, 2022.
Riverfront Park was awarded Best New Facility in 2023 by the Virginia Recreation and Park Society.
Riverfront Park, located at 701 Sophia Street in historic downtown, is a nearly four-acre property. It features fantastic Rappahannock River views alongside open space, event space, an interactive water feature, a meadow, and a children’s play area.
As the area’s first “smart park,” Riverfront Park is the first park in the region to provide solar-powered lighting, free public Wi-Fi, flood sensors and security cameras. The Wi-Fi service enables visitors to access the Internet through their own wireless-enabled devices.
The City’s planned improvements to Riverfront Park are continuing to move forward in 2023, with the public restrooms nearing the final planning stages. City staff and the design teams have been working diligently to ensure that the building’s plans will work within the known floodplain as outlined in FEMA’s April 2023 Flood Insurance Rate Maps. The restroom building has been fully funded, the design has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Architectural Review Board, and the project is currently in the permitting stage. The restrooms are expected to be in place for the 2023 holiday season.
Thanks to partnerships
In 2018, Fredericksburg was the very first community to collaborate with the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) Smart Communities initiatives. Thanks to the city’s partnership and a $75,000 grant from VIPC, more expansive plans for Riverfront Park were integrated into the park design with smart technology which will be implemented in phases.
“It’s exciting to see the early vision come to life in such a great community space that incorporates some of the latest Internet of Things and public Wi-Fi technologies as part of the community place-making activity,” said Dave Ihrie, chief technology officer and vice president of strategic initiatives for VIPC. “We look forward to continued collaboration with Fredericksburg as a leading innovation partner.”
Designed to be a hub for downtown events and culture, Riverfront Park was the natural home base for the mother otter sculpture in Fredericksburg Main Street’s Otter-ly Amazing Trail. This exciting partnership between the downtown business community and the City of Fredericksburg seeks to promote the precious Rappahannock River ecosystem and the city’s rich arts community through an interactive art experience in historic downtown.
"We look forward to the public ‘hunting’ for the bronze river otters downtown and enjoying all the wonderful restaurants, coffee shops and retail opportunities along the way," said April Peterson, lead on the Otter-ly Amazing Fredericksburg Project. "The otter will now proudly serve as a symbol of the health and vitality of our city, and each otter sculpture will inform residents and tourists about the attributes of beautiful Downtown Fredericksburg."
The public is invited to participate! Find out more online at: www.fxbgotters.com.
Preparing for the future while honoring the past
Riverfront Park is located across the street from the city’s public parking garage, where abundant parking is available and is free for the first three hours. Restrooms are being planned for the park, but for now a public restroom is 440 feet away at the visitor center at 706 Caroline Street.
Riverfront Park is also prepared for future improvements. The City of Fredericksburg has received a $1.2 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help construct a performance stage and restrooms. Riverfront Park was designed with a future stage and restrooms in mind and the plumbing and electrical connections are already in place where the stage and restrooms will be installed, pending new FEMA map updates expected next year. The park will be a central hub for pedestrian activity as Fredericksburg continues to pursue trail development and eventually link Motts Run Reservoir to Dixon Park.
The park’s signage will work to interpret and share the city’s rich history with new audiences. Six different archaeological investigations were conducted in the park area prior to construction. These revealed a rich history of activity in the area spanning from the prehistoric Native American presence through the Civil War to becoming a community hub in the 20th century. Construction at the park was carefully designed to leave some of the most significant findings intact, below the ground.
Turning the dream into reality
The park is a collaborative work to bring to life a vision which was outlined three decades ago. The City Council appointed the Riverfront Park Task Force, which labored through much of the past decade to bring ideas and budget estimates to the community. The Mayor and City Council identified the Riverfront Park as Priority #7 in their 2036 Vision work – which was created in 2016 – and directed staff to build the park in 2017. Design and engineering work concluded in 2018 and the project was put to bid for construction in 2019.
The park would not have been possible without the dedication of many citizen volunteers including the Riverfront Park Task Force and our Face the River friends. The City also thanks the many service providers who helped design and build this park, including but not limited to: Rhodeside and Harwell, Athena Construction Group, Downey and Scott, Dovetail Cultural Resources Group, Mutualink, Integrated Security Technologies and Tree Fredericksburg.
The city investment in Riverfront Park is a fraction of the more than $40 million in public investment – more than half of which went to the Commonwealth’s Chatham Bridge project – in the past decade in downtown with trails, colonial lights, brick pavers, small area plans, the public parking garage and more. These investments are meant to create sustainability for our business community as companies increasingly upgrade properties and create jobs in Downtown Fredericksburg.
Riverfront Park is open daily, closing from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. For more information, please visit our Riverfront Park page or call 540-372-1086.
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- News Construction of Riverfront Park Parking Changes 0220 (PDF)
Project Overview and Timeline
The City of Fredericksburg initiated efforts to design and construct the new Riverfront Park, which is a significant public space in Downtown Fredericksburg. For a detailed history of the project please see the timeline below and see this page: PROJECT DOCUMENTS.
- 2006 - Council adopts goals related to developing a riverfront park.
- 2007 - City manager contracts for concept design of park to be located at single city parking lot at end of Charlotte Street.
- January 2007 - Riverfront Task Force formed with representation from stakeholder organizations; task force recommends expansion of park to include purchasing properties on Sophia Street.
- 2007-2008 - Task force works with contracted landscape architect on concept design.
- 2008 - Design completed and approved; properties purchased and structures demolished; task force recommends interim measures so that park area can be used pending final detailed planning and construction.
- 2008-2011 - Break in planning due to recession.
- 2009 - Park used by public.
- 2011 - City Council adopts goals and initiatives for 2011-2013, including modifying existing concept and engaging design firm. In 2011, the City acquired the former Masonic Lodge riverfront property at 609 Sophia Street. This acquisition increased the amount of contiguous City-owned land along the riverfront.
- October 2011 - Riverfront Task Force reconvened to review concept plan and recommend a way forward.
- 2012 - City purchases Masonic Lodge property; task force provides key recommendations; City budget contains $200,000 for detailed design plan for Riverfront Park; Council prioritizes completion of park design; City issues RFP and interviews for design firm; Rhodeside and Harwell unanimously selected.
- 2012-13 - Break in planning pending selection and contracting design firm.
- 2013 - Contract finalized with Rhodeside and Harwell; task force meetings.
- 2014 - Rhodeside and Harwell works with task force and public; initial concept produced; Council puts on hold (survey, archaeological survey, etc.)
- 2014-15 - Break in planning due to Council postponing decision to move forward.
- 2015 - Rhodeside and Harwell contracted to produce Phase II – detailed design; begins working with task force on new design with limit of $5M.
- 2016 - Rhodeside and Harwell continues to work with the task force on detailed design, with periodic briefings to Council.
- 2018 - City Council directed staff in their Priority #8 to build Riverfront Park after more than a decade of work.
- 2020 - The construction of the Riverfront Park began in late February, 2020. City Council awarded a contract for construction of the park to Athena Construction of Triangle, Virginia. The start of construction requires the entire park property to be fenced, thus closing the public parking lot in the 700 block of Sophia Street as well as the parking area accessed across Sophia Street from Charlotte Street.
- 2021 - Riverfront Park had a partial opening to the public on Saturday, October 9 - the same day a ceremony was held to mark the completion of the nearby Chatham Bridge. Originally anticipated to open in the spring of 2021, construction was delayed due to supply chain issues and playground equipment safety inspections. Some fencing remains around the riverfront meadow and the open event space so that the vegetation can properly establish.
- May 21, 2022 - Riverfront Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.
- Fall 2023 - Public restroom building planned to be installed.
Organizations and Supporters
The City of Fredericksburg is extremely grateful to the huge cast of city staff, volunteers, community organizations, businesses and government support needed to bring Riverfront Park to fruition. Special thanks to all who were involved!
Riverfront Task Force:
George Solley - Chair
Kerry Devine - Council Representative
Matt Kelly - Council Representative
Lead Consultant / Landscape Architect - Rhodeside & Harwell
Downey & Scott
Dovetail Cultural Resources Group
Integrated Security Technologies
Doug Fawcett, Assistant City Manager
Bob Antozzi, Director of Parks, Recreation and Events
Jane Shelhorse, Director of Parks, Recreation and Events
Todd Brown, Director of Parks, Recreation and Events
Michael Ward, Assistant Director of Parks, City of Fredericksburg
Bill Freehling, Director of Economic Development and Tourism
Tim Ennis, Project Manager, Public Works