Southern Indiana

The group behind a major park in Southern Indiana has pitched its recreational and ecological benefits for months, but a new report suggests it may also be a financial boon for the region.

River Heritage Conservancy (RHC) says the construction and operation of Origin Park will create more than 3,200 jobs, according to a new financial impact analysis conducted by the consulting group HR&A Advisors. The park, along with an “outdoor adventure” attraction within its confines, is estimated to generate around $265 million in economic activity.

“It puts numbers behind the horizon line we’re always aiming at — that more can be done, more can be expected,” said RHC executive director Scott Martin. “If greatness can be done anywhere, it can be done here, and we will expect great results as well.”

HR&A vice chair Candace Damon presented findings of the economic report at a breakfast event Thursday. Dozens of representatives from local stakeholders — including nonprofits and governing bodies of Clarksville, Jeffersonville, Clark County and Floyd County — attended the gathering. New Albany is the only major municipality near the proposed property that hasn’t endorsed Origin Park.

During her presentation, Damon said the effects of building Origin Park fall under three umbrellas: brand impact, economic impact and equity impact.

“The value of imagination and joy is the most important for parks and park systems,” Damon said. “But that’s something that’s hard to quantify and even harder to monetize. And therefore, what we wanted to look at was the capacity of this potentially great park to improve the image of the region.”

Origin Park could attract between 2,750 and 4,550 new, educated workers to the area, Damon said. Those new residents and workers fall under the “brand impact” category, since the park would bring in new amenities that make Southern Indiana a more enticing place to live.

That increase in population could then generate between $163 million and $325 million in new net expenditures locally, including housing, retail and restaurants.

“It’s enough total spending to pay for the capital cost of the park in the first generation of its operating income,” Damon said. “And that, I think, is really the most powerful argument for why to invest in this park, because this park is so special.”

Construction of Origin Park will create nearly 1,900 jobs, including construction workers, contractors and landscapers. It’s projected that park operations will create an additional 40 permanent jobs.

Origin Park visitors could spend an additional $8 million to $23 million in Southern Indiana annually, according to the impact study, and it could also increase median home values by up to $11,200.

Damon said the park will also have an impact on local health, since it fills a gap in usable greenspace along the Ohio River. Land that will eventually hold Origin Park is a less-than 15-minute bike ride from the downtowns of Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany.

“I think the potential for this great park to strengthen this region by building on the advantages of proximity to density — while also celebrating the alternative, more affordable lifestyle that’s available on this side of the river — is really extraordinary, and I look forward to seeing you succeed,” Damon said.

RHC is also planning to include an “outdoor adventure park” within Origin Park. Designs aren’t final, but Thursday’s presentation included an image of people whitewater rafting on a waterway. Origin Park will be built along the Ohio River and Silver Creek, which separates Clark and Floyd counties.

“The park always had to incorporate an activity center that motivates our community to get outdoors in a very strong way,” Martin said. “Blending it into it so it’s a walkable destination is a big piece as well. That’s lagging a little bit on the rest of the master plan, so that’s why we’re evaluating it around a bunch of options.”

Origin Park’s master plan includes nearly 600 acres of historically industrial land in Clark and Floyd counties. It’s expected to cost around $155 million to construct.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.