HAMPTON — On paper, the Newmarket Creek Park and Trail system will wind through the city's Coliseum Central business district, offering visitors a reprieve from the area's commercial atmosphere.
Bikers, walkers and kayakers could walk the estimated $11 million pathway from the Power Plant of Hampton Roads, over Interstate 64, to Air Power Park along Mercury Boulevard.
But more than four years after the project's master plan was completed by Vanesse, Hangen, Brustilin Inc., no physical work has begun on the project, even though the city has spent more than $3.5 million to buy properties along North Armistead Avenue and Freeman Drive for the trail.
Large portions of the path also wind through low-lying areas known to flood after heavy rains.
The city has spent the past eight years buying land and homes along Newmarket Creek, with the hopes of building a recreational trail that spans the city's largest commercial area. At times, the city has paid property owners well above the assessed value for those properties.
Owning the land also gives the city control over what kind of development is built along the creek and Coliseum Lake, City Manager Mary Bunting said.
Hampton owns or has permission to access almost every property needed for the 3.3-mile trail, said Amy Jordan, the city's Economic Development Department redevelopment manager.
A master plan for the project completed by the consultant shows the trail crossing North Armistead Avenue at two newly purchased properties.
Completed in 2007, the master plan says the trail will "include promenades, a raised boardwalk/upland trail network, and trail heads or waysides. Amenities will include attractive gateway treatments and landscaping, interpretive/educational elements, and public art displays."
Trail's first phase
In 2007, Hampton worked out an agreement with Sandler at Coliseum Central LLC to earmark $436,596 to build an initial phase of the trail on Sandler's proposed H2O development less than a half-mile east of the Hampton Coliseum.
H2O is a multi-phase condominium and town house project along Coliseum Lake.
"We never received those payments in full," said Jordan, of Sandler's commitment to the trail. "Those construction documents are done and ready to go, but the funding isn't in place yet."
Jordan said it is unclear when work on H2O's phase of the trail will begin.
Fewer than 30 of the proposed 481 units have been built in H2O, even though developer Sandler at Coliseum Central received $9.4 million in bonds in 2007 from the Community Development Authority to complete various parts of the project's infrastructure.
Three condominiums with prices ranging from $209,900 to $215,000 remain available to buy, according to Chesapeake Homes, the Virginia Beach-based agent selling the units.
The H2O project changed hands last spring after the developer defaulted on its debts. The new owner, Atlanta-based Cygnus H20, plans to continue construction, according to authority officials.
Messages left for Christopher Swann and Andy Cummings, principals of Cygnus, were not returned.
Next summer, the city is scheduled to start work on a trail phase at the Pine Chapel Road bridge crossing I-64, Jordan said.
The project will realign the roadway making room for walkers and bicyclists to cross from Power Plant of Hampton Roads to Coliseum Drive.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has provided a grant of about $400,000 for the Pine Chapel Road phase.
Building an amenity-laden trail along Newmarket Creek could be a risky proposition.
"Flooding on the upper reaches of Newmarket Creek may be caused by heavy rains occurring any time of the year," a 2011 Federal Emergency Management Authority study of the creek states.
"Flooding may also occur as a result of intense rainfall produced by local summer thunderstorms or tropical disturbances," according to the report.
Jordan said raised boardwalks and promenades will help alleviate flooding, although portions of the trail may be under water after some storms.
"We will have areas that flood, but the design takes into account that issue," she said. "We won't put any amenities where we know there may be a flooding issue."
The trail's 55-page master plan does not address flooding other than to say: "In places where low spots along the trail trap water, trail surfaces should be raised or drains built to carry away water."
A March 2007 study by international engineering firm URS Corp. echoes FEMA's concerns.
Nearly all of the properties purchased by the city along Freeman Drive and North Armistead Avenue are within seven feet in elevation above flood-prone Newmarket Creek, according to URS
The firm, which has offices in Norfolk, Newport News and Richmond, was hired by the city to study flood control issues along Newmarket Creek.
URS recommended the city take protective measures just to prevent flooding in neighborhoods along the creek by building a floodgate where Mercury Boulevard crosses Newmarket Creek. The measure would reduce the effects of heavy rains and give the creek room to swell before spilling over its banks, according to the study.
That gate, however, would cost the city close to $4.2 million to install and would require permits from the state and federal governments.
"The need for the project is strong ... permitting and grant application work should be started without delay," URS wrote in its report.
The flood gate is still an option, although there are no plans as of yet to build it, Hampton spokeswoman Robin McCormick wrote in response to questions about the trail project.
Without such a dam, neighborhood storm drainage systems could become overwhelmed by storm surges, the consultant wrote.
"Drainage and flooding problems are well recognized along Newmarket Creek, and continue to be a problem even after the debris was removed from the floodway," the URS study states.
Jordan said the trail system will be built piece by piece — the master plan calls for six sections — and there are no deadlines for its completion. She also stressed that costs tagged to each section are estimates.
"The trail will serve tourists, businesses and residents and the community between those commercial spaces," Jordan said. "It will be a great way for people to connect."
Newmarket Creek Park and Trail project
Estimated Total Cost: $11 million
Location: A promenade around Coliseum Lake; includes a public dock for non-motorized boats. Section extends to a raised boardwalk and trail along Newmarket Creek toward North Armistead Avenue.
Estimated construction cost: $1,818,600
Location: Trail extends across North Armistead Avenue and continues northeast to a raised boardwalk and trail toward the east side of Oxford Trail Apartments.
Estimated construction cost: $2,070,189
Location: A pair of loop trails around Lake Hampton to a nearby pocket park.
Estimated construction cost: $1,645,020
Location: A trail on both sides of Hampton Coliseum. A trail would need to be coordinated with future developers on the currently vacant areas.
Estimated construction cost: $2,816,540
Location: A shared path for walkers and bikers along Pine Chapel Road, extending along the I-64 bridge. Construction is scheduled for 2013.
Estimated construction cost: $1,129,240
Location: Trail connecting Pine Chapel Road to a path around Bass Pro Lake, includes kayak launch, fishing pier, parking and picnic shelter.
Estimated construction cost: $1,489,510
Source: Newmarket Creek Park and Trail System master planCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun