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City of Fishers Developing $15.5M Geist Waterfront Park

by: Jack Quigley
Browning Day and Meyer Najem are collaborating with the City of Fishers to develop a 70-acre waterfront park at Geist Reservoir on property acquired by the city in 2018.

Located south of 113th Street on the east side of Olio Road, Geist Waterfront Park will introduce a public beach, a boardwalk, natural playscapes, and other engaging amenities to a Fishers community in search of a more dynamic and diverse park system.

“To help the City of Fishers achieve these goals, they reached out to us due to our experience in park master planning and creative, leading-edge design help create a vision for what this site could eventually be,” said Drew Braley, Studio Director of Landscape Architecture at Browning Day. “Once a vision was set – with input from across the community – the design and construction teams worked together to create the final plans and check them against the budget at incremental stages.”

Geist Waterfront Park is planned to be developed in three phases. Phase 1, which broke ground in mid-2021, is scheduled to last until 2023 and is estimated to cost $15.5 million. Phases 2 and 3 will be developed as funds become available to the City of Fishers.

Project Phasing and Elements
Phase 1 is divided into two parts – Phase 1A and 1B – and both parts of Phase 1 will focus on developing the western half of the site and an area of the park called The Landing. Phases 2 and 3, which will develop the eastern and central portions of the site, will be worked on over the course of the next five to 10 years, said Kevin McGovern, Executive Vice President and Partner at Meyer Najem.

Amenities coming in Phase 1 include a two-acre beach, a kayak launch, picnic shelters, and a gateway entrance – which McGovern described as the main focal point of Phase 1. Other elements of The Landing scheduled to complete in Phase 1 include a beach-side playscape and a prefabricated restroom building.

Engaging Fishers Residents
Community engagement sessions conducted by Browning Day and the City of Fishers during the early planning stages of the Geist Waterfront Park project gave Fishers residents a platform to express their desires and concerns for the development.
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“Drew and I are both residents of Fishers, so this project is quite literally in our backyard,” said Tom Green, Landscape Architect and Project Manager at Browning Day. “We’re trying our best to make it a place that we can enjoy, and our kids and neighbors can enjoy.”

Braley added, “That adds an extra level of excitement and an extra level of nerves.”

Fishers residents wanted Geist Waterfront Park to introduce a large beach to their community with direct public access to the reservoir, as well as playgrounds, restrooms, and sufficient parking. Green said community members – particularly those residents living near the park site – opposed using the site to host active sports, which often bring about large light fixtures and noisy weekend crowds that intrude on existing neighborhoods.

Browning Day intentionally did not include any baseball diamonds, tennis courts, or other active athletic facilities into their design with the intention of making the site a more passive recreation destination.

Designers of Possibility
When Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness and former Deputy Mayor Leah McGrath approached Browning Day in 2017 about redeveloping the former Irving Materials Inc. (IMI) staging area along Geist Reservoir, Green said the site was contaminated, full of gravel, and lacked vegetation.

“At a very basic level, this project is a perfect example of our firm’s philosophy in action by being ‘Designers of Possibility’,” Braley said.

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Browning Day and the City of Fishers took a sustainable approach to the park’s development, striving to embrace the site’s natural environment by thinking outside the box.

Working directly with Citizens Energy Group – the majority owners of Geist Reservoir, Browning Day arranged for dredging material which is already being extracted from the reservoir at the eastern half of the project site to be stored onsite and repurposed into nutrient-rich soil for vegetation in the park.

Rain gardens and bioretention swales located throughout the site will also capture rainwater runoff.

“I’m kind of a nerd and I’m excited for the parking lot,” Green said. “Because so often, something as simple as a parking lot can really be overlooked, but I think when it’s done well, it can actually be a fairly inviting space. That’s one of the more sustainable features on the site, featuring several large rain gardens to help capture and treat the runoff.”

Green said future plans for the park call for establishing a more elaborate water detention system that could simultaneously function as an amenity and a teaching point for surrounding neighborhoods and visitors.

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“Overall, we’re trying to include a lot of green space, minimize the impervious area, and allow people to engage in the natural environment,” Green said.

Build, Operate, Transfer Model
Dan Lawson, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Partner at Meyer Najem, started working with Sarah Sandquist, Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Fishers in 2018 when the Geist Waterfront Park initiative was first announced.

As a major business headquartered in Fishers for more than three decades, Meyer Najem has established a level of trust and familiarity with the City of Fishers thanks to numerous successful municipal projects, including the Humane Society for Hamilton County, Fishers Fire Station 91 HQ, the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater, and the currently-under-construction and transformational Nickel Plate Trail project.

“Meyer Najem over the years has really evolved and built Parks and Recreation as a very good niche of ours that I feel like other construction managers similar to us do not have in their repertoire,” Lawson said.

Now operating as the client liaison/advocate for the Geist Waterfront Park project, Lawson said he routinely checks in with the owner to make sure the project is running smoothly and to ensure Meyer Najem is fulfilling the terms of its contract with the City.

Meyer Najem and the City of Fishers are taking advantage of the Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) financing delivery model to save taxpayer money and lessen the need for change orders. Commonly referred to as a Public-Private Partnership (P3), the BOT delivery model brings private financing to deals up front, eliminating the need for municipalities to endure an often-arduous public bidding process.

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Lawson attended an Indiana Parks and Recreation Association conference in Bloomington six years ago and noticed that Meyer Najem was the only construction manager exhibiting at the conference. He went back the next year and still, Meyer Najem was the only CM exhibiting at the conference full of park planners, landscape architects, engineers, and playground vendors.

Lawson soon discovered that the parks and recreation community was public bidding all their work and using a design-bid-build model for all their projects, which inspired Lawson to begin educating the Parks and Recreation staff about benefits that municipalities could see by replacing their design-bid-build processes with the BOT model.

Instead of putting out for a bond, clients pay money for the project upfront and avoid paying any bond issuance cost, Lawson said. During the scoping period after selection, Lawson said the BOT model allows Meyer Najem to present a guaranteed maximum price to the City Council for their final vote, which lessens the possibility of the project coming in over budget.

“And, with the BOT financing model, so far we have not seen a change order back to the owner, which is a pretty powerful statement to make to a potential client,” Lawson said.

Project Team
  • Owner: City of Fishers
  • Landscape Architecture and Planning: Browning Day – Tom Green, Drew Braley
  • Construction Manager: Meyer Najem – Dan Lawson, Kevin McGovern
  • Civil Engineering: A&F EngineeringKaren Collins, Mark Meyerholtz
  • MEP Engineering: Primary EngineeringKen Godwin
  • Irrigation Design, Soil Development: Certified ConsultantsLarry Cammarata, Dominic Cammarata
  • Structural Engineering: Fink Roberts & Petrie, Inc.Bill Horton
  • Parking Analysis: Walker ConsultantsJon Martens

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