HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal officials gathered amid falling snowflakes Monday morning to kick off a massive renovation of the city's riverfront.
While some preliminary demolition work started a couple of weeks ago, the main part of the renovation will begin in earnest with a goal of having the $6.648 million project completed by the end of September.
"We're pretty excited," Hannibal Parks and Recreation Director Andy Dorian said during a formal ground-breaking ceremony Monday at Glascock's Landing, which has been stripped of nearly all of its features except for the Mark Twain statue, which seemed to preside over Monday's proceedings.
"This has been a long time coming," Dorian said, noting how the project has been in the planning stages since 2014.
The dream of a renovated riverfront took a big step toward becoming a reality on Nov. 6 when the Hannibal City Council awarded a $6.648 million contract to Bleigh Construction Co. to renovate the riverfront.
Bleigh's bid beat proposals from three other companies. Bleigh's offer included the base bid plus nine of the 12 alternate pieces of the project. The city engineer's estimate for the same range of work was $6.9 million.
The construction project will include relocating the marina; installing a new boat ramp and docking locations for two large riverboats as well as the Mark Twain Riverboat and Canton Marine Towing; installing a new rip rap river wall, new sidewalks, a road and a parking area; new fencing in multiple locations; and new restrooms, lighting and storm water utilities.
Mayor James Hark said the riverfront improvements are coming at an ideal time because Hannibal will be in the midst of celebrating the city's bicentennial next year as the project is being finalized.
"What better way (to celebrate) than to dedicate this on America's Hometown's 200th anniversary," he said.
The project will be a major benefit not just for the thousands of tourists who visit Hannibal each year to see the town where author Mark Twain spent his boyhood years but also for the city's residents who view the riverfront as "a place we can all come and enjoy," Hark said.
"There are cities up and down this river that would love to be in this position today -- to be able to renovate their riverfront for the citizens of their community," Hark said.
"If it was not for this river -- for riverboat trade -- there would not even be a Mark Twain," he said. "This is the single most significant reason why Hannibal is on the map today. Therefore, the riverfront should be a monument for all of us to be proud of."
According to Dorian, the Parks and Recreation Department spent the past few weeks carrying out some basic demolition work, which included removing the sidewalks, light poles and fountain from Nipper Park and removing the concrete and a fountain from Glascock's Landing.
Dorian said Bleigh Construction will remove the existing marina docks this week in preparation for the installation of a new marina closer to Nipper Park.
"It actually took a congressional act to modify the marina," Dorian said, noting how the marina's docks were initially installed in the 1950s by the federal government.
"To make any modification at all, it had to be decommissioned," he said.
The federal government is not involved in the current renovation project, although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to clear the way by approving a series of permits involving usage of the river.
The City Council last month finalized an ordinance clearing the way to sell $6.6 million in bonds to help finance the riverfront project. The bonds also will cover the cost for a proposed new convention and visitors bureau in Hannibal.
Dorian said he expects Bleigh to carry out a great deal of work over the winter.
Dorian said his biggest concern about the construction schedule involves possible flooding.
"When the river comes up, it will stop progress," he said. "That is our biggest concern. We're hoping for good weather."