Detroit Riverfront Clean Up Stimulates Downtown Revitalization
Detroit's international riverfront, which was once an unusable part of downtown, is now a gathering place with free programs for the community. Due to the efforts of the City of Detroit and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC) the prime real estate along the river has been turned into space for concerts, festivals and many other community events.
DRFC is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 with the mission to develop public access to Detroit's riverfront and to serve as an anchor for economic development. As the permanent stewards of the RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut, the DRFC is responsible for raising the funds needed for construction, operation, maintenance, security and programming of the public spaces located along the riverfront. The DRFC's ultimate vision is to develop 5.5 miles of riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge on the west to Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle.
The first phase of the Detroit waterfront transformation project, 3.5 miles of the east riverfront, spans from Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park and is more than 80 percent complete.
The completed portions of the east riverfront, along with its sister rails-to-trails greenway, the Dequindre Cut, are populated with approximately 3 million visitors annually who come to walk, run, bike, spend time with family and friends and take advantage of the quality of life opportunity a revitalized riverfront provides.
Attractions along the east riverfront include parks, plazas, pavilions, pathways and open green space, all connected by the popular RiverWalk.
In the summer of 2012, the DRFC launched the final construction phases to complete the east riverfront project and connect the RiverWalk and its associated green spaces along the waterfront.
The first construction phase included a complete transformation of Mt. Elliott Park and reopened in June 2014. The second construction phase included enhancements to Gabriel Richard Park and developing the parcels of land to the west and east of Chene Park. The final phase will provide for the construction of public space along the Uniroyal site.
Opening up a segment of the west riverfront for long-awaited public access is now a reality with the transformation of a former newspaper printing facility property at 1801 West Jefferson into a 20-acre green oasis. The Conservancy purchased the property from the Detroit Free Press in 2007.
The five-year development plan will expand parks and green spaces, build safe and beautiful connections between neighborhoods and the riverfront, enhance mobility and safety with sustainable street improvements, and harmonize private development with the riverfront.
Visitors will find three new pathways linking the riverfront to West Jefferson Avenue and plenty of lush green space for a variety of outdoor activities. The DRFC has expanded the width of the popular RiverWalk along this parcel to 30 feet to better accommodate adequate space for walking, running, biking and fishing. Safety and security improvements include new railings, lighting, security cameras and call boxes.
The Dequindre Cut Greenway is an urban recreational path that opened to the public in May of 2009. The 2-mile greenway was developed through a public, nonprofit and private partnership - comprising the federal government, City of Detroit, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation - and offers a pedestrian link between the East Riverfront, Eastern Market and several residential neighborhoods in between.
Formerly a Grand Trunk Railroad line, the Dequindre Cut is a predominately below-street level greenway that runs parallel to St. Aubin Street, between Mack Avenue and Atwater Street, just north of the riverfront. Well-known for its examples of urban artwork and graffiti, the greenway features a 20-foot-wide paved pathway, which includes separate lanes for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
A half-mile extension of the Dequindre Cut officially opened in April 2016. It runs from Gratiot Avenue to Mack Avenue and takes pedestrians into the heart of Eastern Market. Buildings on each side of the Cut along this stretch provide users with a glimpse of what the railway looked like when it was a busy hub of activity bringing people and products to Eastern Market and to the Detroit riverfront.
Also along this stretch, the Wilkins Street Plaza with its soaring canopy, bike racks and a variety of seating options, provides a place for pedestrians to take a break. Entrance ramps to the Cut are located at Atwater Street, Franklin Street, Woodbridge Street, Lafayette Street, Gratiot Avenue, Wilkins Street and Mack Avenue.
Plans for additional construction on the Riverfront are running ahead of schedule and continue through the end of 2019. Some of the current projects include:
Chene Park East/Stroh River Place Connection
Visitors will soon have access to a part of the riverfront that was off limits for years. Work began this summer to extend the RiverWalk with a pedestrian bridge between Chene Park East and Stroh River Place. The property, formerly owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, will receive significant upgrades and improvements. The project will be completed in spring 2018.
The biggest gap in East Riverfront connectivity will soon be a memory. Initial work began this summer to transform the riverfront along the 30-acre Uniroyal site - adding approximately 1,700 feet of RiverWalk that will link Mt. Elliott Park to Gabriel Richard Park. The project will create a connection above and below the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. Designed with input from famed landscape architect Michael Desvigne, this new stretch of the RiverWalk will be a unique destination featuring creative design concepts with colorful landscaping, decorative railings, benches, lighting and security cameras. The project will be complete in 2019.
Atwater Beach will be a one-of-a-kind urban "beachfront" park on the river. Located on the former U.S. Coast Guard site not far from a new pedestrian bridge connecting Chene Park East and Stroh River Place, the park will feature a wide sandy beach with lounge chairs, a playscape, a grassy area with trees, an open air shed for programs and events, and a barge serving food and drinks. The DRFC is still raising funds to build the park, so construction is not yet determined.
Community and Economic Development
A 2013 economic impact study commissioned by DRFC found that the riverfront project has generated $1 billion in public and private investments during the last decade and has also created more than 16,700 jobs and 1,300 annual jobs. An additional $1 billion-plus in future investment in anticipated along the riverfront during the next 10 years. When the riverfront project began in 2013, it was a catalyst to additional revitalization in the City of Detroit. Some other revival efforts include the $732 million Little Caesars Area; the M-1 Rail, a streetcar line stretching through downtown; and the $150 million Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, a new development from the Henry Ford Health System. The City also plans redevelopment of Brush Park and the Brewster Recreation Center.
The riverfront continues to be an asset to the community. This summer DRFC has sponsored many free community programs including Reading and Rhythm on the Riverfront, the Fit Park Boot Camp, Tai Chi and yoga classes, as well as music events such as Rockin' on the Riverfront and the Mo Pop Festival. The DRFC receives no public funding so all of the programs and events are due to volunteers and donations from sponsors and local organizations.