Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Selects New York Design Firm for $50M West Riverfront Park


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New York-based landscape architect firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is the winner of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy international design competition and will redesign the West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy today announced that New York-based landscape architect firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has been selected as the winning firm of its international design competition to transform the 22-acre West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit into a dynamic public space.

The park will be built out in the coming years, and is bounded by the riverfront, Rosa Parks Blvd. (12th Street), Brooklyn Street, and W. Jefferson Ave.

To bring the project to fruition, the Conservancy will work with MVVA to further engage the public in completing the final design elements of the project.  Throughout the process, the Conservancy will continue to raise the funds for the estimated $50 million effort.

"This design competition has captured the interest and the imaginations of not only Detroiters, but of people throughout the world," says Matt Cullen, chairman of the Conservancy's board of directors. "The creation of West Riverfront Park would be one of the most significant public space projects undertaken in our city's history. It has the potential to become a world-class gathering place and drive economic growth in Southwest Detroit for generations."

The Conservancy opened West Riverfront Park in 2014, and at 22 acres, it is comparable in size to Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, and Riverside Park in Buffalo.

"It was love at first sight when I saw the Detroit River," says Michael Van Valkenburgh, president and CEO of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. "I immediately recognized that this new park could draw the city to the water's edge.  My team and I spent a lot of time exploring Detroit and meeting many Detroiters in the process.  We're looking forward to making West Riverfront Park an amazing place."

Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and Maggie Daley Park in Chicago are among the firm's most notable projects. MVVA is known for its creative and unique urban design with projects that include parks, plazas, cultural institutions, colleges and universities, and gardens. Clients include Princeton University, Harvard University, Wellesley College, The Menil Collection, and Waterfront Toronto.

The firm's local partners included LimnoTech in Ann Arbor, PEA in Detroit, and NTH Consultants in Northville.

"This park will have a profound impact on the lives of Detroiters and will be a regional draw for recreation," says Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. "The work that has brought us to this moment has been one of the most inclusive and transparent processes that has been undertaken in public space design anywhere."

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation in Detroit provided a $345,000 grant to make the West Riverfront Park Design Competition possible.  The grant comes from the foundation's "Livable Communities" focus area that seeks to create strong and sustainable communities by supporting parks, trails and green design.

"We're proud to support the design competition and welcome MVVA to this pivotal project for Detroit," said David Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.  "Transforming West Riverfront Park into a world-class gathering space allows our community to take a significant step toward revitalizing the entire West Riverfront. This project has the potential to make a significant positive impact that will resonate throughout our region for many decades."

The public first viewed the work of the four firms during formal presentations on February 8 at 1001 Woodward in downtown Detroit.  The presentations were then followed by a two-week public exhibition at which the models and renderings were on display.

The MVVA models and renderings will be on display for the next several weeks. One of the firm's winning models will be on display in the Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 6. Another model and renderings will be on display in the Wintergarden at the GM Renaissance Center through May 10.

In addition to the support received from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for the design competition, riverfront planning is made possible by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, FORD/UAW, the City of Detroit, Hudson Webber Foundation, Knight Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

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