The Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Detroit’s Belle Isle will break ground on a $4.9 million outdoor enhancement project on Monday, July 1, according to the Detroit Historical Society. The project marks the first time the museum’s entire campus will be used for historical interpretation and recreation.
“The Dossin Great Lakes Museum has really been a gem for the city of Detroit and Belle Isle for a long time,” says Elana Rugh, president and CEO of the Detroit Historical Society. “Our exhibits inside the museum are wonderful, and now it’s time to elevate the exterior experience so it matches the level.”
The first phase of construction will create a $1.5 million landscape focused on enhancing visitor amenities and is projected to last through November. The museum will add improved signage and placement in its outdoor maritime artifact displays.
The anchor from the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald will be highlighted in a Lost Mariners Memorial that will include a garden, custom lighting, and seating areas. The museum also will add a riverwalk and observation telescope, a riverfront event patio, and an upgraded central lawn area, providing spaces for public and private events.
Other amenities will include new pedestrian lighting, bike racks, benches, a cycle service station, and a canine refresh station for pets. These improvements coincide with the construction of the Belle Isle section of the Iron Belle Trail, which will pass by the museum entrance. A new kayak launch with a soft shoreline will be constructed to stabilize the existing cove adjacent to the museum, making the Detroit River accessible from the museum for the first time in the museum’s history.
Construction on the phase is led by L.S. Brinker Co. with design oversight by SmithGroup. The society is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Belle Isle Conservancy, and others. This phase of construction is not expected to impact the museum’s hours.
Three additional phases are expected to be complete by 2021 and include a riverfront connector trail similar in design to the Detroit Riverwalk, construction of a historic landscape that would show the natural setting of Belle Isle before it was developed as a recreational space, and improved access to the museum from The Strand and parking lot from Inselruhe Avenue. The natural setting space will complement the nearby Piet Oudolf garden that is under construction.
The society has raised $1.9 million of the total budget and is seeking gifts. More information and renderings are available here.
The museum has occupied its site since 1960 and has more than doubled its attendance over the last five years. It underwent renovations in 2013 as part of the society’s Past>Forward campaign. Admission is free, and the museum has one of the largest known collections of scale model ships in the world.
The Detroit Historical Society is a private, nonprofit organization in Detroit’s Midtown. It was founded in 1921 and operates the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.