Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Metroparks to Partner at Wilson Centennial Park

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Huron-Clinton Metroparks announced Thursday a multi-year, pilot partnership that focuses on new programs and recreation opportunities for city and suburban families at the future Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park on the West Riverfront.
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rendering of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park
The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Huron-Clinton Metroparks are partnering to bring new programs and recreation opportunities at the future Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. // Rendering courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Huron-Clinton Metroparks announced Thursday a multi-year, pilot partnership that focuses on new programs and recreation opportunities for city and suburban families at the future Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park on the West Riverfront.

Through the partnership, Metroparks will establish a physical presence in Detroit and contribute $6 million over seven years to the conservancy for expanded programs and operations at the new park, slated to open in 2023.

The agreement begins immediately with two years of combined programming and joint outreach efforts leading up to the opening of Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park along the Detroit Riverfront. Once the park is open, the agreement includes another five years of partnership that leverages the strengths of each organization.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to expand our collaboration with such a great organization like the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, build more relationships within the city and with all those who call it home, and have the opportunity to contribute in one small way to the dynamic energy and spirit that are the essence of Detroit,” says Amy McMillan, director of Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

“This partnership will allow us to build upon our commitment of providing exceptional recreation and educational opportunities and better, more equitably serve the city, its neighborhoods and surrounding communities, all while complementing the world-class ring of 13 regional parks in southeast Michigan.”

Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, says, “We are excited by the opportunities of growing our partnership with Huron-Clinton Metroparks. The ecosystem of parks and public space becomes stronger when we work together in partnerships like this one. We can do more and serve more people by embracing a truly regional perspective and leveraging our shared commitment to equity and diversity in recreation.”

According to the conservancy, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park is one of the most significant projects on the horizon and a major step forward in completing its goal of developing 5.5 miles of revitalized riverfront. Wallace says it will “dramatically change the landscape along the downtown riverfront,” and it is expected to boost economic benefit in the area as well.

The 22-acre park will feature a water component, sport house with basketball courts, the Delta Dental Play Garden with an array of animal structures for kids to climb in and around, and a large lawn that will be used for special events and programming.

The organizations first began working together in 2015 with programs at special events along the riverfront that educated thousands of Detroiters on wildlife and the outdoors. Teams for each organization are working to finalize details on future programs starting as early as 2021. One of the most ambitious goals is to develop a swimming program to teach Detroiters how to swim. Currently, 70 percent of Detroit children do not know how to swim.

Metroparks and the conservancy both are reporting significant increases of visitors during 2020. The Detroit Riverfront attracts 3.5 million visitors annually and has remained open every day during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March, use of the Detroit Riverwalk has increased 20 percent and Dequindre Cut usage has increased by 40 percent. During the first decade of the riverfront revitalization project, more than $1 billion in public and private investment has occurred. To date, the conservancy has invested more than $169 million in the revitalization of the Detroit Riverfront.

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