Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Starts Work on Final Link of the Riverwalk

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and its partners today broke ground on the Riverwalk extension along the Uniroyal site, which is the final piece of the East Riverfront. The project will complete the conservancy’s vision of 3.5 miles of the Riverwalk along the East Riverfront and provide connectivity between the riverfront parks and Belle Isle.
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Uniroyal Riverwalk site rendering
Detroit Riverfront Conservancy broke ground on the Riverwalk extension along the Uniroyal site, the final piece of the East Riverfront. Pictures is a rendering of the area. // Rendering courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and its partners today broke ground on the Riverwalk extension along the Uniroyal site, which is the final piece of the East Riverfront. The project will complete the conservancy’s vision of 3.5 miles of the Riverwalk along the East Riverfront and provide connectivity between the riverfront parks and Belle Isle.

The project is expected to be an $11 million investment and anticipated to be completed by fall of 2022.

“When we started transforming the riverfront 20 years ago, we had an ambitious vision, and our promise was to connect the entire East Riverfront,” says Matt Cullen, chairman of the conservancy. “Today, we are proud to break ground and deliver on that promise. Our community came together around this project, and I am pleased to say that the founding partners — the city, The Kresge Foundation and General Motors — are still with us supporting the project today. This final piece along the East Riverfront is a lasting gift to the generations who live, work, and visit Detroit and critical to our long-term vision of revitalization from bridge to bridge.”

The project is being led by the conservancy, city of Detroit, Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“For decades, the Uniroyal site has been synonymous with industrial contamination and inaccessibility to our waterfront,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Thanks to the cleanup efforts that have taken place and the great work of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, future generations will know this stretch as one of the most beautiful sections of Detroit’s international waterfront, which continues to be cited as one of the best in the world.”

The Uniroyal plant sat on the 42-acre site, once employed 10,000 people, and closed in 1980. Next to it was the Michigan Stove company, and down the river was Parke Davis, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. The Uniroyal plant was demolished in 1985, clearing the last large-scale industrial use of the riverfront.

“The Detroit Riverfront has changed the way that we come together as a city,” says Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the conservancy. “Detroiters have fallen in love with the Riverwalk. Once this final piece of the East Riverfront is completed, it will bring even more Detroiters together.”

This year is the conservancy’s busiest construction year to date. The riverfront attracts 3.5 million visitors each year and has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, use of the Riverwalk has increased 20 percent, and Dequindre Cut usage has increased by 40 percent. The conservancy has invested more than $200 million in the revitalization of the riverfront, which in turn has generated more than $2 billion in public and private investment. The Riverwalk was recently named best riverwalk in the country by USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

The conservancy’s founding partners, including the city of Detroit, The Kresge Foundation, and GM, have supported the organization for 20 years. In 2003, GM built the first section of the Detroit Riverwalk during the renovation of the company’s headquarters in the Renaissance Center.

GM donated the first half-mile of the Riverwalk for the conservancy to manage, maintains a presence on the conservancy’s board, and serves as a presenting sponsor of Reading and Rhythm on the Riverfront, a literacy program.

GM has made a $2.5 million contribution that will help complete the final connection of the East Riverfront. In total, GM’s stewardship represents a $35 million investment in the conservancy’s riverfront revitalization efforts.

“This is a once in a lifetime project, and the transformation of the Detroit Riverfront over the last two decades has exceeded all expectations,” says Terry Rhadigan, executive director of communications and citizenship at GM. “General Motors is proud to have played a prominent role in this revitalization effort, and we will continue to be a strategic partner to help sustain the great work that the conservancy does for our community.”

The Kresge Foundation made a $50 million matching grant in 2002 for the transformation of the riverfront. The investment was the biggest gift in the foundation’s history and was met with an additional $110 million of philanthropic support and has stimulated more than $2 billion of investment in the riverfront.

“We at The Kresge Foundation have admired and participated in this long-term project since its inception,” says Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation. “The celebration of this final piece falling into place represents a glorious, 3.5-mile-long testament to the region’s ability to come together to create a civic commons that will define Detroit’s waterfront for our children, grandchildren, and beyond.”

MDOT began working with the conservancy in 2010 when plans were in development for Mt. Elliott Park. It continues to be a partner and has activated funds to help pay for the Uniroyal project.

“The Michigan Department of Transportation is responsible for building and maintaining roads, bridges, and freeways, and we have also assisted with building trail systems throughout the state as well,” says Robert A. Davis, senior advisor for MDOT. “It’s exciting to work with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to help transform the riverfront into a trail system that pedestrians can enjoy. It’s a legacy project for us.”

The conservancy is a nonprofit that was founded in 2003 with the mission to develop public access to Detroit’s riverfront. It serves as a steward of the Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut, raising funds for construction, operation, maintenance, security, and programming. The 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.

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