Detroit’s Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park Names Sport House After William Davidson

The William Davidson Foundation and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy today announced that a new Sport House in the future 22-acre Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park on Detroit’s West Riverfront will be named after the Detroit businessman and former professional sports team owner, William “Bill” Davidson (1922-2009).
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A rendering of the William "Bill" Davidson Sport House at the future Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. // Courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
A rendering of the William “Bill” Davidson Sport House at the future Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. // Courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

The William Davidson Foundation and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy today announced that a new Sport House in the future 22-acre Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park on Detroit’s West Riverfront will be named after the Detroit businessman and former professional sports team owner, William “Bill” Davidson (1922-2009).

With the commitment to the conservancy, the William Davidson Foundation, located in Birmingham, has now granted more than $11 million to the ongoing transformation of Detroit’s international riverfront into an accessible world-class gathering place for all.

The William Davidson Sport House will add to the public offerings on the Detroit Riverfront and feature a raised canopy and skylight that provides two public open-air basketball courts and flexible space for a range of programs and events.

Designed by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, who also designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the William Davidson Sport House is slated for completion in 2023. The Sport House will be part of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, also named after a professional sports team owner, businessman, and philanthropist.

“We are honored that the William Davidson Foundation chose the Detroit Riverfront to be the recipient of its generosity, which will create a living memorial in honor of Bill Davidson and all that he made possible for youth and sports,” says Matthew Cullen, chairman of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “Their investment in the Sport House adds yet another chapter in the nearly 20-year transformational story of the riverfront, which is a community-wide story of partnerships.”

The foundation considers the William Davidson Sport House a fitting tribute to its founder, as Davidson owned the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Shock, and Tampa Bay Lightning pro sports franchises. The naming of the Sport House will be celebrated this weekend, at the conservancy’s “Shimmer on the River” fundraising event on Friday night and the West Riverfront Block Party on Saturday.“No project truly connects the region and plays a more central role in Detroit’s resurgence than the revitalization of more than five miles of the Detroit Riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle,” says Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation.

The future Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park is one of the most significant projects on the horizon for the Conservancy and a major step forward in completing its goal of developing 5.5 miles of revitalized riverfront.

It will dramatically change the landscape along the downtown riverfront, and it is expected to significantly boost economic benefit in the area as well. The 22-acre park will feature a Water Wonderland, William Davidson 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.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates was selected to lead the park design team, with Adjaye of Adjaye Associates designing the Sport House and the Park House structures within the park.

“Kids who see the William Davidson Sport House will immediately recognize it as a place that was built for them,” says Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “It will be a draw for youth from the city of Detroit and from the Southeast Michigan region. This park will be like no other park anywhere in the world, and it will contribute to an increased quality of life for generations of Detroiters.”

The Detroit Riverfront attracts 3.5 million visitors annually and has remained open every day during the coronavirus pandemic. Since March 2020, use of the Detroit Riverwalk has increased 20 percent and Dequindre Cut usage has increased by 40 percent.

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has invested more than $200 million in the revitalization of the Detroit Riverfront, which in turn has generated more than $2 billion in public and private investment. The Detroit Riverwalk was recently named Best Riverwalk in the country by USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

For more information, visit www.detroitriverfront.org for more information.

Born and raised in Detroit, Davidson was an American businessman and philanthropist who earned international acclaim for his business acumen and skilled corporate leadership. He served as president and CEO of Guardian Industries Corp., which he transformed from a small, struggling family company into one of the world’s largest manufacturers of architectural and automotive glass and exterior plastics for vehicles.

He was an innovator, making each of his major plants a profit center responsible for its sales, marketing, production, and supply chain development. At the time of his death, Guardian was doing business in over 150 countries and employed more than 19,000 workers.

In 2004 he became the only owner in U.S. professional sports history to have his teams win an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup hockey championship, and the woman’s WNBA Championship in the same season. His sports honors included election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and selection as an inaugural inductee into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Davidson was one of Michigan’s most notable philanthropists, responsible for more than $200 million in donations to local and international charities and universities in his lifetime. He made transformative philanthropic investments with trusted leaders and organizations, including those which led to the establishment of the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Davidson Visitors Center and Archeological Park in the Temple Wall area of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. In 1997, the Council of Michigan Foundations honored Mr. Davidson for his lifelong philanthropic efforts locally, nationally, and internationally.

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