New Detroit Alliance to Raise $350M for Riverwalk and Joe Louis Greenway

The city of Detroit, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and Joe Louis Greenway Partnership today announced the Unified Greenway Partnership, a first-of-its-kind alliance that will raise funds to complete the Detroit Riverfront from Belle Isle to the Ambassador Bridge, build the Joe Louis Greenway around the city, and endow both projects for long-term management.
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A rendering of the Alpine and Westfield section of the Joe Louis Greenway. // Courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
A rendering of the Alpine and Westfield section of the Joe Louis Greenway. // Courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

The city of Detroit, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and Joe Louis Greenway Partnership today announced the Unified Greenway Partnership, a first-of-its-kind alliance that will raise funds to complete the Detroit Riverfront from Belle Isle to the Ambassador Bridge, build the Joe Louis Greenway around the city, and endow both projects for long-term management.

The $350 million project consists of a connected system of public greenspaces that links Detroit’s revitalized riverfront to 23 Detroit neighborhoods and the cities of Highland Park, Hamtramck, and Dearborn.

To complement the Riverwalk, in a separate deal the board of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority approved Tuesday an agreement with Detroit-based Sterling Group that could lead to a 30,000-square-foot expansion at the southwest section of Huntington Place as well as a large hotel offering 600 to 800 rooms connected to the convention center.

The Sterling Group owns the site west of Huntington Place where Joe Louis Arena once stood. The developer is in the process of building a midrise apartment complex on the site, with more apartments expected to be constructed in the future, along with parking.

The separate Unified Greenway Partnership announcement follows the adoption of a resolution and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by Detroit City Council to establish a framework for partners to raise funds needed for the project and ensure this investment is sustained via an endowment and dedicated city resources. The Neighborhood and Community Services Committee voted on Jan. 26 to advance the resolution to City Council, and it was adopted by council today.

The investment will include $200 million to build the Joe Louis Greenway; $50 million to complete the Detroit Riverfront; and $100 million to establish an endowment fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. In addition, the city of Detroit will dedicate $3 million annually to Joe Louis Greenway maintenance and operation and contribute $3 million annually to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to support operations and maintenance.

The alliance reports it has raised approximately $150 million in federal, state, local, and philanthropic funds toward project construction. The first Joe Louis Greenway segment opened this past fall.

“Between our beautiful riverfront and the new Joe Louis Greenway, we are creating a world-class recreational asset for all Detroiters,” says Mayor Mike Duggan. “This new partnership will help keep it beautiful for generations to come.”

Unified Greenway Partnership Roles

  • The City of Detroitwill lead the planning, design, construction, and operations of the Joe Louis Greenway and support the Conservancy and Joe Louis Greenway Partnership (JLGP) as they lead the Unified Greenway Partnership’s fundraising efforts. The city will coordinate and partner with the JLGP to operate, maintain, program, and control the Joe Louis Greenway.
  • The Detroit Riverfront Conservancywill manage the expansion of its riverfront greenspaces that connect with the Joe Louis Greenway while continuing to play a lead role in the Unified Greenway Partnership’s fundraising efforts. It will continue to operate, secure, staff, program, and maintain its greenspaces, including Cullen Plaza, the Detroit Riverwalk, Robert C. Valade Park, Mt. Elliott Park, Gabriel Richard Park, Dequindre Cut, Southwest Greenway, and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park.
  • The Joe Louis Greenway Partnership will coordinate with the city to support the operations, maintenance, programming, community engagement, and volunteer opportunities for the Joe Louis Greenway. It will also play a key role in the Unified Greenway Partnership’s fundraising efforts.
  • The Community Foundation for SoutheastMichigan will manage the Unified Greenway endowment for long-term sustainability of both the Joe Louis Greenway and Detroit Riverfront. Each year, endowment proceeds will support operations, maintenance, programming, capital improvements, and administrative needs.

The project will spur economic development opportunities and improve access and transit options citywide. The nearly 30-mile greenway loop will expand recreational opportunities by connecting to parks throughout the city, regional and statewide trail networks, and the riverfront.

Since 2003, the 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 conservancy is continuing its transformation of 5.5 miles of revitalized riverfront and bridge-to-bridge vision, with 90 percent of the East Riverfront complete.

Ongoing projects include the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park (opening in 2024), the Southwest Greenway (opening May 2023), and the Uniroyal Promenade (opening Fall 2023), which will complete the East Riverfront.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with the city of Detroit and Joe Louis Greenway Partnership and encouraged by the community support for this system of connected parks and trails,” says Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “Detroit loves the riverfront because it brings people together and makes us feel connected to each other. The Joe Louis Greenway will bring that energy into more neighborhoods and will provide a place where people from all walks of life will come together.”

Each year, 3.5 million people visit the Detroit Riverfront. The Detroit Riverwalk was named Best in America in 2021 and 2022 by USA TODAY.

The 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway will connect parks and neighborhoods across the city, allowing residents to travel safely from McNichols to the riverfront — all without a car — through a combination of new trails, on-street protected bike lanes, and links to existing trails like the Dequindre Cut and the Detroit Riverwalk.

The first phase of Joe Louis Greenway broke ground in May 2021 and the second phase broke ground in September 2022. Construction phases are expected to continue annually through 2026 with segments opening for use as they are completed. Last fall, a one-mile stretch of the greenway between Joy and Plymouth roads was completed.

“We are truly grateful for Detroit City Council’s leadership and support of the Joe Louis Greenway and the Unified Greenway Partnership,” says Alexis Wiley, chair of the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership. “With this MOU now in place, we look forward to continuing the work — alongside our partners and community stakeholders — to create this beautiful new recreational trail for residents of Detroit and the region.”