Detroit RiverFront Conservancy Secures Funding to Complete Further Development


DETROIT– The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy announced Monday the launch of new partnerships and a series of construction projects to complete the east Riverfront development, connecting the RiverWalk to its green spaces, plazas and parks from Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the Belle Isle Bridge. Significant announcements also included a $29 million Federal Highway appropriation administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) — which U.S Senator Carl Levin was integral in securing — and a $15 million investment by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The announcements highlight the extraordinary private-public partnerships that have made the revitalization possible, and include  Levin, Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

“We made a promise right from the beginning to make the riverfront accessible to all. From the first funding pledged by The Kresge Foundation, which was the largest grant in their history, we have had key partners step up and take a leap of faith to invest in the enormous work of creating a riverfront where none had ever existed,” said Matt Cullen, chairman of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Board. “Thanks to the efforts put forth by Senator Levin, Governor Snyder and Director Stokes, today’s announcement and funding puts the east riverfront close to the finish line and allows us to deliver on the promise we made.”

“This $29 million appropriation in Federal funds has brought significant benefits to our city and the region,” said Levin who was instrumental in securing the funds. “I have long been committed to making sure this important and ambitious project, so critical to Detroit’s revitalization, is completed.”

Snyder echoed Levin’s commitment in pointing out that the investments by the State of Michigan in the riverfront and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy as it continues its work in developing and maintaining the east Riverfront. “This is a significant investment to help continue building a strong and vibrant Detroit,” said Snyder. “This unique and collaborative partnership will further revitalize the city’s riverfront and make it a premier destination for residents, businesses and visitors.”

“This is a significant milestone in the most ambitious public-private development in the city’s history,” said Faye Nelson, president and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. “These investments represent new models of investment in the Conservancy and the riverfront development that in just five short years has attracted more than three million visitors a year. This partnership also supports the sustainability of the Conservancy — an important reality in continuing our work and serving as an economic catalyst for new business and residents of our great city.”

The long-awaited completion of the east Riverfront development includes substantial improvements in Gabriel Richard Park; a complete redevelopment of Mt. Elliott Park including shoreline improvement, new plaza, pavilion, a water feature and playscape; and construction of connecting RiverWalk, and associated amenities on parcels of land to the east and west of Chene Park and the Uniroyal site (once remediation is completed).

The $29 million Federal Highway appropriation will be administered by MDOT, who will serve in a new role as co-project manager, to complete the east Riverfront vision. “We are particularly pleased to take a heightened role in the completion of the east Riverfront through our administration of these Federal Highway funds,” said Kirk Steudle, director of MDOT. “The project is the first of its kind to use us as co-project manager, use innovative contracting approaches, coupled with a dedication to the environment. The riverfront has always been a critical commercial transportation route, and now it can enhance the experience for our families and children.”   

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, pointed out that the riverfront represents a “significant opportunity to safeguard an important part of our eco-system and our environment for generations to come. We have made the riverfront a priority throughout expanded efforts at the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, and the exciting re-development of the Globe Building.”

The surprise presentation was a $15 million check from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund presented to the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy that will be used to support the organization’s perpetual stewardship role of operation, maintenance and programing of the riverfront. “There is no more important gift a community gives to its citizenry than the accessibility of its land and clean water,” said Rodney Stokes, representative for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. “We have been hard at work to insure targeted investment in the urban green space as represented by the transformational work the RiverFront Conservancy is doing. We are particularly pleased to present our investment in the Conservancy which will protect valuable land and continue to grow the accessibility along the riverfront development.”

Mayor Bing said, “This is an important day in the development of our riverfront. It is also a testimony to what is possible when the public and private sectors come together and develop a plan with the will to make it happen. We are especially appreciative of the partnership and the investment being made in transforming Detroit. The three-and-a-half miles of riverfront property being developed for the first time in this city’s 311-year history will serve as an example of the quality of life we can provide for generations to come.”

“It is a great day and, along with almost $200 million dollars provided by the City of Detroit, will continue to heighten the development of the riverfront to include housing, retail, and multi-use facilities. It’s happening and we are seeing increased interest in the possibilities,” said George Jackson, CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

The Mt. Elliott Park and Pavilion will include an interactive water feature designed in collaboration with Water Odyssey, an international designer of fountains and water parks. It encompasses “kid activated” water cannons and more than 30 individual water sprays.  All improvements envisioned at Mt. Elliott have been designed to be universally accessible to those of all ages and physical challenges. Each of the design features has been crafted to be responsive to the nature of the site and authentic to its heritage. Specific enhancements planned for Mt. Elliott Park include:

  • Playscape elements: sound chimes, drum seats and drum tables, wind chimes, cattail spinners, water cannons
  • Water elements: water access, stream delta and water bubblers
  • Landscape elements such as ornamental trees and shrubs, grasses and natural stone, canopy trees and seating on natural stone, and LED lighting
  • Paving elements: colored concrete and exposed aggregate concrete pavement.
  • Gabriel Richard Park, an under-utilized gem along the riverfront, will receive the following improvements:
  • A new parking lot and pathways to make the park more accessible
  • Sustainable design principles and education will allow for rainwater to be captured and redirected to garden beds and provide benefits to wildlife
  • A pedestrian-bicycle pathway connecting the riverfront to Jefferson Avenue
  • Illumination of the meditative labyrinth


Additionally, the Conservancy will develop two parcels located just east and west of Chene Park to connect the RiverWalk along the riverfront. Visitors will then be able to continue along the riverfront without having to detour down to Atwater Street.

Finally, once remediation is complete at the Uniroyal site, public space development which includes the RiverWalk will continue to Gabriel Richard Park, located just east of the Belle Isle bridge.