July 23, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Detroit, Campus Martius celebrate birthdays with Downtown Summerfest

It’s a parade of birthdays! And helping pump up the celebrations will be 313 butterflies, a T-shirt contest, outdoor movies, food, drink, tons of music and, a short distance away, a way-cool pop-up parade.

Whose birthdays? Why, Detroit’s 313th on Thursday, of course, as well as a signal anniversary with great meaning for downtown: Campus Martius Park, the jewel in the midst of Woodward Avenue, turns 10 on Friday.

The festivities, all part of Detroit Summerfest, run Thursday through Saturday at Campus Martius Park. And while it will be the star of the show, three other nearby parks — Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Paradise Valley/Beatrice Buck Park (the former Harmonie Park) — will put in cameo appearances with activities of their own.

Campus Martius’ birthday gives Detroiters an opportunity to reflect on all the city gained when the 1.7 acre, oval-shaped park opened in 2004, giving downtown its first centrally located, easy-to-access public space.

“It’s a great urban space, a gathering spot where you actually see people,” says Michael Poris, architect and principal at McIntosh Poris Associates. “We didn’t really have that before. For all their virtues, Hart Plaza and Grand Circus Park haven’t filled that role.”

The fun starts at 11 a.m. Thursday, with a “Happy Birthday 3-1-3” T-shirt competition at Campus Martius, followed by music and the release of those 313 highly symbolic butterflies from noon-2 p.m., and a late-afternoon “Mix and Mingle” party at the park’s beach stage. (Yes, there’s beer.)

On Friday, things kick off at noon with Reggie Smith and the After Party on the park’s main stage.

In addition, says park events director Njia Kai, “There’ll be food and drink and shenanigans to highlight the park’s anniversary, including a nighttime light show, dancing in the middle of the lawn and six hours of music from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. with 10 bands who’ve been stand-outs over the 10 years of the park’s activities.”

Got kids? Bring them to Campus Martius Park Saturday at noon to catch the Native American dancers of Reg Pettibone, followed by a pop-up parade, face-painting and other hijinks at 1 p.m. And in the evening? An outdoor showing of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” starts at 8:30 p.m., but get there half an hour before to take part in a what Kai mysteriously calls “an interactive mystery event.”

Not into the movie? Hike the several blocks to Paradise Valley, which will host a rocking salsa party at 8 p.m.

But back to Campus Martius Park, and all it’s done to perk up downtown.

There was a time when you took your life in your hands trying to cross Woodward at Michigan, for decades Detroit’s busiest intersection, and all too often a discordant jumble of noise, traffic and hot pavement.

How things have changed. Today, the avenue swoops gracefully around the park, a European-style public space with programmed activities seven days a week. Drawing more than 2 million visitors a year, it’s clear that Campus Martius — with its two performance stages, cafe tables and chairs, Fountain Bistro restaurant and computerized mega-fountain — is a slam-dunk hit with Detroiters.

Sunning herself recently on one of many striped deck chairs scattered across the temporary beach at the park’s south end, judicial assistant Heidi Haidar pronounced herself a huge fan.

“I love coming here,” says the Northville resident. “I feel like I’m vacation. Before this opened, we really had nowhere to go at lunch.”

Haidar’s and downtown’s good fortune started to take shape back in 1999, when Detroit 300 was formed to plan for the city’s 300th birthday in 2001. Judge August B. Woodward’s initial plan for rebuilding the city after the catastrophic 1805 fire had envisioned a park at Campus Martius, but somehow it never got built.

The city’s tricentennial seemed a perfect time to correct that. Detroit 300 pulled in the Project for Public Spaces in New York, nonprofit design consultants who advise cities on how to create dynamic parks and gathering spots. Planners looked at the best public spaces worldwide and consulted downtown workers in developing the final design with Indianapolis architects Rundell Ernstberger.

“The final design has pieces of New York’s Bryant Park and elements from Rockefeller Center,” says Bob Gregory, president of the Detroit 300 Conservancy, which runs the privately funded park. “It’s really exceeded all our expectations.”

It certainly exceeded Chris Emmerson’s, who was playing a recent noontime on the Acoustic Stage in Cadillac Square, the eastern flank of Campus Martius.

“I love playing here,” says the Grosse Pointe guitarist and singer, looking out over the hundreds of people strewn across the square and park, tucking into lunches from nearby food trucks. “It’s just so great to have all this energy, and to be able to contribute to it as a musician.

“I love it,” he adds. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Downtown Summerfest

A three-day festival across four parks that celebrates summer, Detroit’s 313th birthday and the 10th anniversary of Campus Martius Park. All events are at Campus Martius, except where noted.


11 a.m.: “Happy Birthday 3-1-3” celebration and T-shirt competition

11:30 a.m.: Music by Shane McKeever — Paradise Valley / Beatrice Buck Park

noon: Release of 313 butterflies

5:30 p.m.: Mix and Mingle party with music by Dwele


Noon: Music by Reggie Smith and the After Party

Noon-7 p.m.: Artist Nicole Macdonald paints portraits / Capitol Park

4 p.m.: D.J. Bruce Bailey

/ Capitol Park

5-11 p.m.: Music at half-hour intervals by the Brothers Groove, Sean Blackman’s In Transit - Latin Trio, Planet D Nonet, Roots Vibrations, Kaleido, Thornetta Davis, Dennis Coffey, Serieux, the Infatuations, Hot Sauce


Noon: Reg Pettibone Native American dancers

1 p.m.: Pop-up parade,

face-painting and parade

Make & Take

8 p.m.: Salsa party / Paradise Valley / Beatrice Buck Park

7-9 p.m.: Interactive mystery game followed by “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (starts about 9 p.m.)

Awards won by Campus Martius

2010 — The park won the first-ever Urban Land Institute Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award, named for the former New York City commissioner of city planning. At the time, she said, “What makes Campus Martius Park work so well is that, quite simply, it’s a place where people want to spend time. As a result, it’s a magnet for investment. That’s the definition of a successful urban open space.”

2010 — In the same year, the American Planning Association named Campus Martius Park one of “10 Great Public Spaces,” putting it in the same league as New York’s Bryant Park and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.


Jennifer Stach and Patty Maier eat lunch next to the fountain at Campus Martius. / David Coates / The Detroit News
Heidi Haidar at the Campus Martius beach on her lunch break: 'I feel like ... (Michael H. Hodges / The Detroit News)
A phalanx of food trucks feeds workers from nearby office buildings. ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Construction crews work on Compuware Corp.'s headquar ters, the ... (Paul Sancya / AP)