Detroit — A vision for 400 acres of Detroit’s east riverfront revealed Wednesday pictures a new “Atwater Beach,” an expansion of Milliken State Park and the addition of new links to the RiverWalk.
The overall goal is to significantly expand the downtown riverfront area by preserving more public space and opening more access to the riverfront to near east side residents. It aims to also add commercial space and housing.
The plan, produced by the city and the nonprofit Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, comes after one year of community outreach and affects the area from Rivard near the General Motors Renaissance Center to the Gabriel Richard Park near Belle Isle. The area includes many public and private spaces such as Chene Park Amphitheatre, the Dequindre Cut Greenway, the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources and the long-empty Uniroyal site.
“This is one of the most exciting projects we have ever announced,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the riverfront conservancy, which oversees the RiverWalk pedestrian and bike path, as he spoke in front of hundreds of residents Wednesday evening. The plan was unveiled at the Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center, 1801 Atwater.
“The greenway connections and expansions of the park space will significantly improve the riverfront for generations to come,” Wallace said.
The proposal, which is a compilation of proposed projects in the area, is essentially a road map of how much retail, housing and infrastructure could be built and how much open space would be preserved.
“We are looking to implement some of this plan in 2017 and some of it will begin in 2018,” said Maurice Cox, director of the city Planning and Development Department.
Annabelle Mavis, 63, cheered when she saw a rendering of the proposed conversion of East Jefferson Avenue between Rivard and East Grand Boulevard from nine to five lanes. The other lanes would be converted to bicycle lanes. That stretch of Jefferson has been the scene of 1,350 vehicle crashes and 39 pedestrian-vehicular crashes in the past five years, officials said.
“Whatever it takes to get people to slow down on Jefferson, it’s a good plan,” Mavis said.
The riverfront, which was mainly an industrial and warehouse district for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, now draws more than 3 million people a year to use the RiverWalk, according to the conservancy. Wallace said more than $275 million in investments have been made in the area. Another $1 billion of public and private funding is expected in the next 10 years. It was not clear how the future projects would be financed.
The proposal includes a number of moving parts, as well as some projects that are already in the works. Here are some of the details:
Three new parkland areas
Three sites south of Atwater — previously slated for private development — will become public park space, adding nearly eight acres of park space. One is Atwater Beach, to be roughly bordered by Chene, Atwater and Joseph Campau. Another is an expansion of Milliken State Park and Harbor between Chene Park and the harbor. And the third is an expansion of the wetlands near Rivard Plaza.
The three projects are approved, Wallace said, and all three projects could be completed in 2018.
■ Two new “Dequindre Cut” style greenways will be improved to connect east side residents to the RiverWalk. The Joseph Campau Greenway, which runs from the Detroit River to Vernor, will get new lighting, furnishings, paving and landscaping. The other one, the Beltline Greenway between Belleview and Beaufait, will run from Kercheval to the Detroit River.
Securing the funding for both is near, city officials said.
Khali Sweeney, founder and CEO of Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program at 6645 E. Vernor, said he applauded the plan, adding that it will give easier access to the riverfront for east side residents.
Updating East Jefferson Avenue
More attractive and bike and pedestrian-friendly paths are planned for East Jefferson, Rivard Street to Belle Isle. The city is finalizing a budget set to enhance crosswalks and add bike lanes. Work is expected to begin soon.
Updating old industrial buildings
Officials said the plan is to step up the process of finding new life for old buildings. On Thursday, the city plans to begin the process of finding a private development for the Stone Soap building at 1490 Franklin. The building, officials said, is an example of a historic structure along the riverfront. The city is seeking a proposal for an adaptive reuse with a mixed-use development.
There is also the possibility of more development on Atwater near Milliken Park and upgrades to existing buildings on Franklin.
“We intend to have this kick-start a lot more development,” said Moddie Turay, executive vice president of real estate for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. “This wasn’t a plan we intended to sit on the shelf. This is real.”
The riverfront conservancy, the city Planning & Development Department and the DEGC began working with design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on the plan in 2016. That led to several months of residential and stakeholder engagement, including community meetings, neighborhood walks and district tours.
New York–based HR&A Advisors provided real estate and economic consulting services, and landscape design concepts were created by Paris-based designers Michel Desvigne and Inessa Hansc.
Six local firms — McIntosh Poris, Birmingham; Giffels Webster, Detroit; Kraemer Design Group, Detroit; AKT Peerless, Detroit; Rich & Associates, Southfield, and E. Austell Associates, West Bloomfield — provided consulting and advisory roles.
■3 new parkland areas
■2 new greenways like the Dequidre Cut
■Extending the RiverWalk from Mt. Elliott Park to the Belle Isle Bridge
■Adding bike- and pedestrian-friendly paths along East Jefferson from Rivard to Belle Isle
■Repurposing the Stone Soap building