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The CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, Mark Wallace talks about how turning the city's waterfront into a gathering place for everyone has built civic pride and will last for generations. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Detroit RiverFront Conservancy CEO has spent three years leading charge to transform waterfront into destination for all

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Mark Wallace is all about tapping into unrealized potential.

As CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, the 40-year-old Corktown resident has spent the last three years leading the charge to transform the city’s waterfront into a destination for all.

The nonprofit is forging ahead on major improvements along Detroit’s east and west waterfront and, Wallace said, it is committed to projects it can deliver.

“There’s something really special about doing something that you can accomplish in a short number of years that has an echo for generations,” Wallace said. “We want to be a place that makes commitments to the public, executes on those commitments and continues to ask the public what else they would like to see.”

In late August, four finalists were selected for a design competition for Detroit’s West Riverfront Park, a 22-acre site between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Eighth Street.

Each firm’s design concept will appear in a public exhibition in January.

Meanwhile, the conservancy and its partners want to break ground next spring on a plan that would turn a former blighted industrial site on the East Riverfront into Atwater Beach, an oversized sandbox and playground with amenities for families.

Wallace landed his position with the conservancy in 2014, just over a decade after he served as project manager for the second phase of the Detroit RiverWalk from Rivard Plaza to Gabriel Richard Park.

The Princeton University graduate spent three years as a Detroit Public Schools teacher before taking an interest in real estate development in graduate school at the University of Michigan.

Matt Cullen, who chairs the conservancy and is principal of Rock Ventures, said he first met Wallace after appearing at the university for a speaking event on public spaces.

“He came up to me after class and said he wanted to get involved. He was very passionate about the city,” said Cullen, who noted Wallace remained in touch and active. “He’s just sort of made Detroit his home and has immersed himself in it with the idea of making a better place for everybody.”

Wallace formerly headed up leasing at the Renaissance Center, recruiting numerous tenants, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, one of the largest leases in Detroit in the past decade.

He also served as a director with Hines Interests LP, working on major projects including Chicago’s massive River Point development, a 50-story tower on the Chicago River and 1.5-acre public park.

A longtime musician, Wallace also has gained attention for his Wallace Detroit Guitar, a firm that crafts guitars with wood reclaimed from Detroit buildings.

“I am a person who is always anticipating what could be instead of what is.”

Mark Wallace

Age: 40

Occupation: President and CEO, Detroit RiverFront Conservancy

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Princeton University, master’s degree, University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Family: Single

Why honored: For his vision to transform Detroit’s riverfront

Other Michiganians:Odis Bellinger | Debbie Dingell | Allie Greenleaf Maldonado | Shell Jones | Kary L. Moss | Stephen R. Polk | Matthew Simoncini | Fred Upton

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