Winning design for West Riverfront Park unveiled

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The winning design for a $50 million makeover of West Riverfront Park would transform the open space on the Detroit waterfront: There would be a cove off the river with a sandy beach and kayak launch, a band shell backing up against the Detroit River, a jetty for fishing with an island for spawning fish just upstream and tree-lined paths with sweeping views of the city.

WINNER: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates designed areas along West Riverfront Park for fishing and kayaking, a large playground with slides, a jungle gym and a splash pad, and an amphitheater with a bandshell for concerts.

Now begins the nuts and bolts of making the plan a reality. The nonprofit in charge of the downtown park is so confident of the design it believes it can raise more than $50 million for its construction, said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

“We think there are some donors in town who are very excited about this project, and we’re hopeful we can fund raise in a relatively short period of time,” Wallace said at a Tuesday press conference where the winner of a design competition was announced. “Our goal would be to start construction in next 18 to 24 months.”

It would take about two years to complete all the designs on the 22-acre site Wallace said.

Last summer, four teams of designers, each with a wide range of projects, were selected to come up with concepts on how to transform the park, which is now an empty space downstream from Joe Louis Arena and the Riverfront Towers apartment and condominium complex. The design team ultimately chosen is led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York. Some the landscape architecture firm’s past projects include Maggie Daley Park in Chicago and Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. It is working in collaboration with PEA Inc. in Troy, NTH Consultants in Northville, Limnotech in Ann Arbor and others.

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy hopes to raise enough money to pay for its ultimate goal: create 51/2 miles of revitalized riverfront from “bridge to bridge” – from MacArthur Bridge upstream at Belle Isle on the east, and the Ambassador Bridge on the west. The conservancy manages the Detroit RiverWalk, the pedestrian and bicycle path that is one of the city’s most popular attractions. It also is in charge of the Dequindre Cut, the path built on a former railway line that links Eastern Market with the RiverWalk. More than 3 million people use some part of the RiverWalk annually.

The first phase of the conservancy’s plan of having more than 3 miles of pathway and park area along the east riverfront is more than 80 percent complete. West Riverfront Park is part of the RiverWalk, though the path is currently cut off from the water’s edge by Riverfront Towers and other privately owned land near Joe Louis Arena.

Wallace wouldn’t say how much the group aims to raise. The nonprofit has raised more than $163 million since its 2003 founding, according to its latest annual report. The organization has an elite list of corporate donors including General Motors Co., which has given more than $10 million. Another key donor has been the Kresge Foundation, which awarded a $50 million grant to the conservancy more than a decade ago.

West Riverfront Park, at 1801 W. Jefferson, is between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Eighth Street. The site held a former newspaper printing plant until 2007, when the joint venture that operates The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press sold the property to the conservancy. The park has been open to the public since 2014.

Table-top models and poster-size renderings of the designs for West Riverfront Park will be on display for the next several weeks. One of the models will be at Prentis Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 6. Another model and renderings will be in the Wintergarden at the GM Renaissance Center through May 10.

One of the designers on the team is Sir David Frank Adjaye, a Ghanaian-British architect. He is principal of Adjaye Associates, based in London and New York. He was a lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

Adjaye has been visiting Detroit for a decade.

“I’ve always found Detroit to be such an important city,” he said. “It really feels like there is a moment here where there are great public projects and this was the right moment for me to get involved.

“It’s a city with an incredible story and an incredible culture. That soul is totally unique and something that is really not in other American cities in the way you feel it when you are here.”

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN