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Boosters say Detroit on verge of an upscale riverfront

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

City boosters are declaring Detroit is once again on the verge of creating a mix of upscale residences and plenty of public open spaces along downtown’s riverfront.

The predictions came during the Tuesday groundbreaking of a $65 million apartment complex called Orleans Landing on an empty patch of Atwater Street. The 7.7-acre development will be built near the new Outdoor Adventure Center run by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The 278-unit facility is expected to open late next year.

Orleans Landing is in a sweet spot. The Dequindre Cut Greenway pedestrian/bike path and the RiverWalk along the Detroit River are less than a block away. Downtown, Belle Isle, Eastern Market are all just minutes away.

Plenty more development is to come soon, said Mayor Mike Duggan and others. “You get a sense we have fundamentally turned a corner,” he said about east riverfront development. Others who work on attracting investment to Detroit said on Tuesday multiple developers seek to build on empty land owned by the city along the downtown riverfront.

The promise of filling the east riverfront with a mix of upscale housing and inviting public spaces has been a decades-long goal of city officials and developers. The east riverfront runs from downtown along the Detroit River and south of Jefferson Avenue to the MacArthur Bridge leading to Belle Isle Park. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was mainly an industrial and warehouse district.

It isn’t the first time the riverfront’s rebirth has been predicted. About 18 years ago, then-Mayor Dennis Archer began a plan to build the city’s three casinos and an entertainment district along the east riverfront. It created a legal and bureaucratic quagmire, destroying what had been an eclectic area of restaurants and bars.

The plan collapsed because it was too costly. Some of the last empty buildings near the riverfront are the bars and eateries that got cleared out for the casinos, which eventually were built elsewhere.

Nine years ago this week then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick declared Detroit’s ugly, industrial-scarred riverfront a thing of the past and touted developments that included million-dollar penthouses. One of those planned developments were to be located on the spot where Orleans Landing is about to begin construction. The national recession killed those projects.

Last year, east riverfront’s promise played a key role in helping Detroit get out of bankruptcy. It was prime pieces of riverfront property, including Joe Louis Arena, that convinced the city’s last two major holdout creditors to stop battling the deal that allowed Detroit to exit bankruptcy.

While the previous attempts to transform the area failed, it did succeed in helping the city assemble land. Ugly concrete silos have been cleared. Roads and other infrastructure were improved. And businesses and foundations created the Detroit RiverWalk, the pedestrian and bike pathway.

Further, the riverfront has seen more than $1 billion in investment over the past decade and another $1 billion is expected to be invested in the next 10 years, city officials say.

Orleans Landing is expected to open late next year. If things go as planned, a second phase will add 230 more rental units.

The developer behind Orleans Landing is St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar.

Orleans Landing will have 278 apartments with 20 percent of them at affordable housing rates. The rest will be market-rate. The units will include one- and two-bedroom units, including flats and hybrid retail/lofts. Also planned are 30 townhouses with garages.

In addition, 10,500 square feet of retail space is planned.

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN