Judge ending pursuit of RiverWalk trademark for profit

Holly Fournier and Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Wayne County judge has agreed to withdraw his request to trademark names associated with the Detroit RiverWalk, according to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

Wayne County Probate Judge Terrance Keith filed trademark applications last month in hopes of profiting from the sales of merchandise promoting one of the city’s premier attractions. He filed paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the names “the Detroit RiverWalk” and “RiverWalk Detroit.”

Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, confirmed the judge’s reversal Thursday.

“We met with him yesterday, had a great conversation, and we were able to come to a resolution very easily and very quickly,” Wallace said. “He’s a huge supporter of the Riverfront Conservancy and clearly someone who loves Detroit and the people of Detroit.

“He is withdrawing his application for the trademarks.”

Wallance declined to detail the terms of their resolution but indicated he expected the judge to remain involved with the riverfront in the future.

“He’s been a friend of the conservancy, and he’s had a strong relationship with the riverfront,” Wallace said. “We expect that to continue.”

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is a nonprofit that manages the 3.5 mile path along the Detroit River shoreline. According to the federal trademark database, the conservancy previously had trademarked the name “Detroit International Riverfront.”

Keith — author of a 2014 collection of his photographs titled “Sunrise on the Detroit River: A Love Letter to Detroit” — has not return phone calls from The Detroit News seeking comment on the trademark filings. He previously told Crain’s Detroit Business that owning the trademarks would allow him to shape the future direction of the walkway; he was willing to give some of the proceeds to the conservancy, but not all, according to Crain’s.

The current walkway stretches from Gabriel Richard Park near the Belle Isle bridge west to Joe Louis Arena and to the Ambassador Bridge. The conservancy manages the 5.5-mile stretch of riverfront property, including the construction of a continuous RiverWalk along with plazas, pavilions and green spaces.

It has raised $120 million since 2003 to pay for redevelopment projects and needs to raise $3 million a year for new projects, conservancy officials told the News in 2015.

The projects include the Dequindre Cut’s pedestrian pathway, the River Days festival during the summer and the 3.5 miles of RiverWalk, where amenities include playful water features, a butterfly garden and a carousel.

Wallance on Thursday said 2015 saw a record number of visitors to the riverfront, an achievement that conservancy officials hope to top this year.

“We’re really exciting about what’s happening on the RiverWalk. It’s going to be a really exciting year,” he said. “It’s really become a special place, and we’re proud to be the stewards of that great space.”


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Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.