Fundraising campaign begins for Detroit park project

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A funding campaign is underway to develop an educational park just west of the new Fort Street Bridge in southwest Detroit.

The Fort Rouge Gateway Project kicked off a 60-day campaign Wednesday in a quest to begin the first phase of the $500,000 Fort Street Bridge Park. The half-acre site sits at the western foot of the new bridge that reopened in December.

About half of the funding goal already has been committed through partners including the Erb Foundation, Marathon Petroleum Co., United Auto Workers Local 600 and others. But the public-private gateway partnership hopes the crowd funding site will help organizers to secure the remaining dollars.

“We want you to rally together. Tell your friends what can be done here in southwest Detroit,” Brian Yopp, director of programs and operations for the MotorCities National Heritage Area, urged during a morning news conference at the site. “We want to realize the goal that’s going to allow us to start the project in the summer months because winter is coming soon. We need that other push.”

The pocket park at the northeast corner of Fort and Denmark streets is targeted for an opening in spring 2017. The vision calls for bike loops, seating and a rain garden. The urban park’s centerpiece will feature interpretive signage paying homage to the 1932 Hunger March, which served as the catalyst for the organized labor movement.

The future park also will serve as a stopping point on the Iron Belle Trail, a state park that spans from Belle Isle to Iron Wood in the Upper Peninsula.

A later phase of the project calls for a $1 million kayak launch on the Rouge River, Yopp said.

Other partners include the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Friends of the Rouge, Detroit Greenways Coalition, the cities of Dearborn and Detroit and Michigan Department of Transportation.

District 6 Council member Raquel Castaneda Lopez said the park has been years in the making and will provide “desperately needed” recreational opportunities to residents in the nearby 48217 neighborhoods.

“This project has taken years to come to fruition,” she said. “This is incredibly important. It provides greater access to the Oakwood Heights and 48217 neighborhoods, but also really highlights the uniqueness and history of this area.”

Organizers hope to raise at least $10,000 through the new campaign. Each donation will be matched by the Erb Foundation, Yopp said.

The park space was gifted to the community by MDOT, which began construction on the Rouge Bridge in winter 2013. Historical markers, stones and structural steel salvaged from the original bridge, built in the 1920s, will be incorporated into the park design.