$345K grant to fund West Riverfront Park design contest

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has received a $345,000 grant to fund a design competition to help transform the park that sits on property that was once home to the Detroit Free Press printing plant, officials said.

A nonprofit dedicated to developing the city’s riverfront district and facilitate community access to the waterfront, the Conservancy said it received the grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation to help revamp Detroit's West Riverfront Park.

“We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation,” Matt Cullen, chairman of the Conservancy’s board of directors, said in statement. “It will allow us to reach out to some of the world’s most talented designers and work with them to create an iconic new destination in Detroit.”

Based in Buffalo, New York, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life of people in Southeast Michigan and western New York. Wilson, who was the founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills professional football team, grew up in Detroit.

“An internationally-acclaimed design for West Riverfront Park will allow our region to dream big,” David Egner, the foundation’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “As a possible regional anchor, this project has the potential to improve the quality of life for residents, inspire further investment and help tie communities together, providing access for Southeast Michigan to more green space and recreation.”

The Conservancy has sent requests for qualifications to create designs for the park to more than 80 firms worldwide, including several from Metro Detroit, officials said. Replies must be submitted by next Wednesday.

A jury made up of representatives from the Conservancy, the city of Detroit and architectural design and planning experts will review the submissions, officials said.

They also said eight teams will be chosen for public interviews scheduled for Aug. 8-9.

Five semi-finalists will receive a $30,000 stipend to develop and complete design concepts over a 10-week period, according to the Conservancy.

Their concepts will be featured in a public exhibition to be held Nov. 14-15.

Officials will announce the winning concept in late November.

Detroit’s West Riverfront Park is a 22-acre site located between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Eighth Street along the Detroit Riverfront.

For nearly 100 years, the property was privately-owned and closed to the public until the Conservancy bought it from the Free Press in 2007. The nonprofit opened up the land as a park in 2014 and it’s been the site of several large concerts.

Its ultimate vision is to develop five-and-a-half miles of riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park, east of Belle Isle.

“West Riverfront Park will have a profound impact on local residents and visitors for generations,” Conservancy president and CEO Mark Wallace said in a statement. “We have a legacy of asking people what they want to see along their riverfront. By engaging our community in the process, we can transform the regional narrative about the city of Detroit and provide people with a destination that they will embrace.”