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Detroit — Delta Dental on Wednesday announced a $5 million gift to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to construct a five-acre playground on the West Riverfront, officials said.

The Delta Dental Play Garden will be a part of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, a project estimated to cost $60 million. Construction on the park is set to begin in 2020, and it should open in 2022, officials said. 

The $5 million investment is the largest in Delta Dental’s 62-year history, the company said. 

“We believe that we must be a force for good in the region every day,” Goran Jurkovic, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, said in a statement. “This space will engage families downtown and in Detroit’s neighborhoods and surrounding communities in fun and healthy activities for decades to come and help us achieve our purpose of building healthy, smart, vibrant communities.”

After talking to Detroit elementary school students about animals they would like featured in the Play Garden, the designers decided to include a 20-foot bear play structure, otters, beavers and even a dragon. 

“Kids are going to love this park,” Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, said in the statement. “The community has been incredibly enthusiastic about the designs we have presented for the play garden, and we are sure that this will be the place where kids from Detroit and the SE Michigan region will make some of their favorite childhood memories.”

The park will also include a large swimming cove where visitors can swim in the Detroit River during the summer and ice skate during winter months. 

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, which is currently called West Riverfront Park, is located along the riverfront at the intersection of the Corktown and Southwest neighborhoods. Before the conservancy opened the park in 2014, the 22-acre site was closed to the public for nearly 100 years. 

In 2018, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation funded the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to start a community-driven international design competition to find the best possible designers to head the West Riverfront Park $60-million remodel. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates was selected as the lead team and Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates will design the Sport House and Park House structures in the park.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation itself committed $50 million towards the park in October 2018. 

The conservancy’s goal is to develop 5.5 miles of riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. More than 85 percent of the of the 3.5-mile East Riverfront is complete with Atwater Beach opening this summer.

Construction on the next portion continues in the fall. 

Clark Doman contributed

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