Plan to reshape Detroit cultural district start of 'something historical'

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
A canopy addition suggested for the John R entrance of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Detroit — Calling it the start of "something historical," several leaders of the region's cultural and educational institutions hailed the design plan introduced Monday that aims to reshape the city's cultural and educational district into a unified, walkable space.

A team that includes one of France's top landscape architecture and urban design firms, along with five other members with extensive Detroit experience, was selected to lead the overhaul of 83 acres around 12 cultural and educational institutions. Beyond major changes to the outdoor space, the design recommends physical changes to several museums and other institutions. Changes to individual institutions would likely require capital campaigns to raise the money. 

MOREDesign team's 'boldness' wins competition to reshape Detroit's cultural district

Early estimates put the plan's cost at $75 million to $85 million and could take around 10 years to be finished. But the first phases of the redesign could be ready early next decade, organizers said. The design competition attracted 44 entries from at least 10 countries and 22 cities, according to Midtown Detroit Inc., the nonprofit leading the campaign.

The design for the Detroit Institute of Arts calls for adding a potential canopy for the John R entrance of the building, as well as adding a rooftop cafe.

"Those are wonderful ideas that need to be examined and studied to see what are our priorities and the funding behind them," DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said, referring to the physical changes to the museum.

Detroit Institute of Arts Director Salvador Salort-Pons and Detroit Public Library executive director JoAnne Mondowney at the Monday announcement of winning design plan for the city's cultural district.

He said the plan addressed the DIA's more immediate goal of potentially "solving our parking issues." The plan recommends creating a new underground parking garage near Brush Street and also explores what to do with a currently unused parking garage. 

He and others praised the plan's effort to bring the various institutions to find new ways to collaborate with the new outdoor space.

"We are the start of something historical," said Jo Anne Mondowney, executive director of the Detroit Public Library system. She called it one of the most important initiatives in the library's history. "We feel as though we would be able to collaborate and connect, we can be the ambassadors for young people of everything around here."  

The main library on Woodward Avenue is 20,000 square feet, she said. "We are looking forward to explore ways to repurpose the space."  There is already a capital campaign underway for the physical condition of the main library. 

Neil Barclay, president of the  Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, lauded the design plan's aim to add green space and an outdoor performance space near the museum. The plan calls for a new outdoor cafe. 

"I think it aligns with some of our ideas our institution has already been discussing," Barclay said. "This is just the start of this process, in some ways."

In July, the effort begins an intensive 18-month period in which the many of the nuts and bolts of the plan get fleshed out. The process will include many public meetings, along with discussions with city officials and the participating institutions to get a better sense of how much of the plan will become reality.

The plan would better connect the Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University, main Detroit Public Library, Detroit Historical Museum, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, College for Creative Studies, Michigan Science Center, Scarab Club, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, University of Michigan’s Horace H. Education Memorial Building and Hellenic Museum of Michigan. The Science Center building also contains the University Prep Science & Math Middle School.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN