Editorial: Riverwalk delivers on its promise to city

The Detroit News

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will announce tonight at its annual Shimmer on the River fundraiser that it has successfully completed the first phase of its capital campaign, raising $163 million for the Riverwalk, $23 million beyond its original goal. More importantly, perhaps, is that the conservancy is delivering on its promise to turn the riverfront into a economic catalyst for the city.

The conservancy has created a fabulous outdoor activity space along the Dequindre Cut from the riverfront to Eastern Market. This is Rivard Plaza, the same stretch of riverfront shown above.

The money raised has allowed the conservancy to build a 3.5-mile parkway along the river running from west of Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park on the east side.

In the Riverwalk’s first decade, it can boast of attracting more than $1 billion in development to the riverfront, a pace that has recently accelerated to $200 million a year and is expected to continue for the next 10 years.

South of Jefferson projects include the Milliken State Park and Harbor, University Prep Acedemy, the Globe Building Outdoor Adventure center, the 145-unit Harbortown residential complex and the Presbyterian Village senior housing, among others.

Soon to be added are 250 apartments in the Orleans Landing development, which, together with the other projects, will begin to create a true residential neighborhood on the river. Business are starting to fill in the empty spaces along Larned.

Detroit neglected its riverfront for most of its history. This stretch is now Rivard Plaza (see below).

As an engine for growth, the private Riverfront Conservancy has more than fulfilled the promise it made to its original investors, which included the General Motors and Kresge foundations, the state of Michigan, city of Detroit and numerous individual donors.

A second phase of the capital campaign will resume later this year and will help fund the extension of the Riverwalk east across the old Uniroyal site to the MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle, and west to the Ambassador Bridge.

Along the way, the conservancy has also created a fabulous outdoor activity space along the Dequindre Cut from the riverfront to Eastern Market.

The Riverwalk has played a substantial role in Detroit’s comeback. Its earliest advocates — Matt Cullen, Bob Larson and others — deserve a lot of credit for pushing the concept. Considering that soon after construction began the nation fell into a deep recession, choking off real estate development investment, what the conservancy has done is incredible.

Beyond the economic impact, the Riverwalk is also fulfilling its mission as a community gathering space. It has opened up the river to Detroiters, and has become one of the more truly diverse environments in downtown Detroit.

Under the leadership first of Faye Alexander Nelson and now Mark Wallace, the conservancy has been intentionally inclusive in its event planning. For Monday night’s Ford Fireworks display downtown, the conservancy is opening up its new west riverfront park to host a viewing party for Detroit’s top performing students.

The accompanying River Days festival will draw thousands of Detroit’s families to the river for carnival rides and entertainment.

Detroit neglected its riverfront for most of its history. Now, thanks to the conservancy and its supporters, the river has become an important tool in the city’s comeback.