After recalling times when much of the Detroit River was run down and barely accessible by the public, a cheerful group of public and private officials broke ground on the final stage of the east riverfront project Monday morning.
The project, which will be funded by $44 million in federal and state appropriations, will connect the downtown RiverWalk to the space just east of the Belle Isle bridge, creating green spaces, plazas and parks accessible for the city’s residents and visitors.
Amid the ongoing turmoil surrounding Detroit’s financial situation, Gov. Rick Snyder noted his pleasure to announce the news in Detroit on Monday morning, and he said he recently looked across the river from Windsor with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — before announcing the new international bridge crossing — and told him about the resurgence of the riverfront.
“From what was a lost opportunity, there is success, and we should be proud of that,” Snyder said Monday morning. “Let’s keep this going. Let’s make this riverfront great and reinvent Detroit.”
The state’s Department of Natural Resources awarded the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy a $15 million check at the groundbreaking ceremony. The conversancy has also received a $29 million federal highway appropriation, which U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, helped secure and the state’s Department of Transportation gave to the river project.
Officials from the conservancy, MDOT, DNR and others applauded the partnership that will transform the river.
“This is so exciting,” said Faye Nelson, president of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, adding construction will begin immediately and be complete by the end of 2013. “We are marching toward that finish line, and obviously, as everyone has mentioned, we could have never done this by ourselves. This is an extraordinary public-private partnership.”
One of the main improvements coming with the project is a transformation of Mount Elliott Park, which will have an interactive water park for kids, a separate kids play area, new landscaping with trees and shrubs and an open pavilion structure similar to the one at Rivard Plaza. Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the Belle Isle bridge, will soon have a new parking lot, lighting enhancements and a bicycle pathway connecting the riverfront to Jefferson Avenue. The former Uniroyal tire factory will also be developed into a public space.
After construction is complete, the conservancy hopes to develop the west riverfront and have it extend a total of more than five miles to the Ambassador Bridge, but that may be a lengthy process because of obstructing apartment complexes and two railroads, Levin said.
“The people are being connected with our river, and the people are being reconnected to each other,” Levin said. “A big part of the renewal of this riverfront and the fabulous work which has been done here is part of the renewal of our town, so the dream is coming true.
“It’s a dream that has been part of so many for so many decades to finally get our river back. And we are finally getting our river back, folks.”
By: Josh Katzenstein, The Detroit News