Alliance to bring vibrancy to Detroit Riverfront, Joe Louis Greenway

 Alliance to bring vibrancy to Detroit Riverfront, Joe Louis Greenway

A rendering of the Hamtramck Drive renovation.

The City of Detroit, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership (JLGP) announced Jan. 31 the Unified Greenway Partnership, a first-of-its-kind alliance, which will raise funds to complete the Detroit Riverfront, build the Joe Louis Greenway, and endow both projects for long-term success. This groundbreaking campaign will create and sustain these beautiful, safe, and accessible public spaces, benefiting Detroiters for generations to come.

The $350 million transformational project consists of a connected system of public green spaces that links Detroit’s revitalized riverfront to 23 Detroit neighborhoods and the cities of Highland Park, Hamtramck, and Dearborn.

The announcement follows the adoption of a resolution and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by Detroit City Council to establish a framework for partners to raise funds needed for this transformational project and ensure this investment is sustained in the long-term through an endowment and dedicated City resources. The Neighborhood and Community Services Committee voted on January 26 to advance the resolution to City Council, and it was adopted by council today.

This $350 million investment in landmark public spaces will include: $200 million to build the Joe Louis Greenway; $50 million to complete the Detroit Riverfront; and $100 million to establish an endowment fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. In addition, the City of Detroit will dedicate $3 million annually to Joe Louis Greenway maintenance and operation and contribute $3 million annually to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to support operations and maintenance.

Project requires teamwork

A project of this magnitude requires investments from partners across the public and philanthropic sectors, including foundations and corporations. The alliance has already raised approximately $150 million in federal, state, local and philanthropic funds towards project construction. The first Joe Louis Greenway segment opened this past fall.

A rendering of the renovated Alpine and Westfield area.

“Between our beautiful riverfront and the new Joe Louis Greenway, we are creating a world-class recreational asset for all Detroiters,” said Mayor Mike Duggan, City of Detroit. “This new partnership will help keep it beautiful for generations to come.”

“This vision and scale of this public-private collaboration is unprecedented, as is putting in place a plan for perpetual stewardship,” said Matt Cullen, Chairman of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and a leader of the Unified Greenway campaign. “Building on the Conservancy’s 20-year track record of transformative public spaces and community impact, the Unified Greenway Partnership will ensure that our investment in these great connected spaces is rooted in a sustainable promise that these special places will serve our community for generations.”

Partnership roles

  • The City of Detroit will lead the planning, design, construction and operations of the Joe Louis Greenway and support the Conservancy and JLGP as they lead the Unified Greenway Partnership’s fundraising efforts. The City will coordinate and partner with the JLGP to operate, maintain, program, and control the Joe Louis Greenway.
  • The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will manage the expansion of its riverfront greenspaces that connect with the Joe Louis Greenway while continuing to play a lead role in the Unified Greenway Partnership’s fundraising efforts. It will continue to operate, secure, staff, program, and maintain its greenspaces, including Cullen Plaza, the Detroit Riverwalk, Robert C. Valade Park, Mt. Elliott Park, Gabriel Richard Park, Dequindre Cut, Southwest Greenway, and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park.
  • The Joe Louis Greenway Partnership will coordinate with the City to support the operations, maintenance, programming, community engagement, and volunteer opportunities for the Joe Louis Greenway. It will also play a key role in the Unified Greenway Partnership’s fundraising efforts.
  • The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan will manage the Unified Greenway endowment for long-term sustainability of both the Joe Louis Greenway and Detroit Riverfront. Each year, endowment proceeds will support operations, maintenance, programming, capital improvements, and administrative needs.

The project will deliver public health, quality-of-life benefits, turn blight into beauty, catalyze new and equitable economic development opportunities, and improve access and transit options citywide.  The nearly 30-mile greenway loop will expand recreational opportunities by connecting to parks throughout the city, regional and statewide trail networks, and the riverfront.

Revitalized riverfront to anchor recreational loop

Since 2003, the Conservancy has invested more than $200 million in the revitalization of the Detroit Riverfront, which in turn has generated more than $2 billion in public and private investment.  The Conservancy is continuing its transformation of 5.5 miles of revitalized riverfront and bridge-to-bridge vision, with 90 percent of the East Riverfront complete. Ongoing projects include the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park (opening in 2024), the Southwest Greenway (opening May 2023), and the Uniroyal Promenade (opening Fall 2023), which will complete the East Riverfront.

Plans for the Detroit Riverfront began in 2003 with a best-in-class community engagement process that has grown to include hundreds of meetings with residents. Community voices have continued to shape the vision for the Detroit Riverfront.  For the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park project, the Conservancy and partners hosted more than 70 community meetings which drew more than 6,500 participants and engaged them in the park design process.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with the City of Detroit and Joe Louis Greenway Partnership and encouraged by the community support for this system of connected parks and trails,” said Mark Wallace, President & CEO, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “Detroit loves the riverfront because it brings people together and makes us feel connected to each other. The Joe Louis Greenway will bring that energy into more neighborhoods and will provide a place where people from all walks of life will come together.”

Each year, 3.5 million people visit the Detroit Riverfront. The Detroit Riverwalk was named Best in America in 2021 and 2022 by USA TODAY.

Joe Louis Greenway to improve quality to 23 neighborhoods

The 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway will connect parks and neighborhoods across the city, allowing residents to travel safely from McNichols to the riverfront—all without a car—through a combination of new trails, on-street protected bike lanes and links to existing trails like the Dequindre Cut and the Detroit Riverwalk.  A major infrastructure investment, the greenway’s impact will extend far beyond the boundaries of the pathway itself, creating opportunities for Detroiters to thrive.

A rendering of the planned W. Warren Ave. pavilion.
A rendering of the planned W. Warren Ave. pavilion.

The vision for the Joe Louis Greenway has been shaped by Detroit residents who participated in an extensive, two-year engagement process. The resulting Joe Louis Greenway Framework Plan captures the community’s vision and serves as the project guide.  The project has received vocal community support from residents throughout the city and is a priority for Council and the Duggan administration.

The first phase of Joe Louis Greenway broke ground in May 2021 and the second phase broke ground in September 2022. Construction phases are expected to continue annually through 2026 with segments opening for use as they are completed. Last fall, the opening of a one-mile stretch of the greenway between Joy and Plymouth roads was celebrated at an event that was attended by hundreds of Detroit residents and families, dignitaries and members of the Joe Louis family.

The Joe Louis Greenway will serve as the anchor for continued equitable and meaningful investments. A two-year planning study through the City’s Planning & Development Department will seek the input of residents and local businesses to establish how best to leverage investment in the greenway to advance strategic and equitable neighborhood development while creating inclusive opportunities for existing residents and business owners. Strategies include homeowner stabilization, affordable housing and preservation, wealth-building opportunities, job training and creation, and small-business support through an equity lens.

“We are truly grateful for Detroit City Council’s leadership and support of the Joe Louis Greenway and the Unified Greenway Partnership,” said Alexis Wiley, Chair, Joe Louis Greenway Partnership. “With this MOU now in place, we look forward to continuing the work – alongside our partners and community stakeholders – to create this beautiful new recreational trail for residents of Detroit and the region.”

Ed Wright

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