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Issue 6 • Fall 2018



etroit is an incredibly philanthropic community, and the generosity that I regularly witness here is phenomenal. The members of our community consistently step up to empower the organizations that help make our city great. Several years ago, we began envisioning a West Riverfront transformation that would have a profound impact on the surrounding neighborhoods and the region. This fall, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation made a $50 million cornerstone gift which allows us to move forward with this vision. The newly-named Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will be on par with some of the greatest parks in the country

when it opens in 2022. Our park will have one striking difference, however. It will be created for our community by our community. With the support of the Wilson Foundation, as well as from other donors such as the William Davidson Foundation, we are celebrating more ways for our community to come together. With your support, we can maintain these public spaces as beautiful, safe destinations for everyone. As a non-profit, we rely on our donors for the funds we need for security, maintenance, operations and programming. Every donation makes a difference. This holiday season, please consider

making a gift that will enhance the lives of kids and families by keeping these spaces funded and accessible to the public. Cities are made better by their communities, and it is through support like yours that we flourish. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy exists because of you. Thank you for believing in the work we are doing and for supporting it year after year. Cassie Brenske Chief Development Officer

A MAGICAL EVENING AT THE FREIGHT YARD A touch of magic was in the crisp, evening air on October 26 as more than 550 guests gathered at the Dequindre Cut Freight Yard for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy’s Soirée: Masquerade on the Greenway.

Soirée—which was presented by Citizens Bank as the event’s most prominent sponsor—featured food from popular Metro Detroit food trucks and a selection of local Oktoberfest brews, including spiced ciders and meads. In keeping with the season, many guests attended in costume, making the event a truly festive occasion. Guests enjoyed Tarot card readings, pedal-powered creatures, S’mores stations and other fun activities.

The sixth year of this event saw record numbers in funds raised, attendance and sponsorships. With the help of Citizens Bank and the generosity of Detroiters, this year’s sold-out event raised $90,000, which surpassed its fundraising goal. This much-needed financial support allows the Conservancy to ensure that the RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut remain safe, clean and beautiful destinations for visitors to enjoy.

Additionally, Soirée marked the completion of a Sydney James’ mural on the Dequindre Cut.

“Citizens Bank is proud to support the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. The Conservancy’s work on the Dequindre Cut and along the riverfront brings our community together and is critical to the economic vitality of the city and region.” Rick Hampson, president of Citizens Bank, Michigan 2


SIR DAVID ADJAYE The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is thrilled to be working with Sir David Adjaye OBE to transform Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park. Sir David, a world-renowned architect, has partnered with Michael Van Valkenburgh to design the sport and park house. “We feel thrilled to be working with Adjaye Associates on the sport house,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. “His artistry and experience will create an iconic cultural space where the children of Southeast Michigan can learn and play.”

Sir David was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents. His father served as a diplomat. Since starting his career as an architect in 1994, Sir David has worked on a number of high-profile projects, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which opened on the National Mall in 2016. In 2017, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was also included on TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the year. When it comes to architecture, David believes that the spaces he designs need to be inclusive and create universal human emotions that welcome people from all walks of life. The buildings must also work in harmony with each other and the landscape. For that reason, he will be working very closely with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates so that the sport house will work with other park elements to uphold the spirit of Detroit

and accentuate the beauty of the Detroit River. The sport house itself will be an area where children and adults can come to play, interact and ultimately learn from one another. “Looking at this extraordinary river and its landscape and what it does, it is forcing you to not take anything of the human experience lightly,” said Sir David. “What I think this offers to communities is a way to engage with beauty without the tyranny of elitism, and to use program as the invitation to encounter it.”


THE RALPH C. WILSON, JR. Thanks to a generous and significant contribution to the revitalization of the Detroit Riverfront, West Riverfront Park has been renamed “Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park” in honor of the late businessman and former owner of the Buffalo Bills football franchise. THE RALPH C. WILSON, JR. FOUNDATION is a grant-making organization that is dedicated to investing in the quality of life for people in Southeast Michigan and in Western New York. In 2017, the Foundation supported the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy in providing the funds to lead an international design competition to reimagine West Riverfront Park. The competition concluded this past spring when the Conservancy announced the renowned New York-based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates as the winner. Now, as the Conservancy works on putting the finishing touches on the design plans for the park, 4

the Foundation has extended its support once again in the form of a $50 million gift to further construction and long-term sustainability efforts along the riverfront. That gift is part of a $200 million investment that is to be split evenly

between Southeast Michigan and Western New York to advance the vision of important regional trail systems, such as the Detroit Riverfront. “This generous gift honoring the legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. is

CENTENNIAL PARK recognition of the Conservancy’s to honor his legacy by making the The announcement of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park success in transforming the park an inclusive space that will was officially made at an riverfront into a gathering place bring the community together for all,” said Matt Cullen, chairman, through collaboration and teamwork. October 17 press conference which was Detroit RiverFront attended by Conservancy. several hundred “This generous gift honoring the “The creation of people, including this new park legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. is Governor Rick will be one of the recognition of the Conservancy’s Snyder and most significant Detroit Mayor public space success in transforming the riverfront Michael Duggan. projects underinto a gathering place for all…” With this increditaken in our city’s ble donation, the Matt Cullen, chairman, Detroit RiverFront Conservancy history, and it will Conservancy is provide tremenlooking forward dous benefits to “Parks and trails have an incredible to wrapping up the design and youth and families in our impact on communities – inviting planning stage for the park in community—and throughout the usage from all ages, neighbor2019, and then moving towards region—for generations to come.” hoods and people – promoting a ground-breaking in 2020. The Throughout his life, Mr. Wilson inclusiveness and breaking down park will officially open to the was extremely passionate about barriers,” said Jeffrey Littmann, public in 2022. his hometown of Detroit, as well life trustee and board chair of the as staying active in his commuRalph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. nity. Through the creation of the “They not only connect people to Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial each other, but to other destinations Park, the Conservancy is hoping and assets across a region.”




More than 340,000 visitors turned out along the Detroit Riverfront this year to partake in the many exciting programs and special events hosted by the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. One of the most popular events this summer (and every summer!) was Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront (R3), an early literacy program sponsored by General Motors to help kids get excited about reading. R3 served more than 4,500 kids and their families through interactive children’s entertainment. Children attended to hear a story read by a local community leader, enjoy 6

a free ride on the Cullen Family Carousel and go home with a free book, compliments of the Detroit Public Library. The Conservancy also hosted a full season of fun and music on the Dequindre Cut. The D.Cipher music series at the Campbell Terrace featured many talented musical artists from Southeast Michigan every Wednesday. These family-friendly concerts covered many genres of music and performance art, including hip hop, rock, jazz, soul and much more.

However, one of the biggest stars of the summer was the Dequindre Cut Freight Yard. The Freight Yard was the summer’s go-to destination for events, entertainment and shopping. Visitors to this exciting new space had the opportunity to enjoy delicious eats from Detroit food truck favorites like Yum Village and sample libations from Brut Detroit. Visitors also had the chance to shop for colorful and interesting works of local artists. The Cut was also the location for the Conservancy’s popular annual Harvestfest in October, an event that

RIVERFRONT drew more than 4,000 attendees to trick or treat and enjoy free movies, face painting, bounce houses, hayrides and more.

“This was one of our busiest seasons along the Detroit Riverfront, but it also was one of our most rewarding,” said Rachel Frierson, director

Some of the other 2018 special events and programs that were hosted by the Conservancy and its partners along the Detroit Riverfront: Rain Barrel Workshops, Kids Fishing Fest, GM River Days, Yoga and T’ai Chi classes, Fit Park Boot Camps, Canine Walks, Moonlight Yoga, Shimmer on the River, Riverfront Relaxin,’ Herbal Walk and Talks and Soirée on the Greenway.

of programming at the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. “Now that things have winded down, the winter is when we look to engage with our partners and begin planning our events and programs for the coming season.” If you’re interested in hosting a public event along the Detroit Riverfront in 2019, the Conservancy is now accepting applications until January 1. For more information, visit



VOLUNTEERS! Now that the busy season for volunteers has come to a close, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy would like to thank everyone who lent a hand along the Detroit Riverfront this past spring and summer. “Every year the Conservancy relies on the energy and generosity of groups and individuals from across the Detroit area,” said Renee Rodriguez, volunteer manager at the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. “Volunteers really help make the Detroit Riverfront a fun and inviting place. Without help from the community, the Conservancy wouldn’t be able to put on the many events and programs we host each year.” This past year alone, more than 350 people donated their time to help out along the RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut, logging

more than 6,800 hours. Throughout the busy warm-weather season, volunteers greeted visitors, led kids’ activities and set up for events. While the demand for volunteer work is less in the winter, the off season is when the Conservancy spends a lot of time organizing and preparing for the coming year. For those interested in volunteering, fall and winter are the best times to sign up and to attend one of the orientation sessions.

To learn more and apply to be a volunteer, visit or call (313) 566-8207.

WAYS TO VO LU NT E E R • Be a Riverfront Ambassador. • Staff the information booth. • Lead arts and crafts activities for kids. • Check wristbands at an event. • Hand out fliers on the RiverWalk. • Set up at events. 8

DEVELOPING DETROIT’S RIVERFRONT With several construction projects in gear, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is looking forward to opening additional spaces along the riverfront to bring Detroiters and visitors together in new ways. This is all in an effort to continue transforming the Detroit Riverfront into a world-class gathering place for everyone to enjoy.


hene Park/Stroh River Place Connection

Construction to extend the RiverWalk and build a bridge that links Chene Park with Stroh River Place is now complete, with the new stretch opening in summer 2019. While this new section is relatively short in length, it is an important step in completing the vision of a continuous RiverWalk along the East Riverfront that stretches from the MacArthur Bridge to Joe Louis Arena. This new connection features a 40-foot-wide pedestrian bridge with decorative stone fascia panels, marine railing, concrete walkways, benches, lighting and security call boxes. Atwater Beach The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy celebrated the official groundbreaking of Atwater Beach during a press

conference on August 27 that was attended by more than 300 people. Speakers included leaders from the Conservancy, as well as officials from the City of Detroit and the Michigan Department of Transportation, and representatives from the Knight Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation, which contributed significantly to the project. Students from several local schools were also in attendance and participated in the festivities. Since the groundbreaking, construction has progressed steadily. The site has been cleared and leveled and there are stakes in the ground marking where the barbecue pavilion, playscape and shed will be built. Over the next couple of months, work on the shed structure will begin. The shed will be fully enclosed during the winter as all underground utility work throughout the site is completed. At its completion,

Atwater Beach will be a fun and vibrant destination for Detroiters when it opens in the summer. As a family-friendly urban beachfront, it will feature a barge cafĂŠ, play structure, musical garden, picnic space, large sandy area and space for retail and events. Uniroyal RiverWalk The Conservancy is in the design finalization phase of the much-anticipated extension of the RiverWalk across the Uniroyal site. When complete, this exciting piece of riverfront located between Mt. Elliott Park and Gabriel Richard Park will eliminate a 1,700foot gap along the East Riverfront and create convenient access for visitors to the Belle Isle bridge. This new stretch of RiverWalk will feature striking landscape elements, as well as benches, lighting and security cameras. 9


THE WILLIAM DAVIDSON FOUNDATION On August 27, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy broke ground on Atwater Beach. The family-friendly destination—which will feature a sandy beach, play scape, programming shed, picnic areas and a barge serving food and drink—will open next summer. The William Davidson Foundation is the most significant funder of the project to date. “We’re excited to continue our investments in Detroit and the riverfront,” said Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation. “Like our founder, we’re passionate about the people and places in Detroit that shape our culture and economy. The riverfront is a destination for residents and visitors alike, and Atwater Beach represents one more world-class asset in the community.” The William Davidson Foundation is a private family foundation established in 2005 by Detroit-area businessman William “Bill” Davidson. As a successful, no-nonsense entrepreneur and industrialist, he turned a small family-owned business into one of the world’s largest manufacturers of architectural and automotive glass, Guardian Industries. He also owned the Detroit Pistons for many years. But more important than that, Davidson had a generous heart and believed in supporting and giving back to his community. Although he passed away in 2009, his namesake foundation works today to promote the cultural, civic and economic vitality of Southeast Michigan, the State of Israel and the Jewish community. A big part of its mission includes working toward the betterment of the Detroit area, where he lived his entire life.

“Like our founder, we’re passionate about the people and places in Detroit that shape our culture and economy…” – Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation


When completed, Atwater Beach will be an important part of the riverfront, where residents and workers alike can gather together and enjoy the beachfront and scenic views. With that spirit of community and unity, the Conservancy hopes this project will honor the legacy of William Davidson and the pillars of the foundation that bears his name. Be sure to visit Atwater Beach this summer!


It has been an incredible year along the Detroit Riverfront. Just this year alone, more than 340,000 people have enjoyed our programs and special events. Additionally, significant progress has been made toward achieving our ultimate goal of 5.5 miles of revitalized riverfront. Meanwhile, exciting announcements have been made about projects that will impact not only the riverfront, but Detroit AND the region of Southeast Michigan as well. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is grateful to our supporters for making our work possible. This holiday season, we hope you’ll join us in renewing your gift of support that allows us to uphold our promise to the community of maintaining the pristine, safe and welcoming atmosphere that all visitors — Detroiters, suburbanites and others from around

the globe — deserve on the riverfront. Gifts of all sizes help us make important strides along the riverfront. WAYS TO GIVE: • Make a one-time donation or • Give of your time as one of become a Monthly Sustainer our volunteers • Learn about any matching gift programs you may have through an employer

• Add the Conservancy to a will or trust

• Become a Conservancy member and receive exclusive benefits

• Make a gift in honor of a loved one

• Secure a matching gift

• Purchase an engraved brick or paver

We hope you will consider joining us in our mission to provide a world class riverfront for all. Please visit

About the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 with the mission to develop public access to Detroit’s Riverfront and to serve as an anchor for economic development. As the permanent stewards of the RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut, the Conservancy is responsible for raising the funds needed for construction, operation, maintenance, security and programming of the public spaces located along the riverfront. The Conservancy’s ultimate vision is to develop five-and-a-half miles of riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge on the west to Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. Visit for more information. 11

Non Profit Organization US Postage


Permit No. 730 Southfield, MI

600 Renaissance Center Suite 1720 Detroit, MI 48243-1805 (313) 566-8200 IN THIS ISSUE‌ STORY


A Message from Cassie Brenske ............ 1 A Magical Evening ......................................... 2 The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park............................................... 4 Making Summer Memories ....................... 6 Thank You, Volunteers ................................ 8 Developing Detroit’s Riverfront ............ 9 The William Davidson Foundation ...... 10 Giving Impacts Detroit ............................... 11

Profile for Detroit RiverFront Conservancy

Detroit RiverFront Newsletter Fall 2018  

A Message from Cassie Brenske • A Magical Evening • The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park • Making Summer Memories • Thank You, Volunteer...

Detroit RiverFront Newsletter Fall 2018  

A Message from Cassie Brenske • A Magical Evening • The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park • Making Summer Memories • Thank You, Volunteer...