Construction for a new park is underway on Detroit’s West Riverfront after community leaders broke ground for the new Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, formerly known as the West Riverfront Park, in May. According to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s website, the park “will undergo a dramatic transformation into a world-class gathering place for all.” There are plans to include basketball courts at the William Davidson Sport House, an outdoor classroom for kids in the Delta Dental Play Garden, and more.
Producer AJ Walker takes viewers to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park groundbreaking to hear from the leaders responsible for bringing the park to reality. Plus, Walker takes viewers on a tour of what the park will look like and the activities available for families.
AJ Walker, Contributor, American Black Journal: It’s another milestone for the city of Detroit and its beautiful river. The groundbreaking ceremony for the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, formerly known as West Riverfront Park, now has a new name and epic new plans for development.
William Smith, Chief Financial Officer, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy: When we say this park has something for everyone, it’s because we actively worked to bring everyone to the table. In particular, we worked across the city with kids to develop the vision for a four-acre playground at Wilson Park.
AJ Walker: The Delta Dental play garden at the park was made possible largely due to Delta Dental and their large donation of $5 million. It will feature a 20-foot bare play structure that children can climb and other imaginative creatures. Margaret Trimer, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for Delta Dental, says that investment is part of their commitment to make Detroit even better by investing in its children.
Margaret Trimer, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, Delta Dental: We birthed something amazing and we need to take incredible care of that, which we’ve birthed. Our children first. Our parks, our communities, second.
AJ Walker: Trimer also spoke about the importance of making parks spaces for everyone.
Margaret Trimer: If you don’t believe the power of gathering diversity in a safe and comforting space, walk this community.
AJ Walker: Mayor Mike Duggan shares that vision and is proud to see the Detroit Riverwalk as a welcoming space for all people near and far.
Mayor Mike Duggan: Come down here on Saturday afternoon and see for yourself. You will see people of all shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds, all coming together, smiling and enjoying themselves. There is no doubt this has become one of the really great assets in the city. You know, I grew up here as a child. I never came down to the riverfront, unless it was on Belle Isle because it was cement silos and abandoned factories. And that’s the amazing thing that’s happened. The riverfront has been given back to the people of the city, and that’s really a special thing.
AJ Walker: These renderings help demonstrate just how special and spectacular the park will be. Fred White moved to Detroit from Georgia more than 30 years ago. Today, he watched the groundbreaking from a distance while he fished along the river wall. White says he loves all of the changes so far to the Detroit riverfront and is looking forward to the completion of this new addition.
Fred White, Detroit Resident: They’ve done a great job. I went down on that end, and I like what I saw.
AJ Walker: James Chapman agrees.
James Chapman, Detroit Resident It’s fabulous. I was raised on this river. This is home.
AJ Walker: It’s taken a lot of people, organizations and companies like DTE and Delta Dental to make the Ralph C. Wilson Park the beautiful place it will become. David Egner, of the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, which helped make this possible, says it’s been a long journey.
David Egner, President & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation: This riverfront goes back to the vision of General Motors and the Rescue Foundation and others to activate the river. Carl Levin, Senator Levin was critical to this, was ahead of it even before that time.
David Egner: And all we did at the Wilson Foundation was jump on board after so much funding over the years. And in 2018, we committed $50 million to funding Ralph C. Wilson Jr.’s Centennial Park.
AJ Walker: Mary Wilson, wife of the late Ralph C. Wilson, is proud to see her husband’s legacy and vision for Detroit carrying on.
Mary Wilson, Board Chair & Life Trustee, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation: What would Ralph say right now? And, he would say “Thank you,” to so many people that have made this happen.
AJ Walker: In total, Ralph C. Wilson Park will cost about $75 million. For all of the people rolling up their sleeves and putting together the resources to make it all possible. The groundbreaking is symbolic of what can be done when people come together.
William Smith: They spoke at events, hosted dinners at their homes, and went door to door and even traveled to parks throughout the country to learn more about public spaces, and we had some good times.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, State of Michigan: This international jewel will be enjoyed by people from every corner of both peninsulas of the state of Michigan when they come here to have fun and to build memories, because that’s what this is all about. We are happier, we are better connected, and again, I’ll say it again, we are healthier. Because we are investing in spaces and opportunities like this one.
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Watch American Black Journal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.