The Detroit Riverfront has captured national attention and was voted the best riverwalk by USA Today’s readers. Christy spoke with Detroit Riverfront Conservancy CEO, Mark Wallace, about the catalysts for the riverfront’s transformation and new projects and programming underway.


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Christy McDonald The beauty of the Detroit riverfront has captured national attention and has been named the best river walk by USA Today and their readers. So, joining me now is a very proud CEO of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Mark Wallace.

Mark Wallace, Pres./CEO, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy It’s really exciting for us. And it’s always nice to win something. It’s nice to be recognized by people who are out of town. A lot of times Detroit’s success stories are not told as much as they should be on a national basis. But it’s also a great moment for us to celebrate all of the people who have made this riverfront transformation possible and to really remember sort of reflect on what it means for us to come together as an entire community to achieve a goal like this.

Christy McDonald When you put Detroit’s riverfront up against some of the other reference we think of around the world in Chicago and Boston and really the work that has been done here in Detroit over the last 10 years and more, it’s really significant.

Mark Wallace It is. And I think that’s one of the things that the jurors were excited about was the idea of this transformation. There are a lot of places where they’ve had a riverfront that’s been active for hundreds of years. We’ve had that in Detroit as well. But our riverfront was not active for the public. It was active for industry. And that was a really limited use. And this transformation that started in 2003 with Matt Collins and Nelson and others has really made this a place that’s really special to our whole community.

Christy McDonald And really over the last year and during COVID, we’ve seen how much open space interacting with nature and really enjoying the resources that we have is good for the soul, is good for our mind, body and spirit.

Mark Wallace I really feel like it’s bringing fresh oxygen into our brains and sort of healing us and building that community resilience that’s so important, especially during a pandemic.

Christy McDonald So tell us about the projects that are happening right now, because really the riverfront has come in stages and is beautifully melding together now.

Mark Wallace But we built about two and a half miles on the east side with a series of parks and have the carousel. We have the splash park down by the Coast Guard at the Mount Elliot. We have a couple of projects that are coming together right now to really complete three and a half miles of uninterrupted riverfront access and really excited about those. So, the big one is the Uniroyal site right across from Belle Isle. We did an environmental cleanup last year that was going to allow us to start to build the actual pathway itself. So that walkway will be under construction very, very soon. And when that walkway is done, you’ll be able to go from the old Joe Louis Arena site all the way to the Belle Isle Bridge without ever having to leave the riverfront.

Christy McDonald So I hope sometime very soon you and I can actually meet down there because that’s usually where we meet every year and we talk about what’s new and what’s and what’s going on. So, give everybody maybe a couple secret to places that you like, along with something that they should check out.

Mark Wallace So the number one spot I would encourage people to check out is our newest park name, Dr. Robert C. Valade. That’s right next to Chene Park, which is now known as Aretha Franklin Amphitheater. There’s a great little parking lot just north of it. We have two restaurants smoking barbecue and Geisha Girl sushi, and we actually have a bar.

We bought a barge and it floats on the river and has a bar. So, starting in mid-May, you should be able to come down there. Kids can play on the playground, great sandbox for the children, but you can float around and have an adult beverage. So that’s the number one of insider’s tip on what’s new on the riverfront. We’re also really excited about the investment that the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation has made on the west side. I think everybody is kind of intrigued with this before and after concepts, the transformation of places. I’d encourage everybody to come down to Ralph Wilson at some point in time. If you like the fish, it’s a great time to come down. If you just want to fly a kite or run around with your kids, it’s a great spot. But I think it’d be fun to be down there on the west side before that transformation happens, because it’s really going to be exciting to stand in a place where you were standing two years ago and then see it fully transformed.