“Redeveloping the Riverfront in Detroit”
For decades, the riverfront in Detroit was dotted with run-down industrial sites, parking lots, and overgrown shrubbery, rendering it inaccessible to the general public. In 2003, a group of leaders from the Kresge Foundation, City of Detroit, and General Motors saw the potential for positive redevelopment and formed the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC), a non-profit organization with plans to collaboratively turn five-and-a-half miles of riverfront property into a pedestrian-friendly walkway that would attract private and public interest in the space. To kick off the planning process, then Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick authorized a 90-day evaluation of past attempts at revitalizing the Detroit Riverfront by a 34-person group of stakeholders. The group reviewed at least a dozen studies dating as far back as the early 1950s and 1960s that had been conducted by real estate firms and prospective businesses to evaluate the redevelopment potential of the waterfront. They found that these plans never materialized and did not involve collaboration among multiple sectors. Participants benchmarked other successful waterfront redevelopments throughout the country and Canada to identify a set of best practices to follow in their elaboration of a revitalization strategy for the Detroit context. Participants wanted to ensure that any waterfront development strategy would be adaptable to Detroit’s climate and culture, and visited riverfront developments in Saint Paul, Toronto, Montreal, Chattanooga, and Cincinnati, among others, to gather lessons learned.