Detroit International Riverfront

Image Number: 00197
Sunrise over Detroit River with Floating Ice from Rivard Plaza
--Detroit, Michigan

Location Name:  Detroit International Riverfront (Detroit, Michigan)

Location Type:  Park (City)

Year Opened:  2007


The Detroit International Riverfront began in 2003 when the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy was formed to seek out ways to re-invent the city’s waterfront. Long-used for industrial purposes, this portion of the city was essentially shut off from the public in most places. A collection of vacant industrial brownfields and parking lots, the DRFC felt that bringing this feature back to the public would provide much-needed recreational opportunities to a city longing for a turnaround. The group envisioned a 5.5-mile RiverWalk stretching from the Ambassador Bridge in the west to Belle Isle in the east. Over the next few years came the process of acquiring the land and constructing a pedestrian friendly place where Detroiters might want to get outdoors and enjoy.

The first section of the RiverWalk opened on 06 June 2007 with Rivard Plaza as its’ crown jewel. Today 3.5 miles of the walk have been completed and are in use. Plans for the remaining two miles are in the works, with the focus on joining the two portions of the east RiverWalk to eliminate the necessary trek down Atwater Street that currently links these finished portions. The western segment towards the Ambassador is still in the planning stages.

Having mostly reclaimed the Detroit riverfront east of Downtown to Belle Isle, the DRFC has made amazing progress in bringing one of the city’s finest attractions, the River, back to the people for their enjoyment. Today the RiverWalk is anchored in the east by Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the Belle Isle Bridge. There visitors will find a RiverWalk Cafe, fountains, a butterfly garden and an in-laid brick-paved labyrinth. Continuing westward beyond the former Uniroyal Tire factory site (which is being remediated to make way for the RiverWalk) is Mount Elliott Park. Adjacent to the park is the U.S. Coast Guard’s Detroit sector; the RiverWalk borders the station and visitors can see the 1874 Detroit Lighthouse Depot building which was responsible for supplying lighthouse around the Great Lakes. Next along the promenade is River Place, Roberts Riverwalk Hotel & Residence and the city-owned Chene Park entertainment venue. Chene Park’s 6,000-seat ampitheatre attracts many noted acts every year for summer concerts along the riverfront.

The next portion of the RiverWalk, heading westward, is the state’s first (and currently only) urban state park; William G. Milliken State Park. Visit our page for Milliken Park to learn its’ story. Beyond Milliken Park is the oldest section of the RiverWalk. Visitors are welcomed to this portion of the promenade at Rivard Plaza. The plaza is home to perhaps the riverfront’s most known attraction, the Cullen Family Carousel. Also at Rivard Plaza is an in-laid granite map of the Detroit River and its’ surrounding communities, a standing glass sculptured map of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, a fountain and another RiverWalk Cafe. Biking enthusiasts can drop by Wheelhouse Detroit, a shop offering bicycle rental, tours, retail and other services. Diamond Jack’s tour boats also use Rivard Plaza as a dock for river tours in warmer months.

Entering Downtown, the RiverWalk opens up into the GM Plaza and Promenade. Funded by General Motors Corporation, whose headquarters sits adjacent to the plaza, the large open riverfront area was given to the DRFC upon completion. Likely the most visited section of the entire route, here tourists can enjoy the in-laid granite world map, the fountains, views of passing lake freighters, Downtown Windsor’s skyline or take in one of the free concerts that are scheduled here every summer. The last portion of the RiverWalk passes the new port facility which includes a cruise ship passenger terminal and dock. Detroit’s Hart Plaza, home of many large annual events and concerts marks the last real attractions along the route before it passes Cobo Center and terminates at the Joe Louis Arena.

Now that the riverfront is gaining use, new businesses are expected to follow suit and transform the Rivertown area of the city. The route is already near to numerous restaurants, shops, Downtown entertainment venues and hotels. With the 2010 connection of the Dequindre Cut greenway to the RiverWalk, the future benefits of this great project seem limitless. In summer months many people can be seen enjoying the RiverWalk from tourists to Downtown office building employees on lunch breaks. The new public space provides great opportunities for walking, running, skating, bicycling, fishing and hosting large summer festivals. The largest of the festivals is the Detroit River Days, occurring annually since the 2007 opening of the RiverWalk the festival is capped by the Target Fireworks; one of the largest displays in the world. With the planned expansion of the RiverWalk westward, one can only wait with excitement to see the benefit’s of the eastern portion duplicated on the other side of Downtown.

Click here to visit the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy’s website.