Detroit Riverfront Featured in New Brownfield Flip Videos

Agency: Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

April 24, 2018

Susan Wenzlick, MDEQ Brownfield Communications Coordinator,, 231-876-4422
Tiffany Brown, DEQ Public Information Officer,, 800-662-9278

LANSING, Mich. A new Brownfield Flip video released by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) shows the ongoing transformation of the Detroit Riverfront from industrial blight to public use. See the new video at

The Detroit River has always connected the city to the world by water, first as a trade route and later for shipping the raw materials and finished products that fueled Detroit industry. Once crowded with factories and warehouses, by the early 2000s much of the industrial riverfront was abandoned and no longer served either industry or downtown businesses. The riverfront sea wall was deteriorating and parking lots blocked public access to the river.

Detroit’s renaissance would be incomplete without opening the downtown riverfront for public access and events. “The citizens never felt that they had any part of the riverfront, because it was always privately owned,” said Raymond A. Scott, the city of Detroit’s Deputy Director of Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environment. Public involvement in the planning process was a key part of the vision from the beginning. Residents were encouraged to contribute to riverfront revitalization plans through dozens of public meetings. Even as plans were altered, re-creating the riverfront for public use remained the focus.

To make its vision a reality, the city would need to demolish vacant industrial sites, relocate cement silos, and redevelop vacant riverfront property. Unprecedented state and local collaboration turned the Detroit riverfront from a blighted industrial corridor to a vibrant public space. The MDEQ awarded the city a $6.2 million Clean Michigan Initiative (CMI) grant to demolish crumbling infrastructure and build the RiverWalk, a pedestrian walkway with railings, lighting, landscaping, and street furniture. The MDEQ used $1.75 million from the CMI to demolish cement silos along the river, and another $1 million from the CMI to keep storm water from carrying contamination to the river.

The city’s riverfront vision is still growing more than 10 years after the MDEQ grant. The nonprofit Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has expanded the RiverWalk to 3.5 miles, linked it with other non-motorized trails, and added greenspace. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources built the state’s first urban state park on the riverfront, followed by an Outdoor Adventure Center. Orleans Landing, a commercial and residential development, was built on an adjacent brownfield site with the help of a MDEQ brownfield grant. More expansion is expected.

The riverfront is now the jewel of Detroit’s renaissance and a symbol of residents’ pride and involvement in their city. “Without people’s love for the city of Detroit this could not have happened,” said Scott. Locals and visitors take advantage of activities from tai chi to the Taco Festival. Sunbathers line the shore and downtown workers walk during their lunch breaks. Young and old meet at the Riverwalk to socialize. Free weekly concerts through the summer bring the Motown sound downtown.

The MDEQ partners with communities to protect public health and the environment and revitalize contaminated property. MDEQ grants and loans pay for environmental investigation and cleanup on brownfields. Brownfields are vacant or abandoned properties with known or suspected environmental contamination.

Partnerships between MDEQ and communities have created $4 billion in private investment and 29,000 new jobs over the life of the Brownfield Redevelopment Program. For each grant or loan dollar invested by the MDEQ in protecting residents and the environment, an average of $23 is invested in the state’s economy. When brownfields are redeveloped, property values increase both on the revitalized site and on other nearby properties. Learn more at

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