Aug 23, 2023 - Development

Belle Isle's new riverfront connection nearly finished

This new stretch of Detroit's riverfront trail will open in October, connecting to the Belle Isle bridge in the background. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Belle Isle's missing link to the riverfront is almost complete.

Why it matters: Bicyclists, runners and trail users will finally be able to travel directly between Belle Isle and the city via the downtown riverwalk.

  • The new connection between two of Detroit's greatest assets is another table-setter for big-time development on the east riverfront.

Driving the news: The trail's half-mile extension is expected to open in October, the Free Press reports.

  • The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy led the $11 million project.

State of play: Heading east from downtown, the path currently dead ends at Mount Elliott Park, less than a mile from Belle Isle.

  • To reach the bridge to Belle Isle, trail users have to find their way from the dead end to Jefferson Avenue and deal with its traffic.
  • Once the new pathway is open, the riverwalk will connect directly to the Belle Isle bridge and to nearby Gabriel Richard Park.

What they're saying: The Jefferson detour is awkward and interrupts enjoyment of the riverfront's natural beauty.

  • "It's kind of confusing and it's a safety concern," Todd Scott, executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, tells Axios. "It'd be so much easier to tell people, just go straight and you'll get there."

The big picture: The extended riverwalk strengthens links between the city's riverfront and its expanding ecosystem of trails, including the Dequindre Cut and the under-construction Joe Louis Greenway.

Catch up fast: The new path runs along the contaminated Uniroyal tire manufacturing site, which the city bought after it shut down in 1980, according to the Freep, and demolished in 1985.

  • A portion of the 42-acre property was remediated for $35 million about a decade ago, but cleanup work is ongoing, Crain's reported in May.
  • Detroit native and NFL Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis is reportedly working with a local developer on plans for the site, but a time frame is unknown.

The intrigue: Dan Gilbert has spent around $100 million, mostly since the pandemic, acquiring land near the Uniroyal site and at one time was involved in talks about its future, according to Crain's.

  • Dividing the property into pieces to encourage development could be on the table.
  • A spokesperson for Gilbert's real estate company did not respond to our message Tuesday seeking comment.

What's next: The trail will extend 5.5 miles from the Belle Isle bridge all the way to the Ambassador Bridge next year when the new 22-acre Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park is finished.

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