For Immediate Release

Summer Fun: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Breaks Ground on Much-Anticipated Atwater Beach Project

Funders unite to create a new community space where everyone is welcome.

DETROIT, August 27, 2018 – With the glistening Detroit River as the backdrop, the public gathered with representatives of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and local and regional funders on Monday, August 27 to put shovels in the sand and launch construction of Atwater Beach, which will be the East Riverfront’s newest family-friendly destination when it opens next year.

"The community has been in love with the idea of Atwater Beach from the day we first introduced the concept," says Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. "People have been asking for this type of family-friendly destination for years. The great momentum that is currently happening along the East Riverfront is possible thanks to a passionate set of funding partners, including the William Davidson Foundation."

William Davidson Foundation is the lead funder for the beach development project.

"We’re delighted to work with funding partners who share our commitment to Detroit and the riverfront," says Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation. "We’re passionate about the idea of creating and enhancing welcoming, world-class destinations that inspire visitors and enrich the quality of life for Detroit’s current and future residents."

A shovel-in-the-sand ceremony for adults and children followed a brief program during the event. Speakers included:

  • Matt Cullen, chairman, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
  • Robert Davis, senior advisor, Michigan Department of Transportation 
  • Katy Locker, Detroit program director, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • Darin McKeever, president and CEO, William Davidson Foundation 
  • Will Smith, chief financial officer, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
  • John Stroh, board member, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy 
  • Mark Wallace, president and CEO, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
  • Matt Walters, deputy group executive, City of Detroit 

Since 2003, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has worked to transform Detroit’s riverfront into an inclusive and accessible 5.5-mile public amenity, providing safe and attractive access for residents and visitors, with enhanced mobility options and sustainable street improvements. Facilitating economic development among local businesses and property owners also is a priority, all the while preserving the heritage of the area.

Atwater Beach Project Development Plans

The Atwater Beach project transforms a former industrial site along the East Riverfront into a vibrant family-friendly destination for people of all ages to enjoy. Most recently, the 3.2-acre parcel was used as a buoy storage site and before that, it was used by one of the several cement companies.

Atwater Beach will feature:

A large, sandy beach area and lush green expanse for picnics.

An imaginative play scape, which will be inspired by a West Coast lifeguard station with areas for children to climb, slide and jump.

A musical garden that will offer children the opportunity to learn in an interactive way about different objects that make musical sounds and tones.

Ample seating areas around the play scape and music gardens which will provide areas for parents and caregivers to keep an eye on the children. 

A large shed structure, approximately 1,000-square feet, with large, garage-door style openings designed to flood the space with natural light and fresh air. A soaring overhang and patio area will provide visitors with shelter from the elements. It will be used for a mixture of programming, special events, food and beverage, as well as for retail. 

A colorful and unique barge for food and drink, spanning two boat slips in the water and offering great river views. It will feature multiple unique seating areas, planters made of recycled antique truck tailgates from Detroit automakers and a vintage van that will serve food and drink.

Construction is expected to begin immediately and is scheduled to be completed in summer 2019. In the coming months, crews will install the foundations for the shed and the overhang, as well as for the play scape. Throughout the winter, the walls of the structures will be placed and underground utility work completed.

Atwater Beach Funding

In addition to the William Davidson Foundation, funders for the project include the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which selected the project as one its 2017 Knight Cities Challenge winners, and the Mona and Richard Alonzo Fund. The Conservancy also received a grant for the project from Gannett/USA Today Network as part of the "A Community Thrives" initiative, which supports programs that positively impact local communities.

"Our support for Detroit’s riverfront began in 2014," adds Darin McKeever. "We believe the riverfront is distinctive in its ability to bring people together from diverse neighborhoods and walks of life and create an enjoyable, shared experience. We’re also particularly pleased with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s leadership, which engages community members in its visioning and planning of projects. As a proud partner of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy since 2014, I encourage others to join us in supporting their ongoing efforts."

Atwater Beach is located within the rapidly-developing East Riverfront district and will be an exciting venue for people to meet, play, relax and eat. In early 2017, the Conservancy released an East Riverfront Framework Plan to guide the future of the district that outlines new parks and open space developments, street improvements, new and improved greenways to access the riverfront and continued development projects that will bring additional amenities to the district.

For more information about the Atwater Beach project, please visit

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