The City of Detroit will name a new 26-mile recreational pathway connecting neighborhoods across the city to its international riverfront after Detroit boxing legend Joe Louis. Louis’ family flew in from across the country to join Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit City Council members, Mayor Hubert Yopp of Highland Park, and leaders from the State of Michigan and the City of Ferndale, to make the formal announcement along the future trail.

“I was with my Dad in 1979 when he was honored at the opening of the Joe Louis Arena,” Louis’ daughter Candice Joseph said. “Now, nearly forty years later through the wonderful efforts of Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council, Joe Louis will be memorialized for decades to come with this amazing project, the Joe Louis Greenway.”

“It’s hard to imagine today the significance that Detroit’s Brown Bomber had for the generations of our parents and grandparents,” George Joseph, Louis’ son-in-law said. “The Joe Louis Greenway will stand as a reminder of his legacy for generations to come.”

The wrecking ball will spare the storied, long-abandoned Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in Detroit, where Joe Louis learned to box in the shadow of the nation’s first public housing project for African Americans.

The wrecking ball will however spare the storied, long-abandoned Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in Detroit, where Joe Louis learned to box in the shadow of the nation’s first public housing project for African Americans.

Born in Alabama, Louis moved to Detroit as a child. As a teenager, he took up boxing lessons at the Brewster Recreation Center, using money his mother gave him for violin lessons. The boxing lessons eventually paid off, and Louis went on to capture the world heavyweight championship, a title he kept for 12 years, cementing his legacy as a Detroit and international icon.

Louis galvanized the nation in June 1938 by fighting and defeating German boxing champion Max Schmeling. Their bout was set against the backdrop of the growing Nazi movement in Germany in the months leading up to the start of WWII. Louis was an American hero, representing both his fellow African –Americans, as well as American democracy and ideals in his first-round knockout of Schmeling.

“Joe Louis was a leader in every sense of the word,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. “His courage and generosity united people of all races and backgrounds. He made it clear to the world that where you start doesn’t define how far you will go. For that reason, I can’t think of a better person to whom Detroit can bestow this honor. The Joe Louis Greenway will remove boundaries and connect families and neighborhoods across our city to a tremendous riverfront that residents will enjoy together”

The project will create a 26-mile recreational path that will connect neighborhoods previously separated by freeways and disjointed transit via pedestrian and bike paths. The trail will touch the neighboring cities of Highland Park, Ferndale, Dearborn and Hamtramck and connect to trails that crisscross the entire state. In Detroit, the greenway will connect residents to small businesses and commercial corridors previously too difficult to access by foot and also connect residents to public open spaces like Palmer Park, Clark Park, and Lasky Park.

Residents in neighborhoods along the Joe Louis Greenway will ultimately be able to travel safely and efficiently all the way from 8 Mile to the Detroit Riverfront without a motorized vehicle.

This trail has been more than 15 years in the making. Partners ranging from community leaders to nonprofits, such as the Detroit Greenways Coalition, and foundations, such as the Kresge Foundation and Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan played a major role in making this trail a reality. Earlier this year, the City of Detroit reached an agreement to purchase the largest gap in the proposed greenway from Conrail, a 7.5 mile stretch of land that ran along the historic Detroit Terminal Railroad that supplied resources and parts to assemble Ford Model T automobiles.

The city was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation that will be used to develop comprehensive design and construction plans for the Conrail property and all remaining unconstructed segments of the Joe Louis Greenway, as well as an overarching framework plan that incorporates the half-mile corridor to either side of the greenway itself.

While fundraising continues, the City has raised approximately $10 million for the project and has applied for an $18 million Federal TIGER grant to continue construction.

Planning for the Joe Louis Greenway will begin in earnest immediately. A request for proposals for Framework Plan consultants will be released by January 2018. Studies, surveys and the community engagement process with residents living near the greenway will begin that same year.

The Framework Plan will include recommendations for land use and zoning, green infrastructure, connections to public assets such as parks, wayfinding, and thoughtful intersection with local and regional multimodal transportation routes such as the Iron Belle Trail, SMART bus network, and the new Gordie Howe Bridge. Planners will work hand in hand with residents along the entire greenway to ensure community feedback is incorporated into the design of the greenway.

The process of developing the Framework Plan, as well as the design process, will include a community engagement process. The project team will meet with impacted communities to get comments on proposed designs and incorporate residents’ feedback into the final construction plans.

The design process will begin in 2019, following the completion of the Framework Plan. This process will explore ways to honor Joe Louis and his legacy throughout the greenway, including possible murals and other art installations throughout the city.

Construction of the greenway is expected to begin by 2020, with all segments completed by 2022.

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