It was anything but scary when the Warren Gateway stretch of the Joe Louis Greenway opened to the community on the afternoon of Halloween, Tuesday.
The ribbon cutting of the $6 million Warren Gateway segment borders the communities of Detroit and Dearborn. The public space includes a 4-acre park on the west side of Central Avenue, and features a signature playscape, a pavilion with flexible community space, fitness equipment, green infrastructure, and accessible parking.
“This is a celebration of community and of the residents – their commitment to support this project,” said Leona Medley, Executive Director of Joe Louis Greenway Partnership.
“By creating really dynamic public spaces in the city, Joe Louis Greenway is an opportunity to enhance upon all of the amazing regional (parks) and small community parks, and to connect the neighborhoods by way of this path.”
This new public green space was made financially possible due to a $3 million grant from the Ralph C Wilson, Jr. Foundation and $3 million in city bond funding.
The completed Warren Greenway stretch of the Greenway is a part of a 27.5-mile greenway that will link 23 Detroit neighborhoods, including the cities of Highland Park, Hamtramck, and Dearborn, and connect to the Detroit riverfront as well.
“I think is yet, another symbol of what Detroit is, not what it used to be,” said Rochelle Riley, Director, The Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship, Detroit ACE, City of Detroit. “We need to people to constantly, whether in the city or out of the country to see Detroit the way it is. I’m so proud of the Blight to Beauty campaign. We are making this city everything people who want to live in the city want – a place for people to come, a place for people to stay.”
The Joe Louis Greenway, once completed, aims to provide a well-lighted and safe place for people to enjoy for leisure and recreation. From walking, to biking, or sitting and taking in people and nature, the new trails aim to become another amazing jewel for Detroit and surrounding communities.
“I always feel the burden where I don’t want my dad to be forgotten,” said Joyce Barrow-Henderson, youngest daughter of late Joe Louis. “The city of Detroit like no other city in the world has this relationship with Joe Louis where they will never let his legacy die. I wish thankful is how I felt, and it’s not, it’s really so much more than that.” she says.
“The opportunity for this legacy to live on for the next generation, especially in today’s climate and what it means to brings communities together, what it means to be a champion, not in the sense of the ring, but in the sense of a hero he was to us in a time when we needed one.”
The blueprint for the Joe Louis Greenway was constructed by the vision of Detroit residents who participated in a two-year engagement process. The community input resulted in the Framework Plan that captured the responses of residents, and it served as a project guide for this transformational development. The Greenway has been a priority for Detroit’s City Council and Mayor Mike Duggan amid wide vocal support of the projects from community residents.
The first phase of Joe Louis Greenway broke ground in May 2021 and the second phase broke ground in September 2022. Construction phases are expected to continue annually, with segments opening for use as they are completed. Last fall, the opening of a one-mile stretch of the Greenway between Joy and Plymouth roads was celebrated.
“This project has brought together the funding ecosystem of the community,” Medley says. “From federal and state dollars to county and city funding for construction – there is also a lot of corporate and private foundations that have come in to fund this project for amazing public spaces.”
The City of Detroit continues to shoot for 2027 as the current timetable for completion of the Greenway. The Greenway Partnership will continue to focus on community engagement throughout the entire process, in addition to the programming and activation of the Greenway as more segments open to the public over the next few years.
The project has been constructed in areas that once were home to old and abandoned railways and the process for cleaning them up has been a task. From removing thousands of tires, to environmental land clean-up, the newly created green space resides in a useable public space and, in part, addresses air quality issues in a city that could use more trees and greenery to better its overall environmental health for residents.
“This project has had other names over the years, but to bring this Joe Louis Greenway name into it, it’s about how do we serve our communities, and how do we make sure we’re being thoughtful in some cases on communities that have been forgotten and to remind ourselves that these communities are filled with fighters.”
Medley says for so many neighbors who have stayed in the city – cut the grass, kept the lights, and done the hard community work, “we continue to see people in our neighborhoods who are modern day Joe Louises.”
The Halloween opening of the Warren Gate brought out the community indeed and from all walks of life to celebrate and come together.
“This is a special occasion for the community,” said Casandra Crenshaw, member of True Love Missionary Baptist Church, joined by other members of her church passing out candy and other informational material to residents along the new pedestrian path. “This Gateway is right behind our church, so it connects community to faith, to others who are maybe struggling, it allows children a place to go and to get recreation and where you can have a family activity. It just brings everyone together.”
Born in Alabama, Louis moved to Detroit as a child. As a teenager, he took up boxing lessons at the Brewster Recreation Center. Louis eventually captured the world heavyweight championship, and a title he kept for 12 years, marking his legacy as a Detroit and international iconic figure.
Louis brought the nation together in June 1938 by fighting and defeating German boxing champion Max Schmeling. Their fight was set in a time and backdrop of a growing Nazi movement in Germany leading up to the start of WWII.
He became an iconic American hero, representing Black America and ideas of American democracy.
“Joe Louis was a leader in every sense of the word,” Mayor 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.”