The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation has announced a $200 million commitment in support of parks and trails in southeast Michigan and western New York.
Announced to mark the centennial of Wilson's birth, the investment will be split evenly between his hometown of Detroit and his adopted home of Buffalo, with each city receiving $100 million in support of its efforts to develop a signature legacy park, advance its vision for a regional trail system, and support the sustainability of the public spaces it creates with the funds. The commitment includes $50 million to each city for the development of parks to replace West Riverfront Park in Detroit and LaSalle Park in Buffalo. In recognition of the gift, both of the redesigned spaces will be renamed Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park.
In Detroit, the new park will be a component of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy's effort to develop five-and-a-half miles of riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park. In 2017, the foundation provided support for a conservancy-led community-driven design competition for the project. In Buffalo, the foundation awarded a planning grant earlier this year in support of a community engagement process led by the City of Buffalo and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute to advance a vision for LaSalle Park.
To help advance each city's vision for a completed regional trail system, the foundation also will invest $100 million in trail development — $40 million in each city for as yet-to-be determined projects designed to close gaps in its existing trail system and $10 million toward operating and maintenance costs.
"Parks and trails have an incredible impact on communities — inviting usage from all ages, neighborhoods, and people — promoting inclusiveness and breaking down barriers. They not only connect people to each other, but to other destinations and assets across a region," said Jeffrey Littmann, life trustee and board chair of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. "These projects also take collaboration from all levels of community to be realized. It's this teamwork and hard work that Ralph valued so much."