DETROIT — Detroit certainly has its financial woes as the largest U.S. city to undergo bankruptcy. But that doesn’t mean visitors have to break their own banks to experience some impressive attractions.
Here are five things tourists and natives alike can take in for free.
Time was when the shores of the Motor City’s majestic Detroit River, which separates it from the Canadian city of Windsor, were mostly industrial and uninviting. To make matters worse, Windsor’s waterfront was verdant, pleasant and pedestrian-friendly. Then Detroit finally got some sense — and some big donations — to remodel its front door to the world and create the Detroit RiverWalk. Years of work have transformed much of it for recreational use. And it now includes William G. Milliken State Park & Harbor near downtown. The RiverWalk promenade is popular with walkers, runners and bicyclists, as is the perpendicular Dequindre Cut, which runs on an abandoned rail line. A popular spot for gathering and events is in front of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors Co. and the city’s tallest building.
Detroit’s Eastern Market’s foods, flowers and other products require opening the wallet, but the sights, sounds and smells — and sometimes samples — cost nothing. The six-block public market with more than 250 vendors has been operating east of the downtown district since 1891. The market is open several days a week at certain times of the year but it’s especially popular on Saturdays, when tens of thousands of people come to walk, talk and stall among the stalls and sheds.
The Detroit Tigers left in 1999 and headed downtown to the then-new Comerica Park, but stubborn activists held out hope of saving the baseball team’s longtime home. That dream died when the last portion was demolished in 2009, but die-hards can still run the bases and see some of the stadium’s decorative fencing and a flagpole at what’s now known as Ernie Harwell Field. The field in Detroit’s historic, reviving Corktown neighborhood is named after the team’s longtime and beloved announcer. Many plans have been floated for the site, most recently one that would include a youth baseball field along with stores, residential space and offices. Tiger Stadium opened in 1912 as Navin Field.
CAMPUS MARTIUS PARK
For all that has been cast aside or torn asunder in the city founded by the French in 1701, a significant piece of its past has been revitalized and redeveloped. Campus Martius is a 1.6-acre park where the historic Woodward and Michigan avenues converge. It opened in 2004 after several years of plans and more than $20 million in donations. The classic downtown square has a fountain, skating rink and serves as the perennial home of the city’s Christmas tree and winter carnival featuring a massive snow slide, rides and live music. The site also happens to be the city’s point of origin: Surveyors plopped down their equipment there in the early 1800s after a major fire to plot the city’s streets, parks and lots in a hub-and-spoke grid design. Earlier, the site was used as a military training ground and later it became the site where the First Michigan Regiment received their colors before leaving for the Civil War and, afterward, the home of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.
It’s generated more headlines recently for a series of suspicious, mysterious fires, but Detroit’s Heidelberg Project was a conversation starter long before the blazes. Artist Tyree Guyton founded the interactive outdoor art installation in 1986 on Heidelberg Street as a commentary on urban decay. The interactive sculpture park on the city’s east side mixes vacant houses and empty yards with artistic themes, and has become famous over the years for the exhibition featuring shoes, clocks, vinyl records, stuffed animals and other found or discarded objects. Still, most of the homes have been destroyed, and no arrests have been made in connection with the fires that stretch back about a year. Guyton has said little publicly but vows the evolving installation is “coming back greater than before.”
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